No company is perfect. Something will eventually go wrong, even if you have the greatest Six Sigma or quality program on the planet.
And it is how you handle these problems that can determine your relationship with your customers.
For example, I needed a taxi from my hotel in Paris to the airport. According to the front desk, it was supposed to take only seven minutes. After ten minutes, the woman apologized and walked outside to see what was going on. The police had blocked the road and no cars could get down the street. She walked with me to the corner to see if my taxi was waiting there. It was not. She had me wait at the corner while she ran back to the hotel to call for another taxi. Given the road problems, they would not send another car. Instead of giving up, she walked me several streets away to a taxi stand where she made sure I was off safely.
That is customer service! That goes beyond what I suspect any manual told her to do. And it left me with only positive thoughts of my experience with that hotel.
To me, this is the true essence of innovation. It is about improvising in the moment to do what makes sense right then and there.
Or, after checking into my hotel in the suburbs of Chicago, I went up to my room to discover that the key did not work. I went all the way back down to the front desk. The gentleman there apologized, fixed the keys, and without hesitation handed me some chocolate chip cookies. No, I wasn’t staying in a Doubletree where all guests get cookies. I was in a Hampton Inn. I doubt this was standard protocol.
That one small gesture removed any annoyance and made me happy… sort of. Since I am trying to lose a few pounds, I did silently curse the front desk clerk as a devoured the delicious cookies.
But sometimes companies do the wrong things when things go wrong…
I have had service with a mobile phone company for a long time, spending $2,000 a year on service. A year ago I decided to get their VoIP home phone service which was one third the cost of a traditional copper wire line.
From the beginning, I had problems with the VoIP phone with poor call quality and dropped calls. I called the phone company’s technical support repeatedly to see if they could fix the problem, but they could not. Finally, I called customer service to tell them about my problems and that I wanted to cancel my account. The man I spoke with informed me that I was under contract and that I would be charged $200 for canceling. I explained that I have had issues from the beginning and have spent nearly $10,000 dollars with them over the years. Did he really want to risk losing my $2,000 a year mobile service by forcing to adhere to a contract for a substandard home product? After 20 minutes of pleading my case, he did not waver.
I hung up and decided to call customer service again. I explained the situation to the new person on the line. Within two minutes, he canceled my home contract without penalty. Clearly it was not that difficult to do. Why didn’t they do that in the first place?
You can make or break a relationship with a customer through a single interaction. And what is most telling is how you respond to a customer when something goes wrong.
I know someone who worked for Bose. She once told me: “When a customer buys Bose speakers, they become a fan of the product. But when they buy Bose speakers and something goes wrong, they become a fan of the company for life.” Their customer service is second to none.
What do you do when things go wrong? Do you follow the “instruction” manual? Or do you color outside of the lines and do what is right? One interaction can change your relationship with your customers.
Whatever you do, don’t do the wrong things when things go wrong.
Stephen Shapiro is the author of three books, a popular innovation speaker, and is the Chief Innovation Evangelist for Innocentive, the leader in Open Innovation.