How A Damage Control Plan is Crucial for Brand Building


Photography Business Institute
Photography Business Institute

When something goes wrong in your small business, how do you deal with it? Do you have a plan for damage control? Or do you handle on a case-by-case basis as it occurs?

Just this week I was dining with a friend at her favorite NYC restaurant – an intimate walk up where she has dined alongside celebrities.

My meal was extraordinary. The service was good. The conversation engaging. A perfect evening in the making. Yet as we were waiting for our check, I noticed a small, furry, four-legged creature scurry across the floor. Eeks! We immediately summoned our waiter. Without missing a beat, he ran downstairs to alert the manger.

The restaurant manager came to our table within minutes and discretely apologized, citing the construction next door as the culprit. She removed our deserts from the check and moved on to the next table to extend an apology.

While my friend and I did not cause a raucous, we certainly could have. As we wandered the streets after our meal, I couldn’t help but critique the way the manager handled the situation. Frankly, a comped dessert was not enough.

Like it or not, the customer is more empowered than ever to share their experiences with the world. And often you don’t have the opportunity to defend yourself against their claims in social media. As a small business owner, you have to work even harder to make it right for your customers regardless of the short term cost to you.

I haven’t reviewed my experience on Yelp, nor have a publicly named the restaurant. But I could and I may. While Manhattan is a large city and maybe I couldn’t single-handedly take the business down, in many cities I certainly could with a few strategically placed reviews and calls.

As a boutique business owner, when your customer isn’t happy you need to have a plan to make it right. This is crucial to your brand building efforts.  If you have employees, they need to also know your policy and they need to be empowered to act quickly. People will remember how you overcame the issue more clearly than the issue itself if you handle it correctly. You have an opportunity to wow your clients by not just making it right, but going over the top to make sure you’ve made up for the problem. But when you’re in the moment, it can be hard to make a good decision because you are likely just as shocked as your customer that something has gone wrong. You may be emotional or even defensive. Giving thought to how to respond prior to the experience can help you develop a plan for damage control.

Take some time this week to think about possible scenarios where you could have an unhappy client. Whether they are justified in their complaint or not isn’t the point right now. How would you make the scenario right for your customer? Be generous. This will give your client something to talk about (your generosity) instead of your failure.

Using words like ‘that’s our policy’ won’t help. In fact, they may make the situation worse. Your clients come to you for you in a boutique business. They aren’t doing business with a company. They are doing business with a person. Don’t hide behind corporate policy. You don’t have that luxury nor should you try to use it.

Here are a few options for what you may offer (you may need to offer different combinations of all four:

1) Comp the product or service.

2) Redo the job at no cost until it’s right.

3) Replace an item if it broke or did not do what was expected.

4) Offer a refund + a credit for future business.

Had the restaurant manager made an effort to talk more to us, she would have learned that her restaurant was my friend’s favorite. She visits the city a few times a year and has dined there three or four times in the last few years. Knowing this, the manager could have done more damage control to ensure continued patronage from my friend. Instead, I’m still thinking about the furry four-legged creature and sharing the experience with you. I’m sure you don’t want your clients doing the same when you slip up. Create a damage control plan today!

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