Epic Fails: Why Follow Through Is Key to Fixing Bad Customer Experiences

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At an early age, we learn that mistakes are bound to happen. But we also learn that it’s how you follow up and follow through after a mistake which makes all the difference.

Many brands don’t realize how important this is, or how difficult it can be. Following up after a customer has a negative experience requires the right mix of real-time listening, integrated systems and process and case management capabilities.

Every one of us can likely mention a few brands that are getting it right in this arena … and a few that aren’t. That’s why I’ve rounded up a few of my personal consumer and travel experiences to see what we can learn from them.

1. Epic Fail
There are so many great epic fails when it comes to handling a bad customer experience — especially related to social customer care. But I’m going to stick with one of my personal stories: My husband and I went on a quick weekend trip to Miami, as we’d never been there for pleasure and wanted to lay by the pool and absorb some rays. One complication is that my husband is a pasty white Englishman, so we booked a hotel that looked like it had a great pool with shaded cabanas.

When we arrived, the cabana indeed looked great … but when you sat inside, there was heavy bass music ringing in our ears. So we opted for laying in the sun under an umbrella and left some lotion and magazines in our cabana. A few hours later when we returned, the lotion was gone. On top of that, the refreshments and a fruit plate that were supposed to come with our cabana never arrived.

When we checked out, I mentioned this experience to the front desk worker, who said he would tell the manager and follow up. We heard nothing. Then I emailed the hotel, seeking just a small discount on the cabana, and was told we’d hear back. A week passed and, again, nothing!

Finally, I called the hotel manager. He apologized profusely, gave us a full refund of the cabana, and also refunded our two nights in the hotel. That was nice, of course – but the hotel wouldn’t have had to lose out on revenue if it didn’t lack follow-through!

2. Great Recovery
Another example: After months of cell phone bills that continually came in at over $240 for two iPhones, my husband and I decided to switch to T-Mobile to benefit from the $50 per month per line and cut the bill by more than half. While making that switch, we also decided to upgrade to the iPhone 6. But since the iPhone 6 was in short supply, we could only get one line switched immediately and was told we’d have to wait 5-7 business days for the second phone.

That was fine with us – we would just pay the 5-7 business days of two cell phone carriers in order to save money in the long run. But the problem was that T-Mobile later informed us that the second phone was on back order and wouldn’t arrive for 30 business days.

Here’s where follow-through comes in: It took two calls to T-Mobile, but they were able to find me the phone and get us switched to their service earlier. What almost started as a cantankerous relationship was saved by the T-Mobile service team understanding the impact that 30 business days had on my wallet … and being proactive enough to do something about it!

When you listen to the root of the customers concerns and you empathize with their plight, you can find the way to resolve their issues. In my case, the resolution could have been service discounts or delivery of a phone, and they picked one and made it happen.

3. Flawless Execution
As a long time flyer of United Airlines and a one-time Global Services guest (which means you fly so much and spend so much flying that the pilots start to recognize you), I can tell you there were more than a few times that I was told, “Miss, could you please consolidate your bags?”

As a working woman in the high-tech space, I tend to travel with a purse, a small computer bag and my carry on roller bag. What I never realized, though, is that when the United gate agents were telling me to consolidate bags, and as I huffed and tried to jam my purse into my roller bag, it was TSA rules they were following … not United rules.

On one particularly frustrating travel day when the United gate agent told me to consolidate, I lashed back and told them the rule was unfair. “My bags together are smaller than most men’s and I need a purse in my destination city,” I explained. “Why do you discriminate against women?”

The gate agent said she would lose her job if I didn’t comply. But I still didn’t understand the rules, so while walking from the gate to the plane I tweeted: “@United why do you discriminate against women and make us consolidate bags.” Guess what? United tweeted back by the time I sat in my seat. I was impressed! They are listening, doing so in real-time and offering to help.

Plus, the story doesn’t end there. On my next trip, I noticed a new page during the check-in process on the United website. It reminded me that TSA rules mandate that I can only have 2 bags.

So I say, Bravo United! You followed up immediately, you made the bigger long-term change that helped me better prepare for my next trip, and you proved you have integrated your listening programs across business units!

What We Can Learn
All in all, we can learn some key lessons from these experiences alone. To start, you have to listen and follow through by monitoring cases, and creating also alerts and reminders for follow up. Also, customers will try to reach you in many ways – they may direct calls to your call center, or reach out via social media or even through direct calls to local managers. It’s important to empower every one of these teams to empathize and deliver for the customer.

And last but not least, make sure you have integrated your systems to enable organization-wide understanding of the customer experience. Without doing so, true follow-through isn’t possible.

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