The Exceptional Customer Experience: How Not to Provide Service

The Impact of Broken Customer Service Processes – A Real-World Example

Customers of any business say good service often comes down to a courteous and attentive voice at the other end of an issue. And in most cases that’s true. But just as critical to a positive customer experience are the processes that drive service in the first place — and if such processes aren’t effective, you can bet service won’t be either.

Here’s the perfect example of a service process breakdown. It’s also the true story of an experience I had with a fairly respected retailer, in which their service could only be described as abysmal. Because as I discovered from one point of futility to the next, the company’s service processes were basically abysmal.

Start with a new BluRay player purchased from “XYZ Company” and a satisfied customer (me, along with my husband). Unfortunately that positive opinion changed over the next two months when 1) things went wrong with the player, and 2) things got worse as we tried to get the problem fixed.

Hurdle #1: Little did we know that if the BluRay firmware isn’t upgraded periodically, some of the newer discs won’t play. It’s a glitch we learned about when I bought my husband a new disc for Christmas and, you guessed it, the disc wouldn’t play. So in March of 2009 I placed my first call to the XYZ Company to resolve the problem. Easy enough. According to the customer service agent I spoke with, the firmware upgrade was an easy download via the web. The agent explained every step, as XYZ Company’s service process dictated, and I followed the instructions to a tea. Yet the download process failed, so I called customer service again.

Hurdle #2: According to another customer service agent at XYZ Company, I had done “everything right” to download and upgrade the BluRay firmware. But since the online download didn’t work, the agent this time decided to send me a disk in the mail. Not overnight. Not priority mail. No urgency whatsoever. Two weeks later the disk finally showed up, and the download still didn’t work. Third call to customer service, and I was completely calm about it — which, as a consumer, is the surest way to set a positive tone with an agent and get them to help you.

Hurdle #3: “It might well have been a bad disk,” the agent told me. OK, I’m still calm, and I ask quite innocently if XYZ Company ever quality assures such a disk before sending it out to a customer. “Um, no, that isn’t part of our process.” Now my annoyance meter is on, although I kept my interaction with the agent calm and friendly. After all, she was only the messenger, and yelling at her would never have accomplished anything. And that, as a consumer, is another sure way to get an agent to help you.

In this case, after I politely insisted, the customer service agent told me they would indeed check the next firmware disk before sending it, but that it would be another two weeks before I received the new disc in the mail. My husband and I waited two more weeks, the new disk finally arrived, and just like a bad dream the download failed again. My annoyance meter? On the happy camper scale, I was definitely not a happy camper, so I called XYZ Company for the fourth time.

Hurdle #4: Different agent than the first three times I called, and no record of my previous issues with the BluRay firmware download and the defective discs. Bad, bad process on XYZ Company’s part. Or actually, a broken process. When the agent offered to send another disk, I promptly requested a supervisor — who in turn promptly informed me that the previous disks had a known software bug! Accckkkk!! “However, that bug has now been fixed, and we’ll make sure you receive a corrected disc as soon as possible.”

ASAP, huh? My calmness was about to fly out the window, and I told the supervisor her company should seriously consider shipping the disk overnight this time, especially given the unacceptable timeframes from the previous two mailings. I also explained that I was extremely disappointed in the XYZ Company, that I would never do business with them again, and that if they didn’t want a bad reputation to get worse, it would behoove her on behalf of XYZ Company to forego the normal two-week delivery procedure and keep her promise of ASAP.

“I’m really sorry, but even as a supervisor I don’t have the authority to overnight any item, especially if it’s only a service issue.” Only a service issue?! This was closing in on a two-month lesson in how not to provide service. The best the supervisor could do would be to ship the disk via the normal snail mail channels, which she did. On the good side, I did finally get the disk, two weeks later, and it did work.

What was the cost to the XYZ Company?

The cost was steep. As in, a lost customer, no repeat business, and no spreading a good word to other potential new customers. As in, I will never buy another product from XYZ Company, because I would never want to experience this scenario again.

Does process matter? You bet it does. I’ve since told my story to many of my friends, and they’ve sworn off the XYZ Company based solely on my testimony against their unacceptable service. In fact, my story clearly demonstrates that the company took a hit on two levels: reputation, and bottom line revenues.

Getting service “right”

Could XYZ Company have turned my perception around? In a heartbeat. All they needed to do, even after I learned they were knowingly shipping defective disks for our BluRay firmware download, was to tell me they were sorry for the problem, and for the inconvenience it caused. Seven simple words. “We apologize for the inconvenience we’ve caused.” Even better would have been authorizing a supervisor to bypass a normal procedure, and ship me a disk overnight so my husband and I wouldn’t have to wait any longer than we already had to enjoy our new BluRay. That’s it. A sincere apology and the cost of an overnight envelope is all I needed to forgive the XYZ Company and reconsider being a return customer at some point in the future.

Unfortunately, their existing service process didn’t allow them to do that. It didn’t even allow their service agents and supervisors to budge. Worse, there didn’t appear to be any means, or interest, to identify the root cause of a problem like mine, and to attempt to fix it to prevent the same thing from recurring. In the name of service, how many other customers had a similar negative experience? And how many customers ultimately severed their customer ties?

One more question. Exactly how did the XYZ Company get into this service process mess? I don’t know specifically why their process failed, but I do know there’s more than one avenue leading to dysfunctional processes. Mergers and acquisitions, ineffective technologies, departmental divides, any number of things. Still, customers don’t really care how a company’s processes go wrong. All they know is, their own issues aren’t being sufficiently addressed and they’re unhappy.

To improve service, businesses must first identify and fix dysfunctional processes that cause service breakdowns. And the best place to start is to listen to customers, so you don’t repeat mistakes of the past.

Diane Halliwell, Align Consulting, and Gina Clarkin, Product Marketing, Interactive Intelligence (News - Alert)

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Edited by Stefania Viscusi