When it all goes wrong - customer service - Business Works
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When it all goes wrong - customer service

BW Mistakes happen! The difference for both customers and the business is how you handle them when they do and how your customers feel as a result.

In fact, "customers who are handled well when something goes wrong can wind up being even more loyal to your business than those for whom the transaction went smoothly the first time around" says Chris Griffiths in a recent article. In fact, there is a wealth of literature on turning a problem into an opportunity". In a recent blog post, A brief philosophy of customer service capability, Adam Toporek says that there are three types of team members:

  • those who get it;
  • those who can learn it; and
  • those who just donít have it.
and he concludes that you should 'concentrate your energies on those that can be effective'.

The question is, why don't we all do it? In particular, why, at the very least, don't large organisations do it?

A recent experience at Lyon airport in France highlights some of the issues. Flying on a 'bucket' airline is generally 'OK' when all goes OK - and not when it doesn't.

The provision of free WiFi at the airport is good customer service and shows that the management has a clear understanding of the needs of travellers passing through.

However, we progress down the service 'scale' when we come to the airport restaurant experience. In the past few days, there have been moves in the French parliament to legislate against premises calling themselves 'restaurants' if their food is not truly 'home made'. In France we expect good food and a good dining experience. The service was poor, the food was poor and value-for-money was poor. Customers are largely 'passing through', so presumably not seen as being worth any investment as they will probably never be 'regulars'. We are regulars - so you never know!

the customer's opinion is only as good as their last experience

In fact, whilst doing consultancy work with a mid-sized restaurant group, we asked staff how they recognised 'regulars' on their first visit. That is the argument for service to be consistently good - as though all customers are, or may be regulars. In the restaurant business, regular customers often mean regular tips - there is nothing like American restaurant service just before the 'check' arrives! And, like most businesses, the customer's opinion is only as good as their last experience.

The 'crowning glory' was the pre-flight experience. As a colleague commented 'sleazyService' - all it needed was to be coloured corporate orange. In the end, the flight was delayed five hours. There were no announcements, the flight didn't even appear on the departure screens until over four hours after its scheduled departure time. Not at all. Not even as 'delayed'. The whole thing was a customer-service disaster, but the flight crew rescued the day and there were apologies from the Captain, First Officer and Chief Steward. Nicely handled!

However, to cap it all, there was an e-mail apology the following day. Good news - well, it asked for feedback which was duly and fairly given - praising the flight crew whilst expressing horror at the total disaster in Departures. Another survey arrived offering 'contact' after receiving feedback. There was no follow-up to either.

So, what can we learn?

  • We all understand that problems occur - the flight delay was due to technical reasons - nobody would argue about the importance of safety! It wasn't the fact that there was problem: it was the atrocious handling that alienated customers.
  • Customer service doesn't actually cost much - it is largely about 'people interactions'. Staff, properly trained, engaged and aware, can easily overcome almost all problems and even turn them into opportunities for the organisation. The ground experience was a disaster. The follow-up had promise, but then failed to deliver. Members of the flight crew were the heroes of the day!
  • If you ask for feedback, acknowledge it and do something with it, otherwise customers will become even more dissatisfied.

Richard Branson recently shared a customer complaint letter (a masterpiece - be prepared for a good laugh!) and we highlighted the importance of talking to customers. Keeping people informed, good communications, apologising for problems, putting measures in place to help overcome the problems and even compensating people are keys to making the most of a bad situation. Only the last of these has cost implications and, if you get the others right, you might find that any compensation (however modest) will be the icing that makes the customers want more of your cake in the future.

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