How Their Service Failure Can Be Your Problem

Chances are, you’ve had a bad customer service week. One where it seems like you receive bad service everywhere you turn. Just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does.

Mine started recently when a company shipped me the wrong socks. I normally wouldn’t think much of a shipping error. This one turned out to be just the tip of the service failure iceberg. 

That same week, I had to contact a local hardware store multiple times to find a missing part for a front door handle. Painters ruined several window screens on my home. A new microwave stopped working properly and required a service call, crushing my schedule between 8am and 12pm one day.

My patience began to wear thin as the week went on. It started taking more of an effort to be a level-headed, friendly customer as I tried to resolve each of these situations. 

It also made me realize something you may already know—an upset customer might not just be frustrated at your company’s service failure.

 An angry customer yells into the phone.

Experiences Add Up

The common denominator for all my bad experiences was time.

Each service failure required time to resolve that I hadn’t planned on spending. It’s frustrating to feel as though your time is being wasted. This can lead to anxiety if you are already busy with multiple tight deadlines.

Service failures often get amplified by multiple failed attempts to fix an issue. 

For example, the company that manufactured my door handle didn’t include an installation manual or parts list with the handle, so I knew a part was missing but couldn’t tell exactly which one. The company’s website didn’t have the information and the support team was closed by the time I researched the issue.

Imagine your company makes socks and I’m your customer. I’ve just experienced that runaround with the hardware store. Suddenly, a small shipping error with a pair of socks doesn’t feel small anymore. It feels like the straw that broke the camel’s back. 

The reaction might be disproportionate to the error. Oh boy did I have to work hard not to let that happen, but imagine a customer who wasn’t so conscientious about how they treated your employees?



Their Service Failure, Your Problem

A couple of years ago, I unearthed some fascinating research about how customers react to customer service situations when they are already upset about something else.

Two problems can occur:

  • Customers are more judgmental.
  • Customers become less open to ideas.

Neither is a recipe for a good service outcome. Judgmental customers are more likely to nitpick small imperfections or imagine service issues. We often need customers to be open to ideas so we can solve their issue.

A healthy dose of empathy is required to help many of these customers. Empathy can help cool down those negative emotions and convince your customer that you’re on their side.

The painting crew won the empathy award during my recent week of service failures. 

The foreman was sincerely apologetic about the window screens. He then showed me how the screens’ advanced age made them bend and tear easily. (In other words, he empathized with me, even though the problem wasn’t his crew’s fault.) He also came up with a way to temporarily fix the screens so they would look good cosmetically until I could get them replaced.

I appreciated his efforts and started to feel a little better. His creative fix took an immediate problem and put it on the back burner. And that helped put the issue back into a more appropriate perspective.


Create a Competitive Advantage

The crew from Peek Brothers Painting stood out in a positive way during my very bad week of service failures. The empathy and extra effort from the foreman to help with the window screens helped. I also received several compliments from my neighbors about how courteous the crew was.

And, of course, the paint job was beautiful.

Imagine your customer service team is an empathy oasis in an angry desert. You might take the brunt of a customer’s anger or frustration when they are experiencing multiple issues. You can also be their hero.

Here’s one way to take action:

  1. Share this post with your team.
  2. Discuss times you experienced multiple service failures from different companies. 
  3. Think of ways you can make those customers feel better.

It often takes just one friendly, kind, and patient person to turn around a customer’s perspective. Try to be that person with your upset customers. 

They’ll appreciate your efforts and your company will suddenly stand out in a positive way.

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