Don’t Add Insult to Injury: Make It Right or Do Not Bother


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At the risk of turning blogging into ranting, I am going to share another “Why would you do this to a customer?” story.

I travel a bunch. I am not picky about hotels nearly as much as I am about airline travel. Comfy bed? Shower? High speed? Roach free? I am good to go. I have stayed at Club Quarters on a regular basis. Not luxurious, but well located and generally the list above is all sorted.

Recently in NY, I had a bad night. It happens. The valve in the shower was not set right and I could not get hot water. Add to that an unhappy child in the room next door (in what is supposed to be a business only hotel) and there I was after a cold shower in the lobby to check out.
The clerk could tell I was not thrilled and offered me a “Night on the House Certificate” which I thought was way better than the usual lame slight that most businesses offer when they have screwed up.

CQ has no frequent traveler program. Their brand is based on providing a clean utilitarian business room in a great location at a reasonable rate. Turns out that they occasionally send these certificates to frequent travelers. It is not good for anything until after your NEXT stay when it is validated. But the morning clerk took it out of the envelope and validated it for me. I was already composing a blog post about how, like the survey from Yosemite, this was an action worth taking to build the brand.

Since then I have had a chance to look more closely. The certificate does not list blackout days but instead lists weekends and locations that the certificate may be used- and they are sparse enough to make the certificate worthless. So the message to the customer is: “Sorry we screwed up the stay you paid us for. To make it up to you we will let you stay free on one of the few days we are usually undersold in one of the locations that are least convenient.”

Providing a customer with a premium that they cannot use is self defeating. CQ has in effect demonstrated that they are unwilling to make it right if they screw up. The gesture sent me out happy, but the actual certificate is suitable for framing and wrapping fish. Clearly no one intends this kind of message- but it is not all that unusual. How about these other recent examples:

• Dell delivers a desktop that is DOA. After hours with tech support (and no escalation to a senior tech) the customer asks for an RMA. The RMA clerk offers access to a senior tech and a $25 merchandise credit. The message? “Your hours on the phone, inconvenience and time without your computer are worth less $25 and we will only do the right thing if you threaten to return the machine.” By the way- what could anyone buy at Dell for $25?

• A clerk at ATT provisions a new phone poorly and returns a customer’s phone number to the pool where it gets resold. The original customer (who has had the number for 6 years and has it on business cards and in the rolodex of hundreds of colleagues) discovers the issue and calls customer support. It takes 4 hours of escalating rudeness and volume to get past the outsourced call center to talk with someone who understands that the answer is not to assign a new number to the phone. The offer of recompense for time and frustration? “Let me send you a ringtone.” The result? In an age of portable mobile numbers, the customer is gone in 2 days.

Most of your customers who are unhappy just disappear. The reward for telling you that you screwed up is usually a painful conversation and not much in the way of actual response. Recognize the complaining customer- especially the reasonable one- and REALLY especially the profitable reasonable one for helping you understand how to improve. But if you are going to thank them, measure your thanks by the value of their trade. Otherwise, do not bother. A worthless token only adds insult to the injury.

Barry Goldberg
Entelechy Partners
I. Barry Goldberg is managing director of Entelechy Partners, an executive coaching and leadership development firm headquartered in Little Rock, Arkansas. His practice focuses on senior executives, change leaders and bet-the-business program teams. Goldberg holds a graduate certificate in leadership coaching from Georgetown University.


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