How to turn terrible customer experience into an excellent one? Care and provide options!

by Maciej Wilczyński in Customer Experience
April 19, 2019

Good customer service doesn’t mean doing everything right from the very beginning or making every wish happen. Sometimes firms need to be nudged, but ultimately, it’s their options offering and problem solving ability that makes wonders and changes the odds of customer experience.

adventure aircraft airships

The following post will tell you:

1. How to change negative customer experience into positive one?

2. How to negotiate when you’re angry customer?

3. Why providing options is much better than apologizing?

Broken laptop story

Everyone knows this story: spilling drink on a laptop and now it’s down - happened to me.

As soon as I’ve realized my laptop is not working I took it to post-warranty Apple service – iClinica (here’s the link. tl;dr these guys are recommended). I was told it’s going to cost me about $400 USD to fix the charger and a motherboard. I was ok with that as I didn’t want to spend money on a new one.

After one week, I’ve got my Mac back, the service got me a 1 year warranty for the repair. Laptop was working fine until it stopped charging up again.

I took it to the service again, explained the whole situation, mentioned it should be reimbursed by 1 year warranty given by them and waited. Until I got the e-mail back:

“Hello, there must be something with a battery, maybe it has also been flooded. It will cost another $65 for an old one or $150 for a new one. Please let us know which one do you prefer.”

Frankly, this pissed me off. Not only I’ve already paid for the service and expected a repaired, fully-working laptop, but also I was supposed to pay additionally. So-called professional service priced it beforehand, so I was not willing to pay a dime for new repair.

I’ve replied, explaining how dissatisfied I am:

“Thanks for the information. Unfortunately, this is not something we have agreed to. I was told the repair service costs $400 USD. If it was higher, I would have bought a new laptop. I’ve put my trust in you here. You were supposed to do diagnostics, pricing and repair of the device as you’re professionals. I’ve already paid for that and now I have to pay for new battery. I guess in 3-4 weeks again I would have to get something new? This is what I’m expecting: a working computer. It is not what we’ve agreed for. My claim is simple: I want my computer working – in the same way as it had already worked. No additional charge”.

I thought: nothing good will come of it. I will pay anyway, give them a 1 star rating in Google and obviously post some shit in social media. Casual: “1 happy customer tells 3 people; an unhappy customers tells 10 more” (fun fact, with social media your magnitude is kind of 10^3. Gary Vee mentioned that in his “Thank You Economy” book)

Here is how their reply looked like:

_“The motherboard has been repaired and new problem is not associated with that. The battery was working at that time. If it didn’t, we would have replaced it and charged for it. The warranty doesn’t cover the parts, which were not repaired…
_

That was my trigger. I was angry again, until I’ve read the latter part:

_…However, considering the facts, we have decided that in this case, to make it right to you and to make it up for confusion, we will replace the battery with used one, which wasn’t heavily used before. We hope that this solution is satisfying for you.”
_

Ta-dah! It was just the right thing to do. Immediately, my customer satisfaction skyrocketed. I’m not bashing them in social media anymore! Quite the contrary, I will write a positive blogpost on them.

I’ve replied that I’m satisfied and happy for the positive answer and got the very nice, brand-positioning message back:

_“We’re also glad as we value our customers satisfaction first”.
_

That is what you expect from Apple-like post-warranty service!

They did their “Customer Experience 101” homework. The thing is, these guys actually cared and proved it in action. The battery probably cost them, reducing their margins, but in the end, they got something far more important – real brand equity.

Why I’m writing this here? Because I want to present this case study and put in the broader context, so we can drive a lesson from that.

Don’t say you’re sorry. Care and provide options!

Some time ago, I’ve listened to awesome podcast from Harvard Business Review Idea Cast: “For Better Customer Service, Offer Options, Not Apologies”. In this amazing 30 minute piece, prof. Jagdip Singht was mentioning the research his team did among airline customers.

They’ve recorded over 111 conversations of desk service with dissatisfied clients. Most cases were about missing or late flights, lost luggage and all stuff that makes our flying experience miserable. What did the researchers find out?

In a nutshell, they have realized there were two types of behavior visible among customer service representatives: saying sorry and providing options.

These airline reps, that didn’t say sorry, but presented new options comforted the clients and made them slightly happier.

Those who kept on apologizing were only making already bad experience worse, by angering customers. Saying sorry is not enough as you present yourself as useless. You know the saying: “put your actions where your mouth is”? It was exactly that.

In a desirable situation, help desk employees were actively pursuing for solutions, e.g. looking for different flights, booking options – basically, trying to find potential ways out of the situation. That’s why the final customer experience was significantly better. The initial situation was bad, clients might not even get the right flight, or baggage found, but the fact that someone was trying to help you, not leaving you behind and figuring out your problem, makes it all easier for unhappy customer to digest.

It’s a big shot for dissatisfied customers to take, but the company can at least provide a chaser.

On the other hand, there were airline reps, who were mentioning how sorry they are, expressing they were in the same situations and repeating that they can’t do anything. Result? Strong deterioration of customer experience and bad word of mouth for the brand. It was not genuine as company employees simply didn’t do anything to help.

providing options vs being sorry

I can’t stop myself from seeing the similarities between airlines and my situation. At the end of the day, my post-warranty Apple service probably gets their batteries cheaply from hardware salvage, but they were looking for the right solution, just to make the situation right. Used battery is not perfect, but acceptable. And sometimes all you need is a way out that is good enough. Keep that in mind.

There are three main takeaways from it:

  1. As a customer: be polite, explain your cause and set your expectations right. Being rude sucks; being nice, yet presenting your feelings leads to success. Some eloquence may suggest that they might be dealing with a serious guy who, if unhappy, can express their thoughts online.

You need to see it as a win-win game that you’re trying to play. You want to win your cause, they want to have a satisfied customer and earn money in the end.

  1. Provide solutions and options. Lead the customer, try to find the right fit, but keep in mind your company’s interest as well. Negotiate a little, don’t reveal all the cards. Show that you care. It’s a journey, which can end well, if you play it right.

  2. It’s good to apologize, but it’s not enough. You need to proactively try to make any kind of experience better. If it already sucks, simply try to improve it by just a little.