Know your students. Apologize when you are wrong.
Last week, one of Kentucky’s finest, Maker’s Mark bourbon, made a huge mistake. In an effort to combat a possible shortage in their supply, they decided to water down their bourbon to meet the needs of their customers. What they experienced was a backlash that COO Rob Samuels referred to as the worst 4-5 days of his life.
This past Sunday, they reversed the decision and apologized to their customers, letting them know that they were heard loud and clear — no changes would be made to the recipe. It wasn’t a fancy apology, it was clear and to the point. “You spoke. We listened. And we’re sincerely sorry we let you down,” said Samuels. He went on to say that the customers’ trust, loyalty and passion was most important.
In Maker’s Mark’s defense they conducted studies and the panelists agreed that the taste was the same. What they forgot to ask the customers was how watering down their favorite libation made them feel. How did they feel about the brand? How did they feel about sharing their favorite brand with friends? How did they feel about getting a watered downed drink, for the same price?
For those who have been fortunate to attend a TargetX event and “drank the Kool-Aid” about the college search process, you know that decisions by consumers, students, parents and even ourselves, aren’t always rational. And many times they are based on feeling or emotion.
We need to remember that whether you are purchasing a bottle of Maker’s Mark or choosing a school, you are making these decisions with emotion. For prospective students, college is an intimate product choice — they end up “buying” a lifestyle, a community, a brand (in addition to top rate faculty and dining halls). Students are on our campus and they are looking at people and their surroundings and wondering if they can become emotionally attached.
I have always believed that if you give someone exceptional customer service, they are on your sales force for free. But what may be equally as important (as the folks at Maker’s Mark learned), is how you respond to your customers when things aren’t going so well. Has your institution eliminated an academic program or a service provided to students and later realized how bad the decision was? You can’t change the past, but you can always do what Rob Samuels did.
Don’t be afraid to genuinely and authentically apologize to your students. They are real people, just like you. Don’t be afraid to say “We screwed up.” They may not forget the bad decision, but they also will not forget how you tried to make it right!