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A good customer experience doesn’t need to be perfect to the nth degree. But companies need to be open when it comes to mistakes. If you ignore obvious gaps in the customer journey, social media users will find a way to make them public.

3rd of March, a Wednesday. In preparation for our own virtual event I register for the Adobe Experience, a two-day virtual conference for a global audience. Registration is fast and easy, the login is no problem, everything seems perfect at first glance. But right at the beginning of the first Keynote, it happens: hundreds of participants get logged out from the platform, can’t register or don’t have any audio to the keynote.

The official Adobe-account and even the special support account from Adobe on Twitter doesn’t offer any explanation. Only a marketing executive from Adobe replies with one standard sentence to the many customer complains on Twitter – after one hour. Finally, after two to three hours, the problem is solved. However, those that encountered it, only find out by trying to log in again or via Tweets from other participants.

This is what you would call a “worst case”.

An ignored customer won’t go away

It’s not necessarily a new phenomenon that companies try to keep a problem under wraps by not communicating it to customers. However, from the customer’s point of view, this suggests three things:

  • The company is scared of any (critical) conversation,
  • has no control over the problem,
  • doesn’t care about the customer’s need to know

When push comes to shove, this doesn’t just escalate from the customer’s perspective, it can also snowball into an entire media and news overload (German source: Gründerszene). A recent case in Germany had the Fintech N26 scrambling to counter news that their customer service was completely unresponsive, in a case where a customer’s account was hacked and thousands of Euros were stolen.

The customer wasn’t informed about the hacking by N26 and when he found out, he couldn’t reach anyone to help him for more than two weeks. This was interesting enough to end up on social media first and then on the news. A disaster for a start-up that has been quite the success story on the German market.

You cannot not communicate

There’re many reasons why a company might not want to address a problem immediately to the public. Maybe it can be solved immediately, or it’s very complex and the company needs time to correctly communicate it. But these reasons are no excuse to completely cease communication.

Because a complete “communication breakdown” offers a lot of room for speculation. Doesn’t the company care for its customers and their security? Are they not aware of the problem? Are they actively ignoring customer complaints? A simple, personal reply – even without further information – can deescalate the situation and say: we are listening, we are aware and we are working on a solution.

Problem solving can strengthen your customer bond

There’s use cases and studies that show that customers‘ loyalty is higher after a successfully solved problem even compared to customers who didn’t have a problem in the first place. In his post „Here’s What Happens When You Don’t Listen To Your Customer’s Complaints„, Ira Kalb quotes a questionnaire of the Marriott-hotels amongst its guests. Guests were divided into three groups:

  1. Guests, whose stay was without any complications,
  2. who had a problem that could be solved by the hotel,
  3. who had a problem that couldn’t be solved by the hotel

89% of group 1. would stay at the hotel again, whereas only 69% of group 3. would consider another stay. However, whopping 94% of group 2. would choose the hotel again in the future. The reason is simple: if a company shows that it cares and is there for the customer when there is a serious need, the relationship grows stronger.

If anything goes smooth, the relationship is fine but the customer doesn’t know for sure whether they can count on the company. It’s like in a private relationship. If everything’s fine, the relationship is strong. However, if a relationship has been through ups and downs, the trust in the partner strengthens. Customers who know that they can trust a company, don’t need to take a leap of faith when buying their products, purchasing services, etc.

What to do in a crisis

So, what can and should a company do when their customers have a problem that is not immediately solvable and might even be too complex to properly explain?

  1. Be prepared

„Hindsight is always 20:20“ goes the saying, so use this knowledge for the future. Take notes after a crisis, what went well, what could have been better and what can be done in the future to optimise the overall process? By ignoring the possibility of a „next time“, you won’t save yourself from the next time. Make sure to define:

  • what exactly counts as a „crisis“
  • responsibilities (for information, for the solution, for the communication, etc.)
  • who needs to be informed about the problem
  • what customers need to know, what they can know and what they shouldn’t know
  • what your company can do and which information it can communicate openly to deescalate the situation
  • whether employees can take part in workshops and trainings to handle crisis situations better
  • the channels of communication (social media, SMS, email, etc.)
  1. Don’t try to defend yourself

It’s absolutely understandable that service employees are under a lot of stress when it comes to a crisis situation. Add angry customers on all channels and the pressure is on. But customer communication needs to be empathetic in these situations, not defensive. As harsh as it may sound: your customers don’t care whether you are directly responsible or not. They care about a solution and they care about being heard. Defense can be seen as incredibly negative in the public eye.

  1. Be consistent

Your customer communication during crisis should be consistent with your brand and your general communication strategies. A shift in your tonality, like sarcasm, irony or the aforementioned defensive attitude will be interpreted negatively if they are not part of your brand (don’t be surprised, there are brands that play with sarcastic/ironic customer service and do it well).

Make sure that your customers receive the same level of customer support on all communication channels that usually offer support. There is often a stark discrepancy in the response time of emails and contact forms opposed to social media. Equally, if your email support is formal, your Twitter support should be formal, too. Consistency can help make your customers feel in good hands.

Ticketing systems and social media-monitoring can help you to keep an overview on everything during a crisis (and in general). A proper service center doesn’t just help your customers but also your employees to stay in control, keep track of customer communication, document everything and take pressure off by adding routine and manageable tasks. Find out more on our service page.