Making it Right: Turning Breakdown Experiences into Forever Customers

It happens from time to time, despite your best efforts.  Your business dutifully prepares for seemingly every contingency and investigates each process fault point. Yet, once in awhile, something still manages to fall apart when trying to serve a customer.  The work of researchers like Amy Smith and Ruth Bolton published in the Journal of Service Research shows that mistake recovery has substantial impact on customer perceptions and on the future purchases of those consumers.  Research indicates that customers who experience a service breakdown and receive swift, helpful resolution are more likely to recommend that business to a friend or colleague than customers who experienced no service issues at all.  Like many great service brands, the leadership at Zappos clearly sends the message that some of most challenging and important service moments occur in response to Zappos errors.  Let’s talk about how your business can emulate the way Zappos remedies sticky situations.

Great service organizations won’t end their service recovery processes until they make their customer whole again – even when the customer has vowed never to do business with their brand.  Companies like Zappos act swiftly, take responsibility (often when the fault is beyond their control), enable staff discretion to fix problems, compensate fairly, do a little something extra to acknowledge inconveniences and follow-up until the issue is brought to satisfactory closure. It is leadership tenacity, passion and follow-through that inspires empowered Zappos staff to produce customer service recovery stories like one shared by customer Karen in a blog post aptly entitled “My Un-complaint against Zappos.”  Karen explains:

“Last week I ordered 2 pairs of black cargo shorts by Jag for the summer that’s finally coming to Michigan. I’ve ordered from Zappos before… and in the past whatever I ordered was available in my size and arrived as promised – end of story. But when my Zappos package arrived today, I was disappointed.  There were 2 pairs of black shorts inside but in 2 different sizes – one not mine…. I picked up the phone 1) to complain and 2) to see if that second pair of shorts was still available.  This is where the story gets good. My call was connected to a very cordial Zappos customer service rep…. When I explained my dilemma, she went into action…. She checked to see if the other pair of shorts was still available.  The bad news was they weren’t. Darn it but I’ll live. Then the nice young customer service rep apologized profusely and offered the following solution to Zappos’s mistake in filling my order….She emailed me a return label for the UPS package AND a return form completely filled in with all the details of my wrong size black shorts. No need to fill out the form while trying to find a SKU number somewhere on the garment.  She enrolled me in the Zappos VIP program which gets me an upgrade of 1-day shipping on any future orders. When I decided to order another item for $7 more than the shorts, she told me she wouldn’t charge me for the difference. And finally, she gave me a $10 coupon I can use for future purchases. I’m still picking myself up off the floor.”

In my book The Zappos Experience I pose the following questions to help identify ways to shift your organization’s thinking toward becoming more nimble when remedying less-than-ideal customer interactions.

  • From the standpoint of being a learning organization, is your business a place where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire?
  • Would your company be described as nurturing new and expansive patterns of thinking, and is it a place where collective aspirations are set free and where people are continually learning to see the whole together?”
  • What processes and training do you have in place to drive product and service knowledge?  Is support for this training consistent or does it fluctuate with economic factors?
  • How effective is your service recovery? What are your customers saying about the effectiveness of your response to product or service breakdowns?
  • Does your leadership set the tone for the importance of the service recovery effort?

Even when fault for the problem lies outside your control, how can your team exercise creativity to make it right?  Effectively and quickly doing so can turn that unhappy customer into a lifelong one, renewed with confidence that she will be aptly taken care of even when things don’t go as planned.  That sounds like a pretty great foundation of trust with which to ring in the New Year.

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Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.

Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

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