For my family, 2016 ended with a less-than-pleasant travel experience with BC Ferries to my family home in Merville on Vancouver Island. We encountered poor customer service a lot and, as we consider the service that we deliver in our work every day, there is a lot that we can apply from such experiences to our career. Here are five professional lessons from a negative customer experience.
On December 27 our family traveled by car on BC Ferries from Horseshoe Bay to Departure Bay. We had a negative experience because of a combination of poor behaviour and non-customer-centric processes that made my wife and I upset and our toddler scream. A lot. After summarizing our experience and sharing my feedback with the good folks at BC Ferries Customer Service (shout out to Marika!) I received a great note that apologized for the difficulty, authentically empathized with the experience, explained why it happened, and offered remuneration, too. The negative experience was transformed into a positive one.
Here’s what I learned from the experience in terms of my professional development.
Think before you speak
My wife and I took our time listening to our screaming son (who really wanted to be on the ferry), going for a walk, and we took a few laps around the boat before chatting with the Senior Chief Steward. In the days after our journey, I asked for feedback before writing the short note of displeasure to BC Ferries Customer Service (and I let the email sit for a couple of days before sending), just to make sure all toddler-wailing-induced-anger had left my body. When a colleague doesn’t do what’s expected or doesn’t rise to the challenge, take some time to reflect on what happened before sharing your thoughts and feelings, especially if their behaviour really upset you.
Clarify the problem
Everyone needs to be on the same page when analyzing a customer service problem. For me, the facts were clear: we were two minutes (or less) late. My bigger problem was the lack of judgment and discretion for front line employees. No one was able to look at the situation and say, “man, this family needs to get on the boat” or “it sucks that they missed the sailing by two minutes; I’ll refund their reservation”. I had to reinforce this point a few times with each person along the journey of feedback – we dealt with a jerk who argued about the accuracy of our clock and a kind soul who wasn’t able to deliver on her offer of “making things better”. My letter to BC Ferries clearly articulated what disappointed our family, which, I hope, made it easier for their very awesome Customer Experience team to respond accordingly (and in a way that clarified why things happened how they did, but didn’t come off as unsympathetic). I think that my explanation helped because their response was awesome.
Have a service recovery strategy
Every organization has basic rules about service recovery (and, based on their response to my letter, BC Ferries has a good one). For example, the Ritz-Carlton famously empowers each employee to spend up to $2,000 per guest to solve problems. When you blow it by being late for several meetings, deleting a team’s presentation, or showing up hungover for your capstone presentation be sure to have a clear idea of what you are going to do to regain the trust and goodwill of the folks you screwed over.
Kurt has written a lot on the power of win/win negotiations – when everyone gets some or all of what they want then everybody walks away happy. Both sides of a bad customer service experience are accountable for offering and accepting different options to resolve the problem.
As a deliverer of poor service, here are some options to consider:
- Be fully present and listen
- Refund money
- Offer a gift card or another kind of perk
- Solve the problem
- Document the lessons learned and incorporate them into training programs
As a recipient of poor service, here are some options to consider:
- Be respectful and clear with your feedback
- Ask for retribution and be specific with what you want
- Tell the story to your community
- Let it go and move on
Add value (or cut losses)
Wherever you find yourself embroiled in a poor customer service experience (provider or recipient), there are basically two things for you to consider: are you going to add value for this person or cut losses and risk losing them?
We’ve all complained to a company or teammate about something that didn’t go our way and, sometimes, we’re told, “well, that’s the way it is” and then we are left to choose what we do next. Sometimes we leave our cable/Internet provider and sometimes we stay (and this decision making is part of service recovery calculus).
My approach is to figure out ways to add value for the person who is upset by the experience. If a teammate or direct report is upset because you forgot to reimburse their travel expenses, not only should you solve the problem, but you should also do something extra special to make them feel valued.