Stacy’s Article Published in Forbes Nov 2019.
We’re human beings, which means mistakes are inevitable. What employees (the face of your company) do when errors occur affects customer trust and loyalty. For example, do employees make excuses or take accountability? Do they ignore a problem as if it didn’t exist, or do they respond promptly? In general, I find that customers are more forgiving when mistakes occur based on the answers to these questions.
I’ve been studying consumer buying behaviors and mental models for many years. Customers make purchasing decisions based on how they feel when interacting with brands. It’s not just one interaction that matters, but rather the entire customer journey that shapes people’s perception of their overall experience. It’s far greater than price factors.
A Perfect Example
Starbucks does what I call “doing customer experience (CX) right.” I don’t shop there because I like paying double the cost of coffee compared to local convenience stores. I am a long-time customer because I enjoy their consistently great-tasting lattes and best-in-class service.
Besides the atmosphere and courteous staff who greet me by name, I’m impressed by how employees handle incorrect orders. They immediately apologize and replace items with no questions asked. At times, they’ll even provide a refund and remake orders at no cost to ensure customers walk away smiling. It’s these “wow” moments that differentiate brands; employees need to be allowed to do what’s right for customers, even when their boss isn’t looking.
But Sometimes Everything Doesn’t Go As Planned
Like millions of other people, I’m an Apple fan. I own more products than I care to admit and consider the brand to be a role model when it comes to customer excellence.
I recently visited the store to resolve an issue with my accessory. Upon arrival, an employee greeted me at the door and asked my name and reason for visiting. I was unable to get immediate help, as no one was available, so the greeter set up a text alert to notify me when a representative could assist. I was able to walk around the mall without fear of missing my appointment. After a knowledgeable employee fixed my problem, I asked him about an issue related to a different product I didn’t have with me. He helped schedule a customer service call at a time of my choosing, and I received an email from Apple confirming my upcoming phone appointment date and time.
When I received the call, within a minute we were disconnected. I expected that the agent would call me right back, and when that didn’t happen, I searched for my confirmation email and clicked to get a new online appointment. While Apple had intended to make it easy for me, the website said “We’re Unable To Schedule Your Call. Please Try Again Later.” I tried repeatedly but had no success in completing my goal and ultimately quit trying.
No company wants to hear that their customers gave up, left their store or abandoned their online shopping cart. To avoid this, everyone needs to put CX at the forefront of every decision. All departments must rally around customers and prioritize CX, including the human resources team, which owns employee experiences (EX). Culture starts at the top. It also requires a bottom-up approach so that when mistakes happen, customers overlook them and remain brand-loyal.
Every company, regardless of size and industry, can follow these CX best practices to differentiate its brand.
10 CX Best Practices To Maximize Customer Satisfaction Even When Mistakes Happen
1. Say hello. Personalize customer interactions. I believe in what poet Maya Angelou has said: “People will forget what you said and did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
2. Set expectations upfront. Leverage technology — e.g., text messaging (SMS) — to update customers. Include an estimated time of arrival (ETA) for their solution, delivery, etc.
3. Deliver on the customer promise. Frontline employees make or break the customer experience. Empower them.
4. Make it easy, simple, and convenient. Getting help needs to require a low level of effort from customers. If you don’t make it easy, they may switch to your competitor and even convince others to.
5. Communicate with customers. Set expectations and provide reassurance to avoid misunderstandings.
6. Never leave customers hanging. Follow up immediately, regardless of whose fault it is.
7. Technology needs to enhance customer experiences, not ruin them. Perform quality checks, and optimize websites and apps frequently.
8. Surprise and delight through “wow” moments. Trader Joe’s is great at this. When I need help finding a new product, the staff not only walks me to the aisle but also offers to open the bag and allow me a taste. Small gestures have big impacts.
9. Own mistakes. Use them as an opportunity to win customer trust, even more than before an issue occurred. When the Starbucks “order ahead” app caused an error that needed fixing, the store manager gave me a gift card to make up for lost time and inconvenience, even though she didn’t create the problem.
10. Let customers know that you take customer experience seriously. Make CX your value proposition, and advertise it internally and externally. As Steve Cannon has said, “Customer experience is the new marketing.”
The Bottom Line: Stay Or Leave
When customers trust brands, they are often far more tolerant and patient when mistakes happen. Over time, if there are too many errors, the possibility of churn is higher. New customers may switch to a competitor after one bad experience. Even worse, those customers may influence others via bad press on social media.
For this reason, I’m reinforcing the importance of applying CX best practices, which includes creating a customer-centric culture where employees are empathetic, take accountability, and feel empowered to address issues right away.
Customer experience is the new battlefield!