Adversity brings out true character

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There’s a saying that you can really tell a lot about people’s character by seeing how they handle adversity.  Sure, when things are going well, everybody’s got a great disposition, the idea goes.  But it’s when we’re tested that our true selves show through.

I was thinking of that recently when we had an Internet outage here at home.  Now, anybody who expects perfect 100% around-the-clock unfailing coverage of services such as Internet is being unreasonable.  I’m not sure what planet those Customers call home, but it’s not the one of humans and systems that go down from time to time.  So yes, failure, even if rare, is inevitable.  And that’s the point that brings us around to that old saying:  How well brands plan for the inevitable (and therefore totally foreseeable, if not specifically schedulable) failures of their systems—and this goes for those brands who sell products too, not just service providers—tells us a lot about their dedication to their Customers.

It’s pertinent because here’s what happened:

I opened our provider’s app on my phone (via the cell service obviously) and it was already showing that there was a service interruption.  That’s good because we knew immediately since we were on our connected devices and were aware that suddenly the service was out.  In fact, it even showed the outage on the map that pops up on the app.  There had been times in the past when I’d call this company to tell them we’d lost our service and it was news to them…it’s never a good thing when your Customers have to be the ones to alert you that your systems have broken.  So great for them for being right on top of it.

Now, also nice was that the app gave a specific time that we’d get our service back.  The message on the app literally was:  “We’ll have you back up and running by [that day’s date] at 10:41pm.”  No ambiguity there: a flat-out promise of recovery at a time-specific.  Nice!

As you might presume, based on that time, it was evening when this happened and we would otherwise have already gone to bed by the promised restoration of our services, but I was kind of curious, and we also wanted to do things like set our house alarm and such before we went to bed. (Alexa won’t turn off the lights if she’s not connected to the Internet, and what were we supposed to do?  Flip switches?  What are we?)

Anyway, as you might have assumed, 10:41pm came and went.

I opened the app and suddenly now the time-certain promise had turned into:  “…as soon as possible.”

So not only had they failed to keep their promise (not a huge deal, we didn’t really need Internet as we slept), but they’d memory-holed that they ever had made the promise in the first place.  It wasn’t only a miss (which you may remember, I’ve written about before as part of the Principles of Good CX), they tried to pretend like it wasn’t.  If you opened the app at 10:42pm for the first time that evening, you’d never have known they’d promised and then failed.

Now, as I said, it’s not the end of the world, but it does show a lack of candor and brings into question whether they cared at all.  By offering such a precise promise, anybody would have assumed they wanted you to think that was the case…so important restoring your service was to them that they had a master plan that they knew would culminate precisely 19 minutes before 11pm to deliver the goods.

If they had taken all night to fix the problem without promising 10:41pm, it may have reflected incompetence or laziness.  But it also may have been circumstances beyond their control.  For what it’s worth, it may have taken them that long but we don’t know because we went ahead and went to sleep at 10:42pm.  By the morning, naturally, it was restored and things were right in the world.  All we lost was the time between when we’d otherwise have gone to bed and when we actually did, and actually, that was more because of my own curiosity than anything else.

But it’s an integrity thing:   While the assurance of a time-specific may have demonstrated cockiness, their slick attempt to pretend it never happened reflects much worse…an avoidance of fair play and a disrespect for their Customers.  Do they think we’re stupid?  It’s one thing to screw up.  Heck, it’s even one thing to screw up and say, ‘sorry but things came up and there’s nothing we can—or will—do about it.’  Airlines, for example, love using the weather as a get-out-of-taking-responsibility-free card for anything else that goes wrong, even if it’s due to their inability to deal with the weather in a responsible way because, well, there’s never been a storm before.

It’s another thing altogether to not take responsibility for (by way of ignoring completely) a promise not kept.  Pretending they never made the promise by erasing any record of it raises questions about their seriousness…and frankly, their honesty.  Screwing up is something Customers will possibly let you get away with; as I said, we live in an imperfect world.  Missing deadlines and promises is a tougher one, but it’s recoverable.

But don’t let on that you never made the promise in the first place.  That’s an integrity thing, and it shows you can’t be trusted when times are tough.

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