How to create Success out of Failure

Some of the greatest opportunities to promote loyalty or repair damaged reputations arise from negative situations.
I am reminded of the example of a well-known US airline that put special effort into repairing damage caused by customer-impacting failures.  When flights were delayed, whether caused directly by the airline or not, special processes kicked in. Extra staff ensured that regular communication updates were provided to customers, not via the usual impersonal and indiscernible ‘Tannoy’, but in person, by a trained and sympathetic member of the airline customer service team. Anyone worried about connecting flights or about getting messages to friends or relatives who may have been waiting at the other end were given extra attention, and all efforts made to assure that connections would be held, and people contacted on passenger’s behalf. When people arrived, more members of the airline were on hand; a) to apologise once again, in person, for the inconvenience caused and b) to find out if there was any other help or assistance that could be provided in making connections, collecting baggage or accessing other airport services.  Finally, passenger’s contact details were taken so that they could be followed up with at a later date.

Now, my experience from situations where things fail badly at airports is that getting up to date and accurate information can be pretty difficult, and knowledgeable members of staff are hard to find (almost as if they go in to hiding!).  This is a huge opportunity missed. The airline, in the example just described, reported excellent customer retention, very good onward reference rates (i.e. people tell their friends what a good carrier they are), and much better than average customer satisfaction levels, despite the initial experience being a negative one.

No company or organisation sets out to deliver poor customer experiences, but inevitably things can and will go wrong. How these situations are handled is a huge differentiator.  People will and do forgive poor experiences (providing they do not happen too often) if they sense that they are being treated fairly, with respect and that the company genuinely goes out of its way to make things right.  Leaders possess a huge responsibility ensuring their people understand and appreciate the positive potential difficult situations present. Great leaders expect high standards of attentiveness to be delivered at all times, and will role-model and encourage the desired behaviours at every opportunity.

The following list of practices is by no means exhaustive, but will go a long way to ensuring customer service reputations are repaired when things go wrong.

  1. Take responsibility – even if a third-party is at fault or circumstances are outside of your control. After all they are YOUR customers.
  2. Say sorry.  Apologise and demonstrate genuine understanding of the frustrations people are feeling.
  3. Communicate regularly, in as direct (human) a way as possible, with updates about the situation – even if nothing has changed, it is worth sharing that with people, so that they do not have to make assumptions or speak to each other and feed on rumours.
  4. Seek feedback and information that will help you learn and improve from the experience – and let customers know that their input to this process is valued and respected.
  5. Follow up with customers after the event. Check that they got to their destination safely, let them know you are working on improving things for the future, demonstrate that what happened was not acceptable and fell short of the kind of service you would want for them.

Creating a culture and mind-set amongst the workforce that lives these values, will generate a “word of mouth” buzz and demonstrate that they care. This in turn will build loyalty amongst existing customers, and generate new customers, especially those who have experienced badly handled situations by competitors.