Getting customers to cut you some slack

Jon-Browne

[Posted by Jonathan Browne]

I'm embarrassed to see that we haven't updated our blog in three weeks. I guess it's a time of year when it's hard to stay on top of some things. I found myself exhausted at the end of June. (In addition to my trip to NYC for the CXP forum, I also had to do some business travel in Europe). Perhaps you've been feeling the same way? At the start of July, I took a holiday. It was sorely needed.

I visited Lisbon, which, it turns out, is a very beautiful city with great food and wine. As with all travel, the trip gave me a lot of experiences to think about, including a couple of incidents when I needed to ask people to fix things that had "gone wrong":

  • Not the room you booked? Have an upgrade.

I'm not the travel industry's most profitable customer, but I'm not a budget traveller, either. I tend to look for "good deals" at mid-range hotels ... For this holiday, I shopped around on a well known web site and ended up opting for a more "deluxe" hotel than I would normally choose. I noticed that a "garden view" room cost just a few Euros more than a "city view", so I made that selection and forgot about it until I checked in. That's when I was shown to a room that looked out onto a side street ... I called the front desk to query this and I was stunned to find myself upgraded to a suite with a huge terrace that overlooked a lawn and various exotic plants. (Perhaps the most dramatic upgrade I've ever experienced).

How did I feel? I guess I was pleased but slightly embarrassed at first. (I hear that some people complain about the first room they're shown as a standard MO for getting something better. And that's not my style ... ). However, over the next three days, I was bowled over by the great service at the hotel. Every staff member seemed 100% focused on making my stay smooth and comfortable. In the end, it was this, rather than the upgrade, that made my stay memorable. I'd jump at a chance to stay there again - even though I'm unlikely to see that suite next time.

  • Not the price we agreed? Oh... My bad.

My mini-cab driver in London and a store keeper in Lisbon gave me less change than I was owed. On both occasions, I pointed out the error and received the right money, but no apology. I was pretty sure that one of these incidents was an unintentional mistake, but even in that case, I found it hard to feel good about getting the problem fixed; the fault was barely acknowledged by the person who made it.

For the store keeper there will be no consequences - I was just a passing tourist. There will be thousands more like me. The London mini-cab driver, on the other hand, has lost a chance of repeat business.

At the Customer Experience Forum in New York, David Cush (CEO of Virgin America) made a side-comment about delivering great experiences all the time so that customers are willing to cut the firm some slack when the things that can go wrong do go wrong. (And there will always be days when things go wrong in the travel industry). I think there's a lot of truth in that.

Speaking as a consumer, I think that the way a firm fixes mistakes (by apologizing or compensating appropriately) is important to me, but not as important as the overall feeling that the company values me as a customer. I don't want to be loyal to a company that has a culture of letting "stuff happen" and dishing out compensation to appease the customers who grumble. I'd rather do business with a company that consistently makes me feel that I matter.

What do you think? Are there firms that seem never to make mistakes? Can a great approach to problem resolution engender customer loyalty? Or does it take something more than that?

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