“I never, ever want to get a phone call from a customer about an undercooked hamburger.”
That quote’s from a former boss of mine, during a meeting about licensing one of our organization’s valuable brand names to a food service company. He recognized that we wouldn’t have a lot of visibility into all the things that could go wrong in the new operation, but that we’d get 100 percent of the blame if anything went wrong. The resulting conversations set a high standard for the level of service we expected from our partners. And that led to some language that triggered some severe penalties if our partners failed to meet those expectations, especially if that meant we had to go into crisis communications mode.
Many other companies aren’t so fortunate, or focused. You’ve likely been in a scenario where you’ve experienced awful customer service from a brand you thought you could trust, based on how they communicate with you in every other interaction except the sale. Situations like:
- You have a tremendous experience ordering an expensive product over the phone with a really helpful sales rep, only to find some C.H.U.D. monster on your doorstep three days late and sporting a crummy attitude.
- You’re ready to order an item from a gorgeous looking website, but the checkout page tells you that an account with your e-mail address already exists. When you try to reset your password, no link ever arrives.
- You’re checking out at a store, when the clerk runs into a problem on their point-of-sale system. Their colleague strolls up and berates them, calling them an idiot while you’re still standing there.
Personally, I’m still smarting from a time in the fifth grade when I wanted to buy a Kodak Disc camera that was on sale at a local shop, only to find myself bait-and-switched with a knockoff brand by the sales rep. (Maybe that’s when I started getting fascinated by this stuff?) Was the sales guy being dodgy, or was that the plan all along? We’ll never know, since I bought my camera somewhere else.
How’s this happen, though?
As Forrester’s Sam Stern recently noted, it’s easy for customer service executives to get blinded by “dashboards,” then blindsided by negative reviews or drop-offs in sales. Stern and his team like to measure the “line of visibility” within an organization: that’s the exact amount that a customer or client can see into your business, and that line usually lives a lot farther north than founders or company leaders like to believe.
For example, Stern cites what FedEx learned about its retail operations: no amount of glossy marketing could negate the damage done if a customer saw a store employee stack a dropoff onto a “leaning tower of packages.” At Apple, I often coached team members to deliver fearless feedback—but to do it away from customer ears. It’s great for us to learn what we can do better, but we’ve always got to let our customers see that we’re delivering our unquestionable best, in unison.
You can have the greatest intentions, the strongest marketing message, and the sleekest technology, but there are still plenty of ways that the customer experience can completely disconnect in the last mile—and you’ll never know about it until the problem hits your balance sheet. Customers might not take the time to tell you—they could already be sizing up your competitors or a dedicated customer experience consultant. Your employees have a vested interest in presenting their bosses with only happy news, especially if your organization makes a habit of killing its messengers.
That’s a major reason why we’ve been extending our scope on a number of our client engagements over the last year. Instead of just building out content marketing programs based on clients’ goals, we’ve been spending more time, post-campaign-launch, validating that our clients can actually deliver on the promises they make on their blogs, in social media, or within advertisements.
Failure to consider the user experience leads to derailment in the new world of public relations. This extra step not only assures our clients that their projects are growing as planned, it ensures our team only works with companies who back up their words with actions.