• Bill Petrie

A Neiman Marcus Approach to Strong Client Relationships

Four ways to create loyalty when mistakes happen

When describing the promotional products industry to people unfamiliar with it, I like to focus on the transformative power of branded merchandise: how a properly decorated and helpful product can make a marketing message genuinely tangible. As we all know, promotional products are the only advertising medium where the recipient says, “thank you.”

I also like to point out that, due to the still-manual nature of producing custom merchandise adorned with specific logos, it’s an industry where every single order has about 89 opportunities for failure: orders keyed in with wrong information, incorrect PMS color, or a missed event date to name a few. This will often result in the focus on perfection as a path to at least diminish, if not mitigate, those opportunities for failure.

However, in the promotional products industry – just like any industry – perfection is impossible. The very notion of perfection as a business plan is dangerous, for the absurdity of pursuing it will stunt a team’s willingness to take intelligent risks. Instead of chasing down something that doesn’t exist in perfection, a much better approach is to understand that success doesn’t lie within the elimination of problems but in the art of creative and profitable problem-solving.

For any business owner, it’s critical not just to accept, but embrace, that there will be ongoing mistakes – perhaps daily. However, it’s viewing those “mistakes” as opportunities to grow, learn, and profit that truly separates an average business from a wildly lucrative one. Additionally, the time frame for addressing mistakes is crucial.

When something goes wrong, an empathetic team member needs to make every effort to connect with the client as soon as possible. But, at the same time, it’s equally critical to begin the process of looking internally to review and analyze your performance to determine precisely what happened. With that in mind, here are the four “be’s” of squarely addressing errors:

  1. Be Gracious – And be so immediately. Deep down, you know you’re going to have to fix the blunder eventually, and it’s not only more cost-effective to do so at the outset, but it also puts the client in a much better state of mind about your organization.

  2. Be Generous – Apologize honestly and make sure that the solution’s value is worth more than the cost of the initial snafu. The last thing you want a client to feel about how a mistake is addressed is how “cheap” the solution feels.

  3. Be Mindful – People love to share stories of adversity and, ultimately, redemption. This is an incredible opportunity as the company can write the ending the way YOU want it told. When people share experiences with your organization, it’s critical to think about how that story ends – and that’s up to you.

  4. Be Educated – Use every new mistake as a teaching tool for your staff – be transparent and share in a safe environment. Unless the mistake involved a lack of integrity, the person who made it has genuinely helped your organization by exposing new opportunities to improve.

In business, there is a very strong possibility you will make new mistakes daily, which is much better than the alternative: wasting time repeating the old ones. The real secret is to address errors immediately and practically so that the organization ends up in a better place BECAUSE the mistake happened. Stanley Marcus of Neiman Marcus was right; by viewing mistakes and tangible opportunities to not just repair – but strengthen – relationships, a business paves its own road to success.

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