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


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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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Jodi Beuder
We help organizations create a positive connection between customers and brands. We promote synergy through integration as it builds on the decades of collective history of renowned expertise. MHI Global is your comprehensive source for customer-management excellence solutions to compete in today's ever-changing, customer-centric environment.


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