Customer service failure is about broken promises. When people get upset, it’s not because products or services are objectively bad. They get upset because of broken promises.
Parents who buy their kids a $3.99 balsa-wood toy glider don’t get upset when it breaks after 20 minutes. Nobody promised it would last. The kids get upset, but that’s because they thought they toy would last — they inferred a promise from their parents.
Think about the last time you got really mad at a product or a company. I’m betting it was a broken promise that got you upset (and probably upset enough to change brands). For example:
- When the cable guy doesn’t show up within the 3-hour window.
- When AT&T promises you unlimited data, but then throttles the speed down to nothing if you pass 5 GB in a month.
- When a restaurant meal costs $150 per person but the waiter isn’t attentive to your needs.
- When the top-of-the-line Maytag washing machine can’t get fixed after three repair visits.
It’s not about the product. It’s about the promises.
Here’s an example that’s on my mind right now.
I own a Nissan LEAF. It was more expensive than most small cars, but it’s fully electric. Nissan promised me a car that would be cheap to run, quiet, and zippy. And it sure is. I love my LEAF — my wife and I fight over who gets to use it.
My Nissan dealer, Colonial Nissan of Medford, Massachusetts, promised me last week that it would cost $24.99 to do the required 3-year service, and it would take half an hour. When I arrived with the car yesterday, the service person revealed that it would take two-and-a-half hours and cost $300. Harry Frankfurt defines bullshit as saying something when you don’t care if it’s true or not. The original estimate was bullshit.
I was pissed. But why? This car is cheaper to maintain than any other car I have ever owned. It has no oil. I has no exhaust and no muffler to rust out. It has no transmission to maintain. The $300 cost for a full year’s maintenance was pretty cheap. Objectively, I was doing great.
But I had trusted the dealer’s estimates. They broke a promise, and inconvenienced me.
They appear to care about service (or at least about begging for a 10 on the service survey from Nissan, based on the sign at the service desk). So where did they fail?
Was it the customer service guy at the desk? No, he was nice and professional, even though I was upset.
Was it the people who serviced the car? No, they did their job quickly and efficiently.
It was the guy who answered the phone in service last week. He made the wrong promise. (The service manager, who was very apologetic, told me had only been on the job for two months.)
Think about the people in your organization who make promises. It may be marketing or advertising folks. It may be people that answer the phone. Whoever it is, if those people are spewing bullshit, you’ve got a problem. Your next customer service crisis, inflamed by social media, is coming soon, and it’s got nothing to do with the people creating your products or delivering your services. It’s the people making the promises you have to watch out for.