Customer Experience Strategy: Turning Service Failure Into Opportunity

Every organization is aware of the importance of customer experience. Some companies, such as Apple, have gone to great lengths to ensure a positive experience every step of the way, from purchase to disposal. Everything—from ordering to delivery speed, opening the box, ease of set up, user-friendliness, etc.—is orchestrated so that it is easy for even new users or those unfamiliar with technology to use and enjoy an Apple product. A well-engineered customer experience can create a significant advantage for the organization and even become a point of differentiation for the company.

However, there is an aspect of customer experience that often gets overlooked by organizations. It is what I call the customer recovery experience. Most of us as consumers are all too familiar with the scenario: those times when we may have had a phenomenal experience at first, but then something doesn’t go quite right. This becomes a critical juncture where we discover whether the organization has given the same level of care to thinking through how they will recover if something doesn’t go right in creating the initial experience.

Why the Customer Recovery Experience Matters

The answer can have a significant impact on our opinion of the organization and its products. Even if our initial experience was fantastic, having to wait on hold with customer service all day 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 with no phone number. By design they want you to email or chat or reach out to them via Twitter or some other means.  This is inconvenient enough for some people, but it enters the realm of poor experience when they neglect to communicate how you’re supposed to get in touch with them.

I purchased Internet wifi access during a recent flight, and it didn’t work. When I got the bill in my inbox, I went to the airline’s website and could find no indication of where to go for a refund. I finally found a response to a post on a community blog from someone with a similar issue, which directed me to use the contact us form or reach out to the airline through Twitter. So I tried Twitter, which said to follow the provided link. However, I could see no link highlighted or the labeled Service Recovery link that was mentioned.  I clicked around and eventually figured out how to get through to customer service. Once I got in touch with their customer service department they did a nice job resolving it, but for a few minutes I was left guessing as to how to get through to them.

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

An Opportunity for Differentiation

No one likes to think about messing up. We would much rather plan out a great customer experience and leave it at that. But in my mind, the recovery experiences organizations sometimes have to deliver for a customer, present an opportunity to build loyalty and enhance the customer experience. Just as you would design a great box opening or ordering of a new product, you can design a great customer recovery experience.

And given how common poor customer recovery is, this can potentially become a strong opportunity for differentiation from one’s competitors. You may be 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 won them tremendous loyalty.

Let’s look at the Uber example again. Uber is the industry leader right now, but if I were Lyft (or another up-start ride sharing company) I might take a cue from Nordstrom’s and use the opportunity to differentiate the service recovery experience as a way to say “We’re different from Uber and if you ever have a problem with us it’s simple and easy to get resolved.”

Turning Failure to Advantage

Designing for the customer experience at the point of service failure or recovery should be more than just a matter of patching up relations.  While organizations don’t necessarily have to go to the lengths Nordstrom’s did, it still makes sense to think the process of customer recovery through and design ways to turn even your service failures to your strategic advantage.


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