“Customer service is not about fake smiles and cold emails, messing one customer relationship could end up being a PR nightmare.”

The members of the band Sons of Maxwell were seated on a United Airlines flight after landing. Suddenly, the singer-writer Dave Carroll heard a passenger exclaiming, “They are throwing your guitars out there.” The band members suddenly turned behind to see that their guitars were being tossed by the people handling baggage. Carroll’s guitar was broken. And so was his heart. The guitar could still play after the repair, but it has lost its speciality. For almost nine months, Carroll’s phone calls and emails did not get him the compensation of $1200 from the airline. It was then that he decided to take the issue into his hands. He created a piece called “United Breaks Guitars” and posted an incredibly hilarious video online on Youtube. That was enough to damage United Airlines.

According to Times of London, within four days of the song going online, it caused bad PR to United Airlines. The stock price fell by 10%, costing shareholders $180 million. As a result, the brand was affected.

Today, social media is used as a forum for people to talk about their complaints. They voice their opinions, and also communicate to companies if they are unhappy with the customer service.

In the case of United Airlines, they did get enough opportunities to rectify their mistakes. Carroll made various attempts to reach the customer service for compensation. This happened for almost nine months. Finally, he wrote an email informing them about his plan to write songs, video them and put it on Youtube. United Airlines never responded. Finally, the video was out on Youtube, creating waves, and causing the company’s brand to go down. United Airlines tried to make things right by donating $3,000 to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz as a goodwill gesture. It was too late by then.

In contrary to this video, there was another video made by Gory Bateson- ‘Southwest Never Broke My Guitar.’ This video spoke about the customer service of Southwest Airline.

Companies love creating a new product or taking their business to a new level, but it is important to create an experience that customers love. Bad customer service is in a way connected to how strong the management system is. For example, if there is a problem, and the employees fail to communicate it to the higher authorities out of fear, the problem magnifies and becomes an issue. If there is no trust at the management level, it is time to look at a change in corporate culture.

Accept your mistakes and take corrective action McAfee, which provided virus protection and internet security, faced an issue when their software update caused computers to crash. Windows XP users of the software had a tough time as their system shut down and had continuous reboot cycle.

The company apologised for the issue. On the company’s blog, the executive VP of support and customer service wrote an open apology. The company also offered to reimburse ‘reasonable expenses’ for the damage caused to customers on its website.

Those computers that were inoperable were eligible for a free, two-year extension of existing McAfee subscription. Till they sorted it out, the company urged customers to call their support team and fix it. Since few customers had permanent damage, the company wanted to set their computers up and running.

The company took active steps to get the problem sorted. The company owned the problem and sorted it out. This is essential when dealing with a customer service issue.

The British Standards Institute (BSI) reported about one of its surveys about customer loyalty and service. The report suggested that 76% of consumers said they had taken their business to a competitor as a result of poor customer service. Do you want this to happen to your customers? Think about it!

The survey also reports that where a company apologises for a customer service failure, consumers would be loyal to them and come back. It is essential for a company to retain its customers as that would lead to increased profitability. But do companies realise the value of an apology?

Dell call centre operation in India was forced to shut it, following the complaints about customer service. The operation for OptiPlex desktops and Latitude laptops was moved back to the United States. The Bangalore centre was not able to deal with the volume of calls on the product. The efficiency was suffering. They weren’t meeting the customer expectations. According to surveys, though the market share of Dell grew, the customer satisfaction declined.

The company acknowledged the problem. They also informed that they are taking steps to improve upon their services. It was important to have systems/processes that would minimise the risk of service failure. In case of a service failure, the company has to compensate for the inconvenience through credits, discounts and apologies.

For customer satisfaction, two elements are essential- strength of the customer relationships and the magnanimity of the service failure.

There are some customers who are transactionoriented and they want only service recovery. Their relation with the organisation is immaterial. On the other hand, there are customers who have a strong commitment with the company. They could demand less compensation, but they expect stronger interactions and correction of customer service in future. Even after a strong recovery, sometimes customers may still be upset, according to research. It is also possible that they could engage in negative word-of-mouth and will have less trust or commitment to the organisation if the customer service failure was bad.

In such cases, it becomes imperative that managers should bring in better relation and restore the faith of customers. Service companies need to track down and also identify about these failures and the degree of severity of these issues. There are measures for identifying the strength of customer relationships. The data/information provided by customers during the time of complaint should be taken as crucial marketing data and should be used for future performance improvement.

When talking to a customer it is important to get feedback about the service. Rather than putting forth a generic question on ‘How did you like our service’ it would be better if you can ask the customers to rate their service on the scale 1-10. It is also essential for organisations to motivate the customer service team. There has to be a consistent learning through training in the company. It is also important to adjust the attitude of professionals. The team leader’s tone and energy is important as that will transform into the customer service professional’s attitude and approach towards customers. It is important to put the employees in the shoes of customer for them to understand what they feel and go through.

Once the customer buys the product, the company representatives can call them and enquire about how the product is. Also, occasionally, the company can keep sending customers newsletters, brochures and keep them updated about what is happening. These small initiatives can help to retain the existing customers.