This article was originally published by Management Today in January 2017.
Sometime in the middle of 2012, seduced by Olympic success, surprised by my 30th birthday, and suggestible to my friends’ ideas, I threw away my car and took up cycling to work. Since then I’ve not looked back (literally or metaphorically), mixing cycling for pleasure and cycling for commuting. It’s taught me that I know nothing about bikes. And it’s also taught me valuable lesson in customer experience – namely, that when things go wrong, it’s not all about the money.
When I was younger, it was easy – you were bought a bike, you rode a bike, you outgrew a bike, and then you either a) got a new bike or b) pretended that you had one of those cool small BMX bikes. Now I have to use a toothbrush to clean the chain, leave the house with at least three types of spare inner tube, and even get my bike serviced by people who know what they’re doing.
The last time I took my bike for its annual check-up, it seemed straight-forward enough. I took the bike in, chose a service level, mentioned the funny noise on the chain, then headed in a few hours later to pick it up.
That’s where the problems started:
Me: ‘Hi, I’m here to collect my bike’
Bike guy: ‘Oh yeah, we couldn’t find anything wrong with it’
‘Ok, did you do the service’
‘I brought it in for a service’
‘Erm…oh yeah, er we did that’
‘Right…what did you do to it?’
‘Let me just pump up the tyres for you’
‘How much do I owe you?’
‘Nothing, we didn’t do anything to it’
Clearly, this wasn’t how I’d dreamed the conversation would go, but rode my bike out happily enough with harder tyres and a full wallet. Then it happened. A clunk. And another one. Then another, and another, and another… As any cyclist will tell you, your bike making a new, strange noise is not welcome.
Mistakes happen, things go wrong, no-one is perfect. But the true measure of a company is the ability to understand the issue and put things right again. Some people (people like me) call this a Moment of Truth, a defining moment of heightened emotion for the customer when a company sinks or swims.
Life events, health or financial issues, and complaints are just some examples of these moments when the customer needs the company to be at its best. A quick search on Google will reveal any number of unprovable statistics about how customer loyalty increases after a complaint is handled well.
I wasn’t angry, just disappointed. A phone call, a few tweets, an email, and another call later, someone finally got in touch.
I was politely informed that no records are kept of what happens to bikes when they visit, and there was no CCTV. However, there was something they could do for me – they could give me a £10 gift voucher to say sorry.
But what I really wanted was to know what happened – and that they cared enough to make sure it wasn’t going to happen again. Weeks later, after more calls and emails, there was still no explanation as to why my bike came out worse than it went in. So I’ll never go there again, because if they don’t know why it happened, it’s likely to happen again.
If you’re the company, and your default reply is to apologies and compensate without understanding what went wrong, then expect a constant cycle of mistakes, complaints, and compensation. Whilst in the short-term it may seem quicker and easier to offer a tenner and hope the problem goes away, in the long-run the money, time, and damage to reputation will add up.
And if you’re the customer, think twice before accepting the compensation without getting an explanation. You could just be setting yourself up for more bad experiences in the future.
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