Customer Experience Series: When You Screw Up…

customer experience when you screw up

Customer Experience Series: When You Screw Up…

… and you will screw up (everyone does) … you solve it!

Steve once worked for a company where the owner told him, “Even when it costs me money, we always keep our word.”

While the owner was a folksy guy with lots of old adages at the ready, these weren’t just words; his actions backed up this belief every day. In the long run, the company was very profitable, and grew at a rate faster than the competition. How much of this was due to the owner’s integrity and how much was due to the hard work of his teams cannot be determined, though the owner’s commitment to keeping his word trickled down through the organization.

The business (a wholesale distributor to retailers) was a customer-first company. And by being customer-first, the business often enjoyed pricing power and preferential treatment not afforded to competitors.

As you’re probably tired of being reminded, customer-first companies:

  1. Make “it” easy
  2. Manage expectations
  3. Keep you informed
  4. Keep their word

That last one – keep their word – is both a goal and a safety net. As a goal, keeping your word means meeting or exceeding the expectations you set. As a safety net, it means doing whatever it takes to make things right when you do screw up.

While great customer service means never having to say your sorry – and solving issues certainly shouldn’t be the cornerstone of your customer experience strategy – on the rare occasions when customer-first companies screw up, they keep their word.

They keep their word even when it costs them money.

Why McDonald’s Will Never Beat Chick-fil-A

We understand this isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison. McDonald’s is much larger than Chick-fil-A, and no one can argue that McDonald’s hasn’t been successful. And while they both serve fast food and they target the same consumers, McDonald’s is just not “built” to beat Chick-fil-A for customer service or revenue per location.

Chick-fil-A is a first class seat on Emirates Air; McDonald’s is the back row on a Greyhound bus. Chick-fil-A is Nordstroms; McDonald’s is Dollar General. For the most part, they stay in their lanes.

And while McDonald’s made some progress with customer service and efficiency during the pandemic, their franchisor-franchisee relationships/rules/processes don’t allow for simple resolutions to customer service issues. Let us give you a recent example.

A glitch in the McDonald’s app caused an order to be charged twice to Steve’s credit card – something he didn’t realize until he saw the charges posted the next day. So, he called the restaurant (if you’ve ever tried calling a McDonald’s restaurant to resolve a customer service issue, you probably know this can be a mind-numbing experience); however, the manager was unavailable, and Steve left his number when the cashier promised him a return call.

After no call for more than an hour, he tried to get assistance via McDonald’s corporation (given it was their app that caused the issue, not the franchisee). No luck. They told him he needed to go to the restaurant to resolve it. (“Blame the franchisee” seems to be their corporate mantra. Conversely, you never hear Chick-fil-A talk about their franchisees unless it’s something positive.)

To shorten this very long story, it took Steve eight days of calls and visits to the restaurant to resolve the issue. (Yes, he could have disputed the charges with his credit card company, though those disputes can take 30 days and don’t always go in favor of the consumer.)

McDonald’s, you see, is not a customer-first company. If they were, they would’ve made the resolution of this minor issue easier. Moreover, they would’ve credited Steve for both the duplicate order and the original (and sincerely apologized for the inconvenience). After all, it was their app that charged his credit card twice for the same order.

McDonald’s, unfortunately for them, will likely never become a customer-first company any more than Greyhound or Dollar General will become customer-first companies. They’re just not built for that.

Yes, there are some great McDonald’s franchisees and employees who provide terrific customer service. Likewise, we assume there are awesome Greyhound bus drivers and exceptional Dollar General cashiers. Unfortunately, the only consistency with these organizations appears to be their inconsistency when it comes to the customer experience.

Solutions Should be Quick and Painless

When your business screws up (and you will), the solution should be quick and painless for the customer. In the case of McDonald’s, they made Steve resolve the issue (caused by their software) at the restaurant. This was neither quick nor painless.

To be fair, we don’t know if Chick-fil-A corporate makes it difficult to resolve issues, as we’ve simply never had issues that would require contacting anyone beyond the cashier.

We have experienced food delivery issues with the likes of DoorDash. Sometimes these issues were caused by the Dasher, and sometimes the fault was the restaurant’s. Does DoorDash (or Grubhub or Uber Eats) require customers to go to the restaurant themselves to resolve issues with orders? Never, even if the issue was caused by the restaurant.

When food delivery companies (or their restaurant partners) screw up, they solve it.

You Don’t Need to Wow Them

Your solutions to issues don’t need to be elaborate or even mind-blowingly great experiences. Contrary to popular belief, delighting your customers doesn’t build as much loyalty as reducing their efforts to get problems solved.

Whether your team failed or your customer was simply being unreasonable, responding to and resolving customer service issues is required. Unfortunately, too many businesses (especially large ones) begin their responses to customer issues with something like, “I would like to offer our sincerest apologies for any inconvenience we caused …”

Ugh, stop with the insincere, canned corporate speak. Save this drivel for your recap of the issue after it’s been solved. If you will simply solve their issue – and do so quickly and painlessly – in the customer’s mind, it’s often as if you never had an issue in the first place. (There is a difference between employing a sincere, consistent company greeting or response like “my pleasure,” and requiring customer service agents to recite something they simply do not believe.)

Wowing unhappy customers isn’t necessary if your resolutions can be quick and painless. Delta certainly impressed Steve with their resolution, though they didn’t wow him (say, with a free round-trip ticket).

DIY Solutions

Quick and painless solutions are often best delivered without the need for human intervention. In essence, removing obstacles and allowing customers to solve many issues themselves.

Customers don’t enjoy having to contact a company repeatedly to get an issue resolved. They don’t like being transferred to someone else, they don’t want to repeat information, and they want to stick to the first channel they used. For example, they begrudge having to call your toll-free number after first trying to solve their problems through your website.

If you’re interested in resolving customer issues quickly and painlessly – and you should be – reviewing your complaint channels and exploring do-it-yourself solutions is a good place to start. You may find in your review that some channels you provide claiming to offer self-serve solutions are further frustrating already unsatisfied customers. These, of course, should be reworked or removed.

Reactive Customer Service

We introduced the concept of reactive customer service in the How to Handle an Angry Customer excerpt. In that post, we detailed the six lessons for handling an angry customer. In this post, we’re going to explore ways to keep unhappy customers from becoming angry by properly employing reactive customer service.

As a reminder, resolving customer issues is not true customer service, it’s reactive customer service. Businesses that assume solving issues is true customer service completely miss the point of managing the customer experience. The goal, of course, is to eliminate issues before they occur.

When you’re faced with resolving an issue – that is, practicing reactive customer service – there are few things to keep top of mind; these are known as the realities of reactive customer service.

Reality #1: The goal is to find a solution. Regardless of how unreasonable the customer is, you should always remember you have one goal at this point. That is, to resolve their issue, and nothing more.

When a customer has an issue, resist the temptation to try to wow them or create a customer for life. These aren’t the goals at this point. The primary goal is to find a solution, and to do so as quickly and painlessly as possible. Complicating the resolution with unnecessary frills does not increase the customer’s satisfaction, and these efforts can feel phony to the average consumer.

Just solve their issue.

Reality #2: Realize the issue is not a problem, it’s an opportunity. The customer’s issue – the one that’s forced us into a reactive customer service situation – is not a problem, it’s an opportunity to help someone who is asking for (or demanding) our help.

Stay true to the task at hand (resolving their issue) and don’t get hung up on the idea that someone is having a problem; they are not; they are providing you with an opportunity to assist them.

Reality #3: Not everything is just between you and the customer, so keep it professional. We’ve known managers and frontline employees who tried to curry favor with unhappy customers by laying the blame on others, speaking poorly of their employer, or disparaging the company’s products, services, processes, or standards, only to have their words come back to be used against them and the company.

True or not, there’s never a reason to air your company’s dirty laundry to a customer. This is especially important to remember when the customer has an issue. When you expose your company’s secrets, expect the customer to repeat your words to those higher up in your organization as they attempt to muscle additional concessions.

Find a solution. Make it quick. Make it painless. Nothing more and nothing less.

This post is part of a series of excerpts from Ridiculously Simple Customer Experience, a book written for everyone in any organization that has customers. That is, it was written for those in both the public and private sector; and for everyone in these organizations. From the frontline, customer-facing employees to the CEO and board of directors.

Each chapter in Ridiculously Simple Customer Experience concludes with Key Learnings and Chapter Exercises to make certain you and your team take the efficient path to becoming Customer-First. As you’ll learn in this ridiculously short book, building and maintaining a CX juggernaut isn’t hard… in fact, it’s ridiculously simple. Buy it now on Amazon!