3 of the Worst CX Fails of 2015
When it comes to customer experience, mistakes will be made. No company is perfect and from time to time, things will go awry. In the past, of course, companies could sweep individual incidents under the rug because consumers didn’t have multiple, powerful, one-to-many communication methods at their fingertips. Now, the best (i.e. worst) stories can go viral in hours! While there was nothing as epic as “United Breaks Guitars” this past year, it’s important to remember that even one extremely unhappy customer can make front page news, if the story is shocking enough.
As we look back at 2015 and prepare to do a better job this year, there are a few standouts in the category of What Not To Do. Here are three very different, but noteworthy CX failures from 2015 — and more importantly — what we can learn from them:
1. VW fakes green. The VW “diesel dupe” tops the list of CX disasters this year. Deliberately and systematically tricking buyers flies in the face of customer-centricity at its core. It’s an even worse offense when a company lies to its most loyal, core fan base. In this case, VW’s environmentally sensitive buyers, who had trusted the so-called green brand, fell for a massive marketing campaign promoting low emissions from VW vehicles; (in reality, the engines emitted nitrogen oxide pollutants up to 40 times above what is allowed in the US).
Lying to customers is the absolute worst experience you can provide and one that will come back to bite you financially and otherwise. In October of 2015, the company reported its first quarterly loss in 15 years to the tune of 2 billion. Plus, the EPA can fine the company up to $37,500 for each sub-standard vehicle (up to about $18 billion). And let’s not forget about the flood of impending law suits by car owners and shareholders.
What we learn from this fail: Treat customers the way you expect to be treated. It’s the golden rule of CX. Provide an experience that you would enjoy yourself. Earn fans by building a journey you can stand behind — from the products themselves to the way they’re marketed and sold. Solid customer experience needs to be structured around real value, trust, and the intention to generate repeat purchases. Get caught in a lie — big or small — and that buyer will likely never return.
2. Time Warner Cable rep goes rogue. Time Warner earns the number two spot on our list for a horrifying example of what can happen when unhappy employees take matters into their own hands.
In February of 2015, a customer’s billing account was renamed with a profanity after a run-in with a service rep. The customer received a letter addressed to [*Profanity*] Martinez (which is her last name). The letter stated that she had requested for her service to be disconnected, which was incorrect, as she remained a Time Warner customer even at the time she received the letter. Time Warner confirmed that one of its reps had made the name change on 2/12/15, which was the exact day the customer had used the website’s Live Chat feature to resolve a technical issue. She instead endured an unpleasant service interaction, which should have been routine.
The apology and free year’s worth of cable issued by Time Warner can never balance the negative effect of such stories once they go viral across news and social channels. This is especially true for companies like Time Warner, which has struggled for years with poor customer service records. In fact, a 2015 Consumer Reports survey listed Time Warner Cable’s pay-TV service not just dead last on the American Customer Satisfaction Index’s rankings of cable companies, but lowest of all companies in the entire Index.
What we learn from this fail: Employee engagement is at the heart of customer experience. Corporate giants can implement the most sophisticated systems and processes in the world, but if they can’t build a culture that gets employees on board, the brand can take a serious beating in one-to-one interactions, social sites, and job review sites such as glassdoor.com, which can have a profound impact on recruiting. As this story demonstrates, even a small number of rogue staff members who feel disloyal, disengaged, and resentful, can damage a company’s reputation in a hurry. This year, be sure to check in on employee engagement and satisfaction with regular surveys and follow-up actions that keep front-line teams happily on-message; (see more on this topic in my recent post, The Rising Importance of Employee Engagement).
3. BoltBus misses the CX bus. In May of 2015, a BoltBus burst into flames during a trip from New York to Boston. Thankfully no one was injured, but the company seriously mishandled the situation during and after the incident. Embarrassingly, the bus driver failed to stop the trip even with numerous signs of mechanical trouble noticeable to passengers, and what’s worse, didn’t help passengers evacuate when the bus caught fire, instead choosing to run for her life.
But those things alone wouldn’t have put BoltBus on the list, as they could be written off as an isolated case of employee delinquency, not a CX failure. What puts this one on the list is what happened after the accident, when a passenger’s emotional email to the company was met with an invitation to participate in BoltBus’ customer loyalty program. Cringe.
What we learn from this fail: Don’t add insult to injury. It goes without saying that asking for a deeper commitment to your company after causing trauma and near bodily harm is not a good idea; (in this case, the customer replied that she’d never ride another BoltBus). The best way to deal with big mistakes is to acknowledge and apologize for them in the sincerest way possible. You may also be able to delicately ask for a second chance. But don’t even think about trying to push a sale or request loyalty. Also, be careful about over-automating communications. There are plenty of horror stories about insensitive auto-responders that do more harm than good for customer experience. Certain in-bound feedback channels should be overseen by human eyes before they receive a response.