When the Wheels Fall Off

One of the true tests of a business’ strength is how you handle problems.
What do you do when things go sideways and customers are disappointed?
Your answer to that question will likely decide your overall success. For in these moments of disappointment, your future with that customer hangs in the balance.
Falter and you’ll lose them forever.
Act wisely and not only can you save the situation, you’ll fortify their relationship with you.
What does that look like in real life?
I’ll give you an example.
I was running an online store. There was a product that we had run out of, but I forgot to mark it as “sold out” and someone bought two of them. The easy way to deal with it would have been to send a short email saying “sorry we’re out” and refund them. But a question tickled my curiosity.
Could I get them to let me keep their money and give them something else that I did have in stock?
This email followed.
“Hi Stanley,
First and foremost thank you so much for shopping with us! The fact that you ordered an absolutely unique item from us AND got one for your friend makes me like you instantly.
And that’s what makes this next part even harder.
I have to deliver some upsetting news. (Dang it Stanley. Why do you have to be so likable!)
I’m missing a key component for the kits you ordered, which means I don’t have any kits available to send you right now. ☹
I know! This is super disappointing for both of us.
No matter how much I’ve begged our supplier over the last two days since your order, they haven’t budged. It’s going to be a couple MORE months before the parts are in.
So, what do we do?
I’ve got some options I’d like to present to you.
Option 1: You cancel you order, we both feel disappointed, Mike never gets awesome stuff, and our budding friendship takes a turn for the worst. (Just when I found an awesome person like you.) I mean, we’ll still be on good terms. It just gets awkward when we see each other at parties and stuff.
Option 2: Like a gallant Knight you rise above obstacles. Your giving spirit won’t be shaken. So you decide to order something else from our store instead. Mike gets cool gear. (Plus, you get something nice for yourself.) I name my firstborn after you and people cheer your name in the streets because you heroically save the day.
Option 3: You and I get some torches and pitchforks. We rouse a rabble of angry peasants, equip them with the aforementioned torches and pitchforks, and storm the factory of the dread “supplier.” After defeating their champion, we demand for immediate delivery the parts needed to build the kits. And our friendship is cemented in the bonds of victory and conquest.
Let me know which option sounds best to you.”

You’re probably not surprised to hear that Stanley chose option 2.
And not only did he let us keep his money this time, he also came back again and again for more orders in the future.
Here are the two takeaways.
1.     Be honest.
2.     Be ridiculous.
First, don’t skirt the issue. Say what’s wrong and own it. When you do, people will often “jump behind the counter” so to speak, and invest themselves into helping you find a solution. Make them part of the problem solving.
Second, recognize that, for the majority, any potential disappointment is based on something silly. Which means – in the grand scheme of life, the universe, and everything – the thing that’s causing the disappointment is relatively trivial. So, without telling them the problem is trivial, use a light dose of ridiculousness to help them feel the triviality.
Once you’ve got things in context like this, keeping the sale and making a lifelong ally are easy.

– Zac Smith, VC