Customer Service Debrief Helps Us Learn from Mistakes and Successes

A post by customer service expert Shep Hyken.
Shep Hyken is a professional speaker and New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling business author who works with companies who want to develop loyal relationships with their customers and employees. Permalink on

The letter comes and it is a complaint from an unhappy customer. The customer tells the story in clear detail.

It’s obvious, we made a mistake. This had nothing to do with an employee’s indifferent attitude. We just messed up.

What happens next is that we respond to the customer, hoping to get their business back by fixing what was wrong.

Then, we analyze how it happened. We debrief, brainstorm and come up with a solution to minimize, if not completely eliminate this problem in the future. This failure becomes a great learning experience. In short, we learned from our mistake.

The next day another letter comes. This time it is from an ecstatically happy customer. Not only were our people exhibiting amazing customer service, our system worked.

The customer felt we went above and beyond to take care of him.

What happens next is we congratulate the people involved – maybe even give them a little recognition in front of their peers. And, that is it.

According to a recent issue of the Harvard Business Review, that focused on failure, this scenario, as it applies to failure in general, is very typical. We learn from our mistakes and simply celebrate our successes. Several of the articles on failure go on to say that we can learn as much, if not more, from our successes. So, I thought about how this applies to customer service.

Learn from our happy customers, especially if they are willing to tell us their story. Interview them to find out the details. Go back with a team and analyze why things worked. Is this the norm? What’s in place that always works? Can it be improved upon? Can it be repeated? Why did this interaction stand out to this customer, while others didn’t? Do other customers have similar ecstatically happy experiences?

Years ago I took a course offered by the Afterburners, a group of former military fighter pilots who teach corporate America how to bring military strategy into their boardroom. One of the very powerful lessons I learned about the military way of “doing business” was that they debriefed after every mission – both failed and successful missions. To really get strong feedback, everyone in the debrief session went rankles. In other words, everybody was equal. Rank was not the issue. Open communication and feedback was more important than genuflecting to the hire ranking officers.

There is a lot we can learn from our customers’ accolades.

Don’t just revel in success. Learn from it!

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