This article has been a long time coming – and it is an opinion piece. However I’m constantly reminded to write it because of the crappy experiences I keep having as a NZ consumer.

Kiwis are by nature ‘nice people’. But what we definitely lack is a strong sense of customer service and accountability. In the last month alone I’ve experienced shocker cafe experiences, aloof attitudes in home-wares departments and big opportunities missed by brands when online shopping – when it could have taken seconds to turn me into a raving fan.

At the end of the day I don’t care if you stuff up. My order? My coffee? My in-store experience because your boyfriend dumped you that morning? Don’t care. You’re human and I’m not unreasonable.

What I DO care about – a lot, is what happens next. What you do about the f#*k up – whether it’s big or small. Most of time it’s sweet nothing. Or sweet-nothing’s runner-up = a lifeless apology. The worst has to be giving me the impression that I’m making too big a deal about it!

HUGE OPPORTUNITY MISSED. Big. And I go on with my day, telling at least a couple of people about this crappy experience and despondently wondering why we can’t all try a little harder.

So let’s rip into why when businesses stuff up, they actually create the best opportunities to keep customers happy. The big question being….do they capitalise? But first a scene set…

One fast example from my large bag of disappointments…

  • Booked a night online at Rydges Hotel Wellington (date night sans kids, with the significant other – never happens).
  • Booked a carpark.
  • Turned up on a sold-out night at the hotel and no carpark had been booked.
  • Zero acknowledgement or apology ensued. Check-in staff initially queried whether I’d ‘really’ booked it? – Then validated I had. Oh well – whoopsie. “There’s a carparking building down the road” they said.
  • No offer of covering the cost of this park down the road, a free drink? – NOTHING.
  • Us = Pissed-off before even get to the room.
  • On check out – we mention the carpark stuff-up again and again no offer of anything and no real apology. Bugger that. I exhaustively suggest the hotel void the mini bar items used, as a make-good. They apathetically agreed.
  • Experience complete.

How many people have I now told about this…..

It doesn’t need to be this way

I don’t need to spell out how that bad experience happened or where the hotel went wrong – you can see all the missed opportunities along the path from: recruiting staff with the right values; training; processes; brand values and decision-making empowerment…..

F#*king up is unavoidable. Accountability takes guts. It’s the greatest acknowledgment of customer importance a business can deliver. It shouldn’t be the exception but it is, and that’s why the opportunity is so big. When a customer experiences accountability they get a memorable sip of the sacred elixir of ‘feeling special’, leaving them glowing for days…

The logic is very simple really. If you are accountable as a business and you graft to find every single teeny tiny opportunity to make your customers feel like rockstars YOU WILL WIN. They will talk about you. You will receive the kudos, the karma, the cash.

A smashed fence but a raving fan? The opposite end of the spectrum…

We had some arborists from The Tree Company crash a heritage pine tree through our fence recently, while removing it from our property. It was ridiculous weather and some damage was all part of the program. But, these guys went to town on the accountability front:

  • They quickly and carefully explained the steps of correction, why things had happened, and how badly they felt about it – despite the fact it could have happened to any good arborist.
  • They righted a brand new fence within 24 hours
  • They worked extra hours for free clearing further debris off the property

The result?

  • An even better outcome for us than if the stuff-up hadn’t occurred
  • A feeling of importance as a customer
  • A true sense of value and good will.

And how many people have I referred these guys to in 3 weeks….

So here’s 10 simple tips to ‘flip the f#*kups to create the fans’:

  1. Own up. Acknowledge the stuff up quickly. And ensure it’s accurate – not just a prolific shiest-er trying to scam your business.
  2. Apologise profusely. Do it. Even if your hip / millennial-targeted brand is trying to maintain an aloof attitude. Accountability is trans-generational.
  3. Correct it. Whatever you need to so to get things righted. Do it. Quickly. And communicate the steps clearly – to the customer.
  4. Add a sweetener. This part must be done. And don’t worry about the cost to your business – the indirect cost of failing to do this far outweighs doing it. A free product or service, a reduced price, a meal voucher – you’ll know what’s fitting for your business.
  5. You’ve got the power. Empower each and every one of your staff to be able to make on-the-spot decisions that will impact positively on customer service – both proactively and when mistakes happen.
  6. As a general rule – use every opportunity to make people feel heard, seen, and special. And they’re not big things. Using and remembering people’s names, turning up on time, bringing coffee, smiling for god’s sake, opening doors, complimenting genuinely – are all ‘sacred elixir’ worthy.
  7. Don’t ever assume Anything. All customers are worth going the extra mile for. And if you’e making assumptions on wealth or value to your business based on someone’s appearance – you’re an idiot.

Sidenote: In a past life as a hairdresser, one of the salon’s clients was also one of NZ’s richest men. He popped in for his haircuts each month in bare feet and stubbies, with dirty hair. Never. Ever. Assume.

  1. Online only business? You’ll need to work extra hard to add that human touch to any stuff ups. Great communication, plain simple language and easy processes can all help you turn any bloopers into a beautiful brand attributes.
  2. Accountability starts in your business. Treating customers well and owning any stuff ups begins from the top down and flows out into company culture. How you behave, who you hire, and what behaviours are encouraged and acceptable in your business, will either mean you achieve true customer focus or you don’t.
  3. Train the hell out of this stuff. Role play it, case study it, communicate it and train it in. Bed down different ways that staff can handle stuff ups with customers. Give them confidence and decision making abilities and a ‘toolkit’ to draw from using their discretion.

Is it time to put a spotlight on how f*#kups are handled in your business?

If you’re not considering accountability as a core trait for your brand then you’re an idiot. And if you’re in a high supply / low demand market and you think you can get away with treating customers like crap – go ahead, be my guest. But I assure you the clock is ticking my friend……

As a marketer helping take brands to their next level, I’m a rabid-dog for great customer experiences and super-keen to hear how your business puts the customer at the core.

So leave us your thoughts if you dare…


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