Poor Customer Experience – Now What?

Posted July 17, 2014 by   in Client Communication, User Experience

A poor customer experience hurts deeply, psychologically, financially…imagine how it feels for the customer.

There are many forms of business. Each with their unique operational models, cost structures, audience bases and products or services. One thread that is constantly woven through every type of business (and there’s a lot of types of businesses) is that there is a customer experience. In some form or fashion, there is an experience and that experience can dictate if that customer chooses to be a repeat customer of if they choose to speak ill of your business to everyone they know. If nothing more than selfish motivation, both should be important to your business.

It is irrefutable that every customer has an experience, and further, that every business should be focused on the experience that the customer is guided through. So, are you focusing on it?

The Customer Experience

There is a large variance with what the customer experience looks like and how much true control a business has over the customer experience path. Some business types such as a service-based business, have a long time frame in which the customer experience spans. In contrast, the experience of an ecommerce website / online retail store can be very short, where the customer experience may only be a matter of minutes.

There are numerous factors that guide, and dictate how the customer feels as they go through the entire process of evaluating you as a solution to their need. From the decision point of considering to select you as the solution, to the point of physically giving you money, to the point of interacting with your business as the service is performed or good is handed over. To the point where the customer begins using the service or good that has been purchased. All the way through to the support they received when something they didn’t expect happened, and they needed help. When you think about it, there are a LOT of interaction points that are hugely influential in dictating how the customer perceives the experience of doing business with you.

So…what should happen when there’s been a poor customer experience?

That’s a big question and the answer largely depends on the form of business you have. I’m a simple man and can’t even pretend to be able to address what should happen in this scenario for all business types, but I can share our perspective as an Internet marketing company.

Let me first start with some context. We are a service-based business that in many cases also provides a product. What we do, starts with creative consultation to evaluate the business’s marketing objectives, and what combination of Internet marketing tactics can provide the greatest return on investment. Once we’ve navigated through the creative consultation, we then turn to producing the “products” that address the needs of the business. In many cases what we do is simply stated as: increasing leads or increasing sales through the website.

Secondly, we think of our customers as partners, and deeply dislike the names ‘customer’ or ‘client’. These are widely used terms and they’re impossible to completely get away from, but to use these terms implies a very transactional relationship. Conversely, on the opposite side of the equation of customers or clients, is vendors or sellers. To be frank, in the context of our business these terms make my skin crawl. For us to be a great partner, we desire, seek and need more in a relationship. Therefore we choose the perspective of partnerships.

The Customer Experience with Internet Marketers

Within this business model, and coupled with our perspective on partnerships, the customer experience is very long. There’s a lot of room for error or missteps with a long customer experience process. And we’ve made some mistakes through our journey as a business! While there have been a small handful, each time it seems to hurt more and more. It hurts deeply, psychologically, financially and from an collective morale standpoint. Unfortunately, I’m sure this pain is equal or greater for the partners that have also suffered from the poor customer experience – I have no doubt.

It’s a Two Way Street

A perspective that I think is often lost, is that to have a poor customer experience typically means that something has failed with both parties. This is likely more so true with a service-based business but one could easily argue that this perspective applies to all business types. You see, in business there are two entities interacting together. And each party has roles, obligations and most importantly must clearly communicate. And when the collective parties don’t fulfill their part of the agreement, failure occurs. Either perceived, or actual.

There are some that argue when a poor customer experience occurs, fault lies solely with one party – typically the “vendor”. And furthermore, if there is a flawed experience that it’s the “provider” who must make concessions to rectify the poor experience. I simply fail to see the logic and disagree with this perspective, as to have a business transaction, and especially a relationship-based business engagement – requires two parties to honor their collective obligations. Please don’t get me wrong, there are situations where one party has simply failed to honor their obligations despite the other party fully honoring theirs. And in those situations, the fault and obligation to rectify is with one party.

Control What You Can Control

So…what should happen when there’s been a poor customer experience?

I personally have the perspective of control what you can control and I try to instill that within how we do business. If you’re open to scrutiny and analyzing the situation, when a poor customer experience has occurred you can 1) learn a lot and 2) often times realize there is more you can control (or guide) than what you may have initially thought. In our world, we can control whom we choose to partner/work with. We can control how detailed and clear we communicate during the proposal and contract phases. We can control how we on-board our partners into our process and how we guide them through the process. We can control how we communicate, what mediums we choose to communicate on and how often we communicate. We can control how we execute the terms of our agreement and support our partners.

Businesses Have The Opportunity to Guide The Entire Customer Experience

When you step back and think about it, we, the business, have the opportunity to guide (or control if you will) the entire journey our partners go through. We can literally influence every aspect of the customer experience – IF we choose to be aware and place conscious effort on every interaction. The key is to consciously map out every phase and key interaction of the journey, defining how you want each interaction to occur. Planning it out (with some flexibility albeit) rather than allowing it to occur organically. Adapting our communication style and preferences to what our partners prefer. Doing so with intention, virtually eliminates most chances of a poor customer experience from occurring.

Perception is Reality

Perception is reality, we are, after all, human. And there will be, at some point, or multiple points, and especially for Internet marketing companies – a situation that goes sideways. This could be the result of the web marketing agency simply not delivering, or it could be that the partner’s perspective simply does not match reality. And one crucial fact that we have to be keenly aware of is that perception is reality when it comes to the customer’s experience. Whether we provided the perfect experience, or even did “good” overall but misstepped in a few areas; if the customer perceives that it was a terrible experience – that is the reality you’re confronted with.

So what do you do?

So…what should happen when there’s been a poor customer experience? There are two things that I believe should happen, and one that is optional based on your situation.

1. Say you’re sorry.
Say the actual words “I’m sorry”…and be genuine about it. There’s power in speaking, and hearing these words spoken. Say them verbally (not only in email) and face-to-face if you’re afforded the opportunity.

2. Ask for them to share their perspective of the situation.
Explain to the frustrated party that their partnership and satisfaction, not only with the end product but the journey taken to get there, is of the utmost concern to you. And that hearing their perspective will give you insight into how to correct any shortcomings. Ask them to help you get better.

3. Offer your perspective in an attempt to right the ship. (optional)
I believe this is something that should happen in all situations. However, there are simply some situations that can’t be fixed and offering your perspective will likely only add fuel to the fire. Choose wisely here, as pushing the issue to offer your perspective can make a large fire turn into a 5 alarm fire!

So…what are your experiences?

Have you been part of a poor customer experience? If so, what did you do?

I’m sorry! Help me understand your perspective so I can right the ship.