8 Days To Lose A Customer

The story below is happening right now. It shows how you need to architect the right kind of care for your customers so that when things go wrong it makes good business sense to have a seemingly generous response plan. Otherwise you lose customers and you lose money.

A First-World Problem

Our office is connected t0 the world by a single cable. Right now something is broken between the router and the… everything. It’s just broken. Somewhere.

8 Days Ago

I called the service provider to report the outage they said some caring words and scheduled a technician to arrive within 48 hours.

7 Days Ago

I called the service provider and they advised that the technician wouldn’t be coming — this was not an issue with our premises. Our little piece of cable was absolutely fine and all the other people nearby have working pieces of cable too. But the thing that these cables connect to is broken. The exchange has an issue. Sounds serious.

6 Days Ago

I called the service provider to let them know that their 48 hour repair window (on their status website) had expired and it would be really good to know what’s going on, and when someone might be visiting the exchange to reboot the broken thing — they told me they didn’t know but we should use my mobile phone to connect to everything, and they would reimburse any extra data charges.

5 Days Ago

Ok, maybe I shouldn’t have done this, but the new iPhone was available to order, so I ordered one. But there was no way I was going to order from the same service provider that broke my world, so I ended up ordering from a different provider. I now regret that.

4 Days Ago

The next repair deadline passed. Clowns. Wasn’t bothered to call them.

3 Days Ago

So my new iPhone arrived. But then a few hours later, while the new phone was still wrapped in it’s layers of Cupertino plastic and user experience, my old phone stopped working. Clearly a confirmed delivery was enough to trigger the changeover to the new carrier, despite the little instruction booklet that came with the delivery telling me what I need to do to activate the new service. Of course I wasn’t dumb enough to do that until my cable issue was resolved. But they were.

2 Days Ago

Only 1 day to the latest repair deadline. I kept telling myself to just be patient, it will be allright.

1 Day Ago

You guessed it. Another missed repair deadline. This time the new deadline was listed as “TBC”. Maybe the rebooting team tried rebooting and it didn’t work, or maybe they didn’t turn up because of a flat tire. Any customer service person I might speak to wasn’t to know either way, but I thought their database should record a statistic of one more unhappy customer. So I called. The robo-voice that answered helpfully told me all the humans were very busy and I didn’t have to stay on the line, they would call me back when it’s my turn. An hour later the robo-voice called back with “connecting you now”. After 5 minutes of on-hold music it asked me to hang up again because there were some difficulties and they would try again a little later. This happened 3 times; robo-call, 5 minutes of elevator music, apology, hang-up. On the 4th cycle it actually rang something somewhere, only to be briefly answered then immediately hung up by a human. Meh.


The repair deadline was changed from “TBC” to 5 days from now. Hardly worth commenting on the chances. So I went into a physical store and they made me pay $239 for a clever 4G mobile device that doesn’t need cables or the same broken exchange to connect us to… everything. They told me I could claim the expenditure back, including all the additional uncapped data charges, when the problem was resolved.

tl;dr (too long; didn’t read)

Let’s summarise what happened:

  • Something broke and a service could not be delivered as contracted
  • The supplier made no effort at any stage to contact the customer, proactively acknowledge the issue, or volunteering a short-term remedy that might keep the customer happy (or simply keep the customer)
  • The supplier provided multiple resolution deadlines they couldn’t keep
  • This incident will likely cost the supplier several hundred dollars and a lost customer

The Right Kind of Care Is Missing

If we step back for a minute and look at this example we can see that we have an incident that happens, although infrequently, but when it does the response most likely will cost several hundred dollars as well as a customer.

It’s not reasonable to assume the service would never fail so the service provider has clearly ignored it, perhaps no-one truly can say they own the customer experience, and has thereby missed an opportunity to devise a reponse plan that costs less.

Here’s one such response plans that would have cost them less:

  • when there’s a zone service fault, don’t wait for customers to complain. You know their names and addresses, simply send someone to deliver backup 4G devices immediately. This would also be a quicker and cheaper method than sending our devices by courier
  • when the incident is resolved send someone to collect these devices so they can be reused in another fault area, and maybe ask the customer how they feel. Most customers just want to know they’ve been heard

As a customer I would be saved because:

  • I would be impressed with the proactive response — the supplier clearly cares so much that they would probably be helping before complaint
  • The perceived high value of the remedy would reduce my tendency to repeatedly complain. Someone knocking on the door is real customer service, regurgitating a call centre script is not really service
  • There is no need for any artificial deadlines that, when it’s missed, only turns a single failure into a repeat failure
  • The supplier’s proactivity puts them on “my side”. Their action changes the customer’s perception that we’re in this together, and they need the problem solved as much, if not more, than the customer

And it would be cheaper.

Moral: Don’t Ignore Your Response To Failure

Don’t only focus on the expected outcomes, because things go wrong. Unless you are lucky enough to find a way to completely mitigate the risk, it will happen. And when it does you need to demonstrate the right kind of care.

You owe it to your business to try find responses that make better business sense than simply ignoring the risk. If none exists, at least you tried, and not having a defined response plan is therefore a deliberate decision.

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