Every mistake is a golden opportunity
Posted by Lou Ellerton on August 27, 2010
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It sounds like the worst kind of complacent pap to say that every bad experience for a customer is an opportunity for a brand, but a quote in the Chicago Tribune this week from American Airlines managing director of customer experience Mark Mitchell suggests that’s exactly the case.
Cited in an article examining the role of the ‘professional apologizers’ – aka specialist customer service staff – employed by the airlines, Mark said:
“We know how our customers score us on a routine flight, and we also know how they score us when we handle a delay situation very poorly or very well. When we handle a delay situation well, they score us about 14 to 16 points higher than they do for just a regular old on-time flight.”
Staff at Southwest Airlines, meanwhile, aim to contact every passenger affected by delays or other problems within 24 hours of their experience to apologise, offer a brief explanation and a small gift - usually a discount voucher for a future flight. The result is that Southwest had the lowest consumer complaint rate of the 19 airlines ranked by the US Department of Transportation in 2009.
There are at least two differing schools of thought as to why the successful recovery of a poor experience can do wonders for brand perception. The first (and somewhat depressing) view is that consumers have come to expect certain industries to perform badly and provide poor service - a perception for which Ryanair is surely the poster child. A brand that makes an effort to repair some of the damage done, therefore, accrues bonus points above and beyond the norm.
The alternative, more encouraging possibility is that consumers understand that no brand can be perfect one hundred percent of the time, and respect those brands which acknowledge that fact and act appropriately.
Interestingly, the latter view agrees with the findings of some qualitative research we conducted recently among brand loyalists of another service provider. When talking to those most loyal to the brand, we found that they were capable of transforming even a strongly negative experience into a reason to support and believe in that brand. Thus a wrongly charged fee subsequently refunded became an example of excellent customer relations, while stories of oustanding service from competitor brands were ignored or dismissed as ‘salesman’s tactics’.
It’s often difficult for marketers to persuade senior management that the best thing a brand can do when it gets something wrong is metaphorically to throw up its hands and admit it. No organisation likes to open up a vulnerable area to attack. The alternative, however, may be to log in one morning to find your brand immersed in a stream of vitriol from unhappy customers – particularly in this age of social media and blogging.
So the next time you find yourself in a situation when the ordure has just headed skywards, take a deep breath, tell the truth and say you’re sorry. As your mother always told you, it’s the right thing to do…