Do you know the real reason your customer is angry?

Problems can and will happen in customer service. What happens next is often critical. Will the problem be resolved? Or, will more mistakes exacerbate the situation like pouring gas on a fire?

Here's a recent example that shows both.

I'm a huge fan of New Balance and buy nearly all of my running gear from their online store, Shop New Balance. Recently, I received an email offering 15% off my order plus free shipping. It was time to get some new running shoes anyway, so I carefully followed the instructions on the email and tried to place my order.

Unfortunately, my 15% discount wasn't added at check out, so I had to cancel my order. <----- Problem

I emailed their customer service department and explained the issue. A customer service rep emailed me back the next day and apologized for the error. He went on to explain that the online promotion had ended the night I tried to place my order, so I would have to call customer service to get my 15% discount. 

This was a minor bummer. I had placed my order online because it was easier to browse through their selection and most of my account information was already on file. Now, I needed to find time to call them and place the whole order all over again. <----- Problem #2

I called a few days later and spoke with a rep named Laura. I was bracing for a fight as I explained the situation, but she cheerfully told me she'd be happy to honor the discount. <----- Resolution

Now comes the hero factor. Several of the items I originally ordered were now marked down 20% off their original price. That was better than the 15% discount I had hoped for, but Laura gave me an additional 15% off anyway. Savings + savings = awesome. <----- Hero Moment

I also realized that I was leaving town for a long weekend and there was a good chance that my order might be delivered while I was gone. This would mean the shipment would sit by my front door for several days advertising the fact that I wasn't home. I explained this to Laura and asked if she could delay shipment by a few days. She assured me she would take care of it.

A couple days later I was pleasantly surprised to receive my order before I left for my trip. Laura had upgraded my shipping to express at no extra charge to ensure everything arrived before I left instead of after I returned. <----- Hero Moment #2

Unfortunately, one of my new shoes was damaged and will need to be returned. That was disappointing, but not the end of the world. <----- Problem #3

If you are keeping score, I experienced 3 Problems and 2 Hero Moments. What does that add up to? A very satisfied customer.

Laura's hero work more than made up for the other issues I experienced. Would I be disappointed if the problems happened again? Certainly. I've also done enough business with Shop New Balance over the years to understand that this was an unusual situation and my next order will probably be smooth sailing. In the meantime, Laura's outstanding problem resolution earned them plenty of goodwill.

Here are a few of my takeways from the situation.


  • Don't make problems any worse than they need to be. Anything less than an immediate resolution can make a mountain out of a molehill.
  • Empower your employees to give customers more than they expect. It will make it much easier to go way beyond resolution and turn a problem into an opportunity to delight. (Chris Zane's wonderful book, Reinventing the Wheel, gives many examples about this.)
  • Mixing in a few hero moments will earn you enough goodwill to keep your customers' business when you occasionally stumble.

Frame-up! Service hero, villains, and not-so-innocent bystanders.

My favorite framing store in San Diego has evidently disappeared, so my wife (Sally) and I recently decided to give Aaron Brothers another chance. We'd received a lot of disinterested service from Aaron Brothers in the past, but they have a store near our house and we didn't feel like doing too much searching for a new place to get a couple of prints framed. Little did we know our adventure would read like a customer service comic book, complete with a cliffhanger ending!

The Villains

The Ball Dropper
The Ball Dropper shirks responsibility. Sometimes intentionally and sometimes just because, well, he's the Ball Dropper. That's his stupor-power -- not getting things done. In our case, the Ball Dropper struck twice. First, he mis-measured the matting for our frames, causing a delay since it resulted in the last piece of that matting being cut to the wrong dimensions. Zap! Pow! Backorder! The second instance was worse -- he neglected to call us and let us know there would be a delay.  Aaaargh!

Apathy Girl
We dropped by Aaron Brothers on Sunday to buy some additional frames and check on our prints. They were due on Monday, so we figured we'd see if they were ready a day early. That's when Apathy Girl materialized and informed us there had been a delay and our prints wouldn't be ready on Monday as planned because the evil Ball Dropper and bungled the order.

Apathy Girl's favorite phrases are "I don't know", "That's not my job," and "That sucks for you." The last phrase sometimes sounds like, "I'm sorry", but that's because she has a thick Apathetic accent. She's really saying, "That sucks for you."

In this case, Apathy Girl told us she didn't know when our order would be ready. We wanted to order an additional frame to match the first one, but she told us it was out of stock. She also didn't know when it would be in (maybe February?!). We asked if we could pick out a similar frame and get it all done by Friday since the original order was delayed. Apathy Girl didn't know. The new frame was also more expensive, so we asked if they would give it to us at a discount since we were inconvenienced. Apathy Girl didn't know that either. "I only work here one day a week," she said.

Apathy Girl's evil forces were so powerful that Sally and I decided to give up on Aaron Brothers for this frame job. We took our prints, got a refund, trudged out of the store, and then shook our fists at the sky. (Shaking your fist at the sky is what you do when you feel powerless because an Evil Customer Service Villain took advantage of you.)

Not-So-Innocent Bystander

The store manager witnessed all of Apathy Girl's show. She didn't say or do anything. Perhaps it was because she was assisting another customer and didn't want to cause a scene. Perhaps it was because she felt powerless to stop the awesome power of the evil super villain Apathy Girl. Or, perhaps she was secretly Apathy Woman and Apathy Girl was her prodigy. Whatever the reason, she didn't do much store managing on this day.

The Super Hero

Mr. Clean-up
On Monday, the date when our framed prints were originally due, I received a phone call from a Service Hero, Mr. Clean-up. He told me he was the framer at Aaron Brothers and was surprised to come into work to find our order had been cancelled. Mr. Clean-up was calling to see if he could do anything to win back our business or at least find out what went wrong. I told him our story.

"Ahhhh, the Ball Dropper and Apathy Girl strike again!" Mr. Clean-up then offered to do what he does best - clean-up a bad situation.

I asked Mr. Clean-up if he could frame our original prints plus make the additional frame we wanted at a discount, and get it all done by Friday. He explained that was a tall order because he had to get permission from the store manager (who might very well be Apathy Woman), but he would see what he could do. Could he give me a call back by Tuesday and let me know? Sure.

I can only imagine what happened next as Mr. Clean-up took on the evil forces of indifference and poor customer service that were part of the Aaron Brothers company culture.

Biff! Pow! Boom!

The rest of the story...

Mr. Clean-up left a message for me yesterday - we got the deal! All I had to do was bring the prints back in that day and everything would be ready by Friday. At a discount. I grabbed the prints and hustled out the door as soon as I got the message.

When I got to Aaron Brothers a few minutes later I was told Mr. Clean-up had already left for the night. (Has anyone actually seen Mr. Clean-up?!) However, another employee offered to help me. Unfortunately, I could tell she was another not-so-innocent bystander who was lured by the call of Apathy. "Mr. Clean-up has already left for the night." And, "We don't usually do that." And, "I couldn't guarantee it would be done by Friday." Aaaaargh!

I felt the urge to shake my fist at the sky again, but I had one last card to play. "Let's call Mr. Clean-up and see what he has to say about it," I said. She agreed and made the call. I only heard her end of the conversation:

"Uh huh. Uh huh. Well, we don't normally do.. Oh, I see.  Oh, OK. OK."

She came back to the counter, smiling. "We can do it all by Friday and give you that discount. Mr. Clean-up says it's OK."

Cliffhanger Ending...

I left Aaron Brothers last night feeling confident that I'd get my order by Friday. Or will I? Will Mr. Clean-up finish the job? Or, will the Ball Dropper intervene and drop the ball? Will Apathy Girl swoop in on her day off (she only works Sundays, remember?) and spread apathy across the store? I won't know until Friday, but I'm excited!