Customer Experience Strategy: Turning Service Failure Into Opportunity

Every organization realizes the importance of customer experience. Companies like Apple have gone to great lengths to ensure a positive experience every step of the way, from purchase to disposal. Everything— ordering, delivery speed, unboxing, set up, user-friendliness—is orchestrated to allow even new or unfamiliar users to easily use and enjoy Apple products.  A well-engineered customer experience creates a significant competitive advantage by becoming a point of differentiation.

However, organizations often overlook the customer recovery aspect of customer experience.  Most consumers are familiar with the scenario of having a phenomenal experience at first, then something not going quite right. This critical juncture demonstrates the organization’s care in determining how to recover when something doesn’t go right in creating the initial experience.

Why the Customer Recovery Experience Matters

The answer has a significant impact on consumer opinion of the organization and its products. Even if the initial experience is fantastic, having to wait on hold with customer service can change a mind in a hurry: now this great experience is anything but.

Long hold times are easy for organizations to recognize and remedy, but there are plenty of recovery examples that create less obvious but significantly negative experiences for customers. For instance, web sites without a phone number indicate they prefer email, chat, or another digital means of contact.  This is inconvenient for some users, and creates a poor experience by neglecting to communicate how to get in touch.

A Less Than Satisfactory Service Recovery Experience

After purchasing Internet wifi access during a recent flight, it didn’t work.  I get the bill, go to the airline’s website and can’t find how to request a refund.  Finally, I find a community blog post on a similar issue that suggests using the contact us form or Twitter.  I choose Twitter, and am directed to follow a link that isn’t highlighted or labeled ‘Service Recovery’ as was mentioned.  After clicking around I eventually figure out how to get to customer service. Once in touch with customer service, they do a nice job resolving my issue.  However I was left guessing how to get through to them for quite a few minutes.

Then there’s Uber. If a driver doesn’t show up, it’s not Uber’s fault. But if a customer cancels a ride for a no-show driver, they are penalized with a fee. There is no phone number. The only way to sort it out is to email them.  As good as Uber is at many things, their service recovery experience lacks differentiation.

An Opportunity for Differentiation

No one likes to think about messing up. We’d much rather plan a great customer experience and leave it at that. But customer recovery experiences present an opportunity to build loyalty and enhance the customer experience. Just as you can design a great unboxing or ordering experience, you can design a great customer recovery experience.

Given how common poor customer recovery is, this is a strong opportunity for competitive differentiation. You’re familiar with the legendary story of the man taking his snow tires back to Nordstrom’s and receiving a refund even though they don’t sell snow tires. Their “we are just really focused on the customer” attitude wins them tremendous loyalty.

Let’s look at the Uber example again. Uber is an industry leader, but another ride sharing company can learn from Nordstrom.  There is an opportunity to differentiate the service recovery experience as a way to say “We’re different – if you have a problem it’s easy to resolve it.”

Turning Customer Experience Failure into an Advantage

Designing for the customer experience at the point of service failure or recovery is more than a matter of patching up relations.  While organizations don’t necessarily need to go to the length Nordstrom did, it makes sense to think through the process of customer recovery and design ways to turn service failure into a strategic advantage.

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