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When Things Go Wrong, Don’t Forget the Core Principles of Customer Care Jodi Beuder

Almost Paradise... in Customer ServiceRecently, I had an expe­ri­ence whereby the prin­ci­ples of cus­tomer care sorely failed, and it reminded me that even when logis­tics break down, sup­plies fall short, and a com­pany ends up short-staffed, com­pa­nies need to remem­ber that prac­tic­ing cus­tomer ser­vice skills becomes even more impor­tant in these stress­ful sit­u­a­tions. That may seem intu­itive, right? How­ever, in the race to pick up loose ends and keep things from unrav­el­ing, it can be easy for teams to focus on the logis­tics and not attend to their customers.

I’ll explain in more detail.

The Car Rental Indus­try Can be an Unpre­dictable Business

The story I’m refer­ring to hap­pened recently when I arrived in Hawaii (don’t roll your eyes – things can go wrong and be frus­trat­ing, even in “par­adise”). Weary from the flight, yet excited to be in the trop­ics, I caught the car rental shut­tle (from a promi­nent national brand – not one of the so-called “rent-a-wreck” com­pa­nies), expect­ing to quickly grab my car that I had reserved months before. To my sur­prise, 40 or so peo­ple were wait­ing beneath a tent near the car company’s rental office. I assumed they didn’t have prior reser­va­tions, and I pitied their wait­ing as I pro­ceeded to check in with the com­pany to con­firm my car reser­va­tion. I was directed out­side, to wait under the tent along with the other cus­tomers, with no expla­na­tion from the cus­tomer ser­vice rep­re­sen­ta­tive about the wait time or why a car was not imme­di­ately available.

I soon found out, by over­hear­ing con­ver­sa­tions from the other cus­tomers, that many of them had been wait­ing for over an hour, and they too had arranged their car rental long in advance. Peo­ple were frus­trated, and no one under­stood why there were plenty of cars in the lot, yet it was tak­ing over an hour to get peo­ple a car. I soon heard peo­ple on their phones call­ing the cus­tomer ser­vice line and com­plain­ing. Dur­ing this whole time, the actual live cus­tomer ser­vice team issu­ing the cars still didn’t offer expla­na­tions or try to per­son­ally explain to cus­tomers why there were delays. I real­ized, as I watched this all unfold, that the car rental com­pany was vio­lat­ing some core prin­ci­ples of cus­tomer care.

It took me an hour and a half before my car was issued, and along the way, I jot­ted down some men­tal cus­tomer ser­vice dos and don’ts about how the car com­pany could have addressed the sit­u­a­tion in a way that didn’t elim­i­nate future busi­ness from every­one who had to wait that day.

Prin­ci­ples of Cus­tomer Care #1: No Infor­ma­tion is Misinformation

The car rental com­pany, it turns out, was suf­fer­ing some logis­ti­cal break­downs with cars not being returned on time, being short-staffed, and avail­able cars not being ready for re-issue. How­ever, the cus­tomer ser­vice rep­re­sen­ta­tives didn’t com­mu­ni­cate this to the wait­ing cus­tomers – they were fran­ti­cally try­ing to process every­one who came in to pick up their car, with­out per­son­ally dis­cussing the prob­lem, offer­ing apolo­gies, and let­ting cus­tomers know what to expect in terms of wait times. They assumed that cus­tomers would under­stand they were behind on logis­tics, and in their own frus­tra­tion, they neglected the very peo­ple they were try­ing to serve. The cus­tomers, in turn, took the lack of infor­ma­tion and filled in the miss­ing gaps with the­o­ries of their own, lead­ing to misinformation.

The les­son here? Be trans­par­ent with your cus­tomers, apol­o­gize, and make sure they under­stand that you’re work­ing hard to address the prob­lem. Ignor­ing an obvi­ous prob­lem does not make it disappear.

Prin­ci­ples of Cus­tomer Care #2: When You Can’t Con­trol Logis­tics, Do Every­thing You Can to Make the Cus­tomer Comfortable

The car rental cus­tomer ser­vice rep­re­sen­ta­tives could not con­trol cer­tain fac­tors that unfolded that day, but the one thing they could have con­trolled was the com­fort of the cus­tomers who were wait­ing. The day was warm, and a nice touch would have been offer­ing water and snacks to the cus­tomers, with fre­quent reas­sur­ances that the team was doing every­thing in their power to secure more vehi­cles. Cir­cum­stances are always dif­fer­ent of course, but if you’re ever in the posi­tion where you have cus­tomers who are present, ask your­self what would make you more com­fort­able if you were in their shoes. It’s worth ded­i­cat­ing one or two staff mem­bers who are focused solely on cus­tomer com­fort and address­ing ques­tions while you sort out the logis­tics of the breakdown.

Prin­ci­ples of Cus­tomer Care #3: Ensure Future Busi­ness by Offer­ing Refunds, Upgrades, and Discounts

Per­haps the most sur­pris­ing thing to occur dur­ing the whole car-rental wait time, was that at no time was I, or any of the other cus­tomers, offered a refund of any sort, upgrade, or dis­count for our incon­ve­nience. Yes, we under­stood that fac­tors unfolded that were out of the company’s con­trol, but the com­pany truly put a nail in their own cof­fin when they didn’t attempt to make amends and ensure future busi­ness by less­en­ing the cost or future cost of a rental car. I heard quite a few peo­ple men­tion that they would never rent from the car com­pany again, and fur­ther­more, many were eager to hop on social media and share their expe­ri­ences pub­li­cally about the cus­tomer ser­vice breakdown.

Cus­tomer Ser­vice Train­ing is your Cush­ion When Things Go Wrong

In most busi­nesses, at some point, some­how, your logis­tics will fail, your sup­plies will fall short, and you will end up short-staffed. You can work hard inter­nally to ensure this hap­pens infre­quently, but equally impor­tant is mak­ing sure that your cus­tomer ser­vice reps are well trained in prin­ci­ples of cus­tomer care. With proper cus­tomer ser­vice train­ing, you can take your company’s worst moments and turn them into a still-positive expe­ri­ence for your customers.

Jodi Beuder, Cus­tomer Expe­ri­ence Advo­cate at Impact Learn­ing Sys­tems, believes cus­tomer ser­vice exists not just out­side the com­pany, but inside, too.. “Hav­ing excel­lent cus­tomer ser­vice skills and knowl­edge are para­mount to cre­at­ing strong work­ing rela­tion­ships, whether you are in an office or out in the field.” With over 17 years in Mar­ket­ing Exec­u­tive roles, Jodi has ded­i­cated her career to assist­ing com­pa­nies grow their brand pres­ence and sales, and most impor­tantly, their cus­tomer reten­tion and satisfaction.
Jodi Beuder
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