Hell Hath No Fury Like a Customer Scorned…

February 8th, 2007   •   10 comments   

Was horrified by Victor Koo’s recent post on his mis-encounters with a certain leading bank in Singapore. It is certainly not just an isolated incident since I heard so many horror service stories.

I don’t know if you guys have watched this video about a customer’s frustrated attempt to cancel his AOL account. Vincent Ferrari spent more than 20 minutes on the line with a joker from AOL (who subsequently got fired it seems). I am sure we all can empathise with Vincent Ferrari some way or other.

On a similar note, Seth Godin pointed to Yehuda’s 10 ways of saying sorry by frontline associates, and what they truly mean. On a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is best:

“You can always take your business elsewhere.” (1): Thank you, I will, and so will all of my friends.

“It’s not our fault.” (2): This is a non-apology, where you are not seeking to redress the issue, nor evincing any sort of sympathy for the injured.

“We’re sorry that you feel that way.” (3): This is also a non-apology, which roughly translates into “It pisses us off that you feel that way. If you didn’t feel that way, we would be happy.” It also doesn’t take any responsibility for the problem, and places all of it onto the injured party. Be careful of any apology that starts “I’m sorry that you…”

“We’re sorry if we did something wrong.” (6): This is getting there, but doesn’t really accept responsibility either. You are not acknowledging that you did anything wrong; you’re still hoping that you haven’t. You are offering an apology for appearances sake.

“We’re sorry that this occurred.” (7): You are sorry, but as a matter of principle you’re still trying to insist that it wasn’t really your fault.

“We’re sorry that we caused this problem.” or “We’re sorry that we have let this happen.” (9): This is a full apology, and is what the customer needs to hear. Frankly, it doesn’t matter that it was really the post office’s fault, and not yours; the customer doesn’t care. Most people hearing this cannot help but respond with some sort of graciousness, such as “Well, all right then, these things happen. What are you going to do to fix it?” This is the target level that you want to hit for your customer service. But for the record, there is still one level to go. The complete apology is:

“We’re so sorry that we caused this problem; we are really distressed over this. Please know that we take this very seriously. This is a huge oversight on our part. I will immediately notify my supervisor, and we will review our procedures to ensure that this cannot happen again. In the meantime, that is no consolation to you for our lack of service! What can we do to regain your trust? We will be sending you a little surprise as a token of our appreciation of having you as a customer.” (10) In truth, this little speech goes on until the customer interrupts. And it is followed by a few more apologies as the conversation closes, as well.

I think the most important lesson out of all this is that we should learn to listen to our customers first. And I really do mean LISTEN and not just HEAR. Its a dialogue after all. Showing empathy and sincerity to one’s customer is better than the slickest scripts that a consultant can prepare for you.

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  1. posted on Feb 08, 2007 at 1:37 AM

    woah, quality service man…I spent the first three years in where I am picking up calls from the public apart from my other oh so lovely duties…

    but now tai-chi’ed it to another colleague lah..perks for being a senior now…which would probably translate that I am here too long..keke..

    must send this to my tai-chi’ed colleague

  2. posted on Feb 08, 2007 at 2:10 AM

    I agree that he last response which scored the max of 10 points is indeed impressive, nerve-soothing and ideal. But the question remains – how sincere is the organisation in carrying out those promises it made in the apology? Okay, it may be sincere but we all know that promising and executing are two very different things. If the customer notices no change in service standard and attitude after that, then it is all little more than a properly executed exercise in PR. Could even do more damage than good. Just my two cents.

  3. posted on Feb 08, 2007 at 6:10 AM

    Woah, I watched the horror video on YouTube entitled “Cancelling An AOL Account”. I thought what I had experienced was bad enough but what Vincent Ferrari went through was even more terrifying!

  4. Box
    posted on Feb 08, 2007 at 9:21 AM

    What’s weird about this is that Vincent had already pre-empted this conclusion and taped it down.

    In his interview he had hinted that he was expecting this sorta response from AOL and wanted to verify it.

    Its obvious that he didn’t do anything to “provoke” this sort of response. But am not too convinced he didn’t set AOL up for this to happen.

    All that being said, it doesn’t excuse AOL from the appalling service either. Unfortunately it got the call centre guy sacked.

    Service recovery can be done via other channels with less service casualties…

  5. posted on Feb 08, 2007 at 4:20 PM

    I watched the video too, besides finding it hilarious, m rather curious how ppl managed to tape this down??

    Sad but true, we had heard tons of “we’r sorry that this happened to you”. I personally super ‘buey song’ whenever i hear this, it sounds like “We have nothing to do over ur loss and we can do nothing over your complaint, YOU brought this upon urself” WTH!

    Nonetheless, i m impressed by the 100% promising apology. Haha.. i shall bookmark it and keep it for future reference. (ha.. hope there isnt sucha need thou)

  6. posted on Feb 08, 2007 at 8:52 PM

    Glad that you guys found the video and the 10 sorrys insightful. I believe that such encounters are not unique to the US. In fact, many of these experiences can be found here in Singapore too.

  7. posted on Feb 08, 2007 at 8:54 PM

    victor, box and zeezee,

    I believe the phone conversation was taped because the guy somehow could predict that this may happen. He probably didn’t intend to set up the AOL guy, but had heard about such experiences before.

    What is particularly tragic about this case is that the employee at AOL was trying to protect the company’s interest. In the end, he ended up pissing the customer off and even worse, losing his job. This is a classic case of trying to win the battle but losing the war.

  8. posted on Feb 09, 2007 at 4:19 AM

    It is indeed sad that the AOL employee was fired. As a boss, if I have such an employee, I would let him know his mistake and still retain him. He was just over-zealous. Now, that’s not a bad thing sometimes.

  9. posted on Feb 09, 2007 at 4:05 PM

    I am comforted by the fact that Jayne not only has passion but compassion too.

  10. posted on Feb 09, 2007 at 11:11 PM

    I agree that it was a little harsh that AOL fired an over enthusiastic employee. Of course, you never know what really happened behind the scenes, and the employee may have known full well that he shouldn’t have tried to convince a customer not to cancel an account too hard.

    I am sure Jayne has compassion for employees. Nowadays it can be harder to be a boss than to be an employee, especially in a red hot job market.

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