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Have You Made a Big Mistake? Here's Why That's Good News for Your Company. Don't just say 'oops' and move on, because fixing a flub can be a prime opportunity for engendering customer loyalty.

By John Ruhlin Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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March 2018 was a lousy time to be a Facebook executive. As the Cambridge Anaytica data fiasco unfolded, the world held the social media giant under a microscope.

Time and again, Facebook's reactions failed. Stock plummeted. Zuckerberg landed in front of a congressional committee. And what America got to watch as a result was textbook bungling by a major corporation.

Related: Mark Zuckerberg Doesn't Seem Very Sorry or Very Forgiven

No executive wants to experience a public failure of such catastrophic proportions. Yet bad things happen to practically every company -- more often than leaders might like to admit. Ironically, though, those executives can turn that bungling into some of the best, even amazing, opportunities to connect with people. When handled well, mistakes can actually create customers for life.

Turn your frustrated customers into loyal fans.

In any relationship, the true test of character comes when things go awry. Business isn't any different. How you respond to a crummy situation -- regardless of whether you were at fault -- could turn an indifferent or irate consumer into a chest-thumping loyalist.

Think this isn't true? Consider: A cement company I know purposely screws up just a little bit on every job. Then, its managers wait by the phone for an angry call. When one comes in, those managers rush out to fix the mistake within an hour. Customers are routinely surprised by the responsiveness, and they pile on referrals like mad.

While I wouldn't recommend taking such missteps on purpose, I believe that after you make one, you should never run and hide. After all, customers don't expect quick, easy fixes. They expect to have a rough time. But, if you go out of your way to make it right and do it fast, you'll be one step closer to winning their hearts.

Related: It's Your Fault: 5 Steps to Repair A Client Relationship

My own company has handled plenty of uncomfortable situations, but none as cringeworthy as this particular nightmare: On behalf of a client, we sent a prospect a gift of cutlery engraved with his wife's name. The problem: Our client had given us outdated information. The name we engraved belonged to the prospect's ex-wife. Oops.

Although the mistake wasn't on our end, we wasted no time in addressing the error. Instead of simply replacing the original gift, we sent the client one worth five times as much. And this wasn't a one-time thing: We go to the same extremes every time we goof up. We operate under the principle of radical generosity. And, truth be told, it's fun.

Own up, and move forward.

Feel like you're not yet at the pinnacle of unparalleled customer service? Put the following standards into play to enhance your customer relationships and boost your company's reputation:

1. Act immediately. Take action the instant something goes wrong, and solve the problem in as few steps as possible. If you show you can fix a mistake right away and without passing the buck, you'll teach your team to do the same.

Microsoft research shows that quality customer service is as important as ever: In its 2017 Global State of Customer Service report, Microsoft found that two of the most important aspects of a customer service interaction were resolving a problem in one interaction and not passing the customer from person to person.

Show your team it's important to boldly and quickly solve problems, and you'll be on your way to success. My team recently discovered that we had sent several recipients the wrong products. Instead of avoiding the issue or waiting for me to solve it, team members developed and presented an action plan for ways to fix the issue. They planned to get the recipients so excited about our solution that they'd forget we had even made a mistake.

2. Take a walk in your customers' shoes. Every time you hit a snag, start with this question: "What would exceed my expectations at this point?" If you're being generous and you trust everyone on your staff, you'll be able to brainstorm quickly and come to a solid answer.

Your goal shouldn't be to deliver bland, vanilla service that your customers won't remember. You should aim to provide a "wow" factor other organizations can't meet. Your customers should leave the experience feeling not just satisfied, but thrilled.

In Wunderman's "Wantedness" survey, 63 percent of U.S. customers surveyed said they thought the best brands were those that "exceed expectations" throughout the customer journey -- and that that journey doesn't end with a purchase. So, go the extra mile in terms of customer support, especially when you make a mistake, and you'll stand out in your industry as a company that truly understands its customers' wants and needs.

3. Correct the problem, then overdeliver. Imagine being a florist unable to deliver all of your Valentine's Day orders. That was UrbanStems' dilemma, in 2017. The fledgling shop had accepted too many orders, had too few people working in fulfillment and ran out of time. Despite delivering flowers into the wee hours of the morning on Feb. 15, it incurred quite a bit of wrath.

Rather than sinking into a deep hole, however, the founder refunded everyone's payments and gave out his personal cellphone number to unhappy customers. He received hundreds of calls. He also saved face. UrbanStems went beyond just returning the money. The company sent a strong message by going far beyond the necessary actions.

My team has a similar philosophy of putting people first and finances second. After one notable flub, we determined that we weren't just going to make things right with the client -- we'd go overboard and douse everyone around the client with love, including the employees who might have been most affected by the mistake. Eighteen gifts later, we knew we had gone above and beyond and that we had done our best.

Related: Why Exceeding Expectations Is Essential to the Long-Term Success of Your Business

Final words? You can't stop problems from occurring. They're going to happen, no matter how hard you try to avoid them. But you can control your response 100 percent. That's why you should act fast, keep your customers' best interests at heart and exceed their expectations. That way, you'll be well on your way to turning an unhappy customer into a loyal one.

John Ruhlin

Founder and CEO of the Ruhlin Group

John Ruhlin is an entrepreneur, international speaker and author of Giftology. More relationship and referral strategies can be found at Giver's Edge.

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