Prepare for Unexpected Surprises on Your Customer Journey

Advertising disclosure: We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Unusual situations can make or break customer experience.

I recently discovered three torn couch cushions at The Overlook, a vacation rental property my wife and I own. The cushions all belong to a patio furniture set we had purchased a year ago.

Replacing or repairing the cushions has been a difficult challenge so far.

  • There's no information on the furniture company's website about torn cushions.
  • A customer service rep told me I can't buy individual cushions.
  • The warranty department denied my claim to have the cushions fixed.

So now I have three torn couch cushions and no idea how to fix them. I've also developed some resentment toward a company I've bought a lot of furniture from.

Think about how your employees are equipped to handle unusual situations. Here are a few ways you can test that.

 Two surprised and unhappy customers reacting to something they see on a computer.

Test for Rigid Channel Options

Try calling your company.

Chances are, you'll first be connected to a phone menu. Make a list of the options and then pull a random sample of 20 customer calls. Ask yourself how neatly each call fits those options.

The furniture company had just three options when I called:

  1. Place an order
  2. Check on an order
  3. Warranty information

It wasn't clear which option fit my situation. Should I place an order for new cushions? Did the company even sell individual cushions? Or is it possible the cushions could be repaired or replaced under warranty?

Some companies have a built-in menu for chat and web contact forms. You can test these with the same exercise you did for the phone channel. Pull a sample of 20 contacts and see how closely each one fits the menu options.

Many companies avoid menus entirely. Emails sent through a web contact form are routed to the the right person using behind-the-scenes technology. Phone, chat, and social media agents are trained on a wide range of issues and can pull in an expert colleague if needed.

 

Test for Rigid Procedures

It's often helpful to have clear procedures. 

This makes it easier to train employees, since how to do things is well documented. It can also make things more efficient when everyone is operating the same way.

But there's a danger when procedures are too rigid.

The warranty procedure at the furniture company was a great example. The procedure was I called in and spoke with an intake person. She took down the basics of my claim and emailed a link where I could upload photos of the damage. I asked her for additional ideas and options, but she was unable to provide any information outside of the procedure.

The warranty team was supposed to reply within 3-5 business days, but they never did. When I escalated the issue to the social media team, all I got was a flat no. They denied my claim and plainly stated they weren't going to help.

I'm not upset that the warranty claim was denied. I'm upset that I still have three torn couch cushions and the company isn't helping me fix that issue.

Take a look at your top customer complaints. Chances are, there's a rigid procedure or an inflexible policy behind it. 

  • Are your employees empowered to react to unusual situations?
  • Do employees instinctively focus on a solution or defending the policy?

 

Take Action

You can learn a lot of examining your top customer complaints.

One client I worked with was the parking department for a university. Their biggest customer complaint was the process used to issue annual parking passes. It required people to come to the parking office on campus and wait in a long line.

The parking department redesigned this process around making it easy for customers. They set up temporary stations around campus so people could pick up their parking pass near the building where they worked. The annual parking pass quickly went from the biggest complaint to the biggest compliment.

In The Service Culture Handbook, one of the companies I profiled was Cars.com. Leaders consistently ask customer service agents for input on how to improve processes. Agents are asked to answer two questions when they submit their ideas:

  1. Why is this better for the customer?
  2. Why is this better for the customer care agent?

Ideas that are better for both the customer and the agent get the strongest consideration. The process also helps agents feel empowered to improve wonky processes for both themselves and the people they serve.