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    Learning from your mistakes

    Posted by Luis Serpa on May 3, 2007 - 9:05 PM
     

    Don't go there...Here’s a good lesson to everyone that deals with customer experience:

    Learn from your mistakes.

    I know it seems obvious, but people usually confuse “acknowledge a mistake” with actually learning from them.
    Here are some examples:

    • The company recognizes that something went wrong but is unable to pinpoint the real problem
    • The company recognizes that something went wrong, identifies it, and brushes it under the carpet before anyone in the company can notice
    • The company identifies what is wrong, apologizes and/or rectifies the past occurrence, but doesn’t prevent future problems
    • The company identifies the problem, apologizes, researches possible permanent solutions and, after facing unclear or too numerous long-term options, gives up and decides on a quick-fix
    • The company identifies the problem, apologizes, and researches a permanent solution, but then deems it unachievable or too expensive – and just forgets about it

    What should happen: The company recognizes the problem, identifies its cause, apologizes, and immediately corrects the situation. After acting appropriately and getting feedback from its customer base, the company looks for more permanent solutions and quickly implements them. After learning from experience, the company should never again repeat the same mistake (at least not in the same way) again.

    It is easy to know that you have a problem, but not so easy to identify where the root of the problem resides. And it’s hard to react well, even harder to correct, and quite unusual to actually prevent the same thing from happening again.

    Well… Unusual, but not unheard of. In fact, some companies are not only able to learn from their mistakes but can also benefit from them. Facebook’s recent redesign is an excellent example of this.

    Recently, they had a security related problem that actually revealed more personal information than wanted by their users. After getting a negative reaction from hundreds of thousands of their customers, Facebook’s quick response and whole approach to the problem rewarded them with an explosive growth on their membership, jumping from 7.5 million users to 18 million after the crisis.

    Facebook’s example proves how valuable (and cost effective) this approach can be, and makes me wonder why most companies still refrain from implementing it every day.

    Originally published on Vox Customerspective Blog



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    2 Responses to “Learning from your mistakes”

    1. David Fonseca says:

      Great blog, and given the subject matter, you write without a lot of flame.

      I’d like to relate two customer retention situations, and my comments on them.

      Many years ago my family used to get our landline phone service from ma bell. They have changed their name many times, but they are now known as Verizon. I live in an old neighborhood, where the lines to the central office were all rotting away from old age. Every year, and sometimes twice a year, our phone service would go out. It alway seemed to go out late in the week, so NYNEX (or was it New England Tel?) would give themselves 3 business days to fix it, meaning that you essentially were without service for 5 days.

      OK thats bad, but hey, what can you do? They were regulated, and mostly
      a monopoly, so you were stuck. What was annoying was that I think they
      were just playing musical chairs with the ‘good’ lines from our neighborhood to the central office. Several times, I would be driving home, and see their truck at the bottom of the street. Our phone would work fine, but after the truck left, our phone would be out. We had just be been given the bad line someone else in the neighborhood had complained about!

      Finally after the ‘n’th outage, I called to complain one more time, telling them that this was the ‘n’th time this had happened (n being 4 or 5). The woman on the phone tells me thats very nice, but her database only goes back a year, and it does not show us ever having had a problem. NOW THATS A PROBLEM! This is a service which has its uptime measured in seconds of outage per year. You can’t have a database that only goes back a year.
      If you do that, you have no way of collecting the information you need to tell you when the lines for a neighborhood need replacing.

      To give NYNEX the benifit of the doubt, I explain it this way:
      Since I had never had a phone outage through NYNEX in the decade prior to moving to this neighborhood, I conclude that NYNEX institutionally was incaple of conceiving of the idea that they might have a reliability problem. They just did not know that this was something they needed to deal with in a top-to-bottom fashion.

      (To not give them the benefit of the doubt: they knew they had a problem, and were trying to hide it from the governement bodies that monitored their monopoly. If you don’t keep long-term track of failure neighborhoods, how can your overseer?)

      When I realized NYNEX was never going to collect the info necessary to make them aware of a long term trend, I switched phone service to the company now called comcast. There is nothing Verizon can do to make me switch back now, even though they now would be running my phone signal through fiber optic, which is probably technically the better medium for the future. Why should I? I’m happy with comcast, and their bundle includes E-mail addresses my family uses, and has used for almost a decade. Verizon could have still had that monopoly on my service if they had just been less ‘convinced’ of their infalibility.

      I just found the same thing hapened with NEWEGG.COM on my last order with them. I’ve ordered many times from them, always had wonderful customer experiences. I find that their web site is one of the the most powerful and yet easy to use.

      This was the order from hell though.
      It would not let me order without logging in to my account with them. I had no record of ever creating an account with them. The account/password was not in my mac keychain, or in the LOOONG list I keep of them on the side.

      On the other hand it claimed that there was an account for my e-mail address, and just kept bringing up the same dumb screen, as if I was just not typing in the anti-spamming security code correctly. It would claim to e-mail me a link to re-do password, but I was not getting it in my mail.

      Finally spend 10 minutes waiting on phone for customer service. They claim to send e-mail too. I continue to wait, checking spam-bucket too. Finaly mail arrives, but it does not work. I call 800 number again, and while I’m waiting check my e-mail again. Second e-mail finally arrives (10+ minutes later?)
      (I’d been hitting ‘get mail’, so its was not my end that was slow.)

      It works. I then have to re-type my name address/phone number twice because I refused to let them save my credit card info in my profile(can anyone say TJMAX?). The order form was definitely designed to punish that behavior.
      I then have more usebility troubles with the order. It turns out either they or I (probably me–I’m having a bad day already from the looks of this order) accidentally pasted in my e-mail address and other crap into a field for coupon code. Instead of vaidating it when I hit continue at that page, it validated it at the end, many pages later. It puts an error message up in the middle of the page where I had the bad coupon code. which I miss. Since this was the first page for me filling out my order, and I was expecting to get an order confirmation as my next page, I mistaken believe that my order might have actually ‘taken’, but got messed up at the last.

      After ten more minutes of retries and clicking, I notice error, I clear up coupon field, and finally complete the order. At the bottom of the confirmation page it has a paragraph reccomending I give them customer feedback on this order if I want. I click all over that paragraph for a link, but nope they didn’t want my feedback bad enough to put it there!

      I finally have to go to their home page, and after a bit of hunting about, I find the customer feedback page. The first thing it askes for is my customer number. Huh? I type in my e-mail address and password, I don’t have no steenking customer number! (They do ask for my e-mail address too, but customer number is a required field.) I type in 999999, and 99999 for order number too… hey they should have gathered THAT by linking directly from the order confirmation page!

      Guess what: their feedback page is called ‘Eggcellent’ experiences, I can put three ratings for my customer experience, the lowest one being ‘average’.
      Holy confirmation code batman! Does this mean my average online order transaction is always going to be like this one for the rest of my life? And I will need to call it ‘eggcellent’? Who’n the heck would go to the trouble of filling out this idiotic form but people who have had problems or trouble? And then to glibly force me to call it average. When someone is unhappy, they don’t want smart-aleck. Thats awful!

      Finally, the message box is limited to 1,000 characters. I know I’m long-winded, but there is no way for me to edit this entire miserable user experience down to 1,000 characters!

      Yet another company that can not conceive of themselves failing in something they normally do better than most. Bad long-term plan.

    2. Luis Serpa says:

      Yes, David. It is amazing how many companies try to fool themselves into providing a good experience, as if belief alone would make it true. Unfortunately some industries/companies are profitable DESPITE the badly provided customer experience.

      It is also amazing the extent of hassle that you went through to give your feedback. It shows an unusual drive to fix things, which most customers don’t have (they just never come back without telling what went wrong). Companies must be grateful for each expressed feedback, no matter how bad or incovenient it is to hear about them, because this is just the tip of the iceberg and without them the company will never be able to correct its real problems and convert issues into botton line results ($$$).

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