Responding To Customer Experience Disasters!


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As much as we try to develop, implement, and execute outstanding customer experiences, sometimes things fall apart and we have a complete disaster.  Everything goes wrong!

We all fail.  We make mistakes, sometimes we just do the wrong things, sometimes it’s error.  In larger organizations, senior executives have to trust that everyone in the organization is executing–but sometimes, despite everything that’s done, it someone in the organization makes a mistake.  Maybe they don’t know how to do something, maybe they don’t care, but people will make mistakes and fail.

How we respond to these customer service and experience disasters is critical.  It separates great companies from the mediocre.

Over the New Year Holidays, I experienced a terrible–almost tragic performance failure.

My 90 year old father had been hospitalized just before the New Year.  He was being released New Year’s Eve, but the hospital, my mother, and all of us were terribly worried about the potential of falling and hurting himself even more.  The hospital arranged to have a $50 walker delivered to my Dad’s home–ready to be there for his arrival.

You can guess, it wasn’t there.

My mother calls the company, they guarantee another time.  Yes, you guessed it, they missed it.

And they missed the time later that night.

By this time, all of us were very concerned.  My Mom had to help lift and support my Dad just to go to the bathroom (don’t want to embarrass Dad, but we all have to take a leak every once in a while).  I was fearful for both my Mom and Dad.  She’s advancing in years, herself and is very petite.  I was worried about she hurting herself and my Dad being hurt.

On New Year’s Day, we still had the problem.  Mom called the company, they said, “We can’t get to you for 48 hours,” despite my Mom explaining the severity of the situation.

I called the hospital, suggesting he be readmitted or trying to find another solution.  Like me, they were alarmed as well.  They sprang into action, contacted the company, and were told something would be delivered in the early afternoon.

Yes, you guessed it, they missed that, as well as two other appointments later that day.

We found another solution, but then my Mom was surprised, late Friday afternoon to find a walker sitting outside the front door of their home.  It had been delivered Friday afternoon.

So we experienced a massive customer service failure.  The hospital did everything they could, the company made and missed commitment after commitment, even though they knew the urgency of the situation and potential danger and risk to my parents.  It appeared they didn’t care.

So now you know the background.  A real customer service/experience disaster–one both I and my family took very personally–after all my parents were at risk.

The people my parents were dealing with worked in a location of a very large, national company.  In my inimitable way, I emailed one of the top executives.  There was nothing the company could do to “fix” the situation, we had already fixed it.  I just wanted to politely make the executive aware of the massive performance failure and it’s potential impact.

Again, think of it, it’s only a $50 walker–in a multibillion revenue stream.  I wondered if they would care.

Here’s where greatness comes in.  Within 15 minutes of sending an email, I get a response from the executive.  He offered no excuses, just a simple apology.  More importantly, he said, “I have asked the SVP of the Area to investigate this.  While I know an apology can do nothing, I’d like to let you know the results of the investigation and what we intend to do to make sure it doesn’t recur.”

To be honest, I was surprised.  Both at the speed of the response, and at the personal ownership, accountability, and action this very senior level executive took.

I’m still angry about the risk to my parents.  There is nothing anyone can do to reduce that.

But I feel that we’ve not only been heard, but people care.  I don’t know the outcome of the investigation, I don’t know the actions that will be taken.  But this executive did the very best he possibly could have done–short of avoiding the problem in the first place.

None of us is perfect.  Each of us makes mistakes.  Despite the best systems, processes, tools, and controls, our people will make mistakes.

What we do to recognize and respond to these mistakes is what makes all the difference!  It’s what sets people truly committed to creating great customer experiences apart from everyone else.

As a personal note to the executive, Thank You!

(PS, my Dad and Mom are doing fine.)

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


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