Disclaimer: This post includes stories on real customer service situations. I have tried to describe them the way I experienced them, but still as objectively as possible. The purpose of this post is to demonstrate how an organization can make a big difference on customer perception. No harm is intended to any persons or organizations involved.
The changing role of customer service
Customer service is becoming more and more important issue for companies nowadays. In the old days it was common that there were mistakes in the customer service and some customers were disappointed. They were complaining, but as long as nothing really serious happened, the bad bell was just a minor issue. There would be more new customers, no need to worry too much.
During the last few year, internet has changed this setting. People have started to share their experiences by writing on forums and blogs, and sharing their ratings on generic websites. These customer sentiments have been available through search engines and sites like Tripadvisor. This has been easy – if you want to know, just search for the stories.
At the moment we are quickly approaching the next evolution of customer service and reputation management – the era of social stories. The viral effect caused by when people like, comment and share stories, makes the customer experiences to appear directly on people’s faces, on their Facebook streams and Twitter feeds, without even looking for them.
This emergence of social stories has new demands for the behavior of organizations. Let’s take a look at three different stories I have experienced recently.
Unexpected service with a smile: Hilton Singapore
Hilton Singapore is a fancy hotel in the middle of action in Singapore. It is a safe haven from the buzz of Orchard Road in Singapore.
The story starts from the Asian dinner buffet, during my stay with some lovely colleagues. After a busy day we ended up eating at the hotel buffet. Easy, fast and delicious.
At some point of our meal, I noticed there was a dead bug in my food. I notified the personnel who invited the chef to check the situation. Our party was treated with dignity and apologies, and it was no big deal for us. I asked to be notified on which bug it was, it was easy since I would be staying at the hotel for the next couple of days.
After couple of days, I realized that no message from the kitchen was delivered to me. Without any intention to complain, I just tweeted something like “I wonder which bug I had in my food at Hilton?” and went on with other things.
Couple of hours later I received a tweet from Hilton’s social media team. They wanted to know what happened, and when I told them they wanted to investigate the situation and asked for my email address. I provided my email and was a bit surprised how they made this such a big issue.
A few days later I got a personal email message from the General Manager of the hotel, apologizing and telling me what happened with the bug issue and how it would not happen again. Additionally, he asked me to get in touch with him next time I would be visiting Singapore, so Hilton could give me special personal service.
I was amazed by all this. To me, a minor issue, was turned into a huge positive story for Hilton for exceeding customer expectations.
And guess how many times I’ve told this story? A lot.
Bad start with a learning curve, saved by the customer service: Mercure Paris
Hotel Mercure Paris La Defense 5 is located in the heart of Paris business district. Most of the customers are business customers with certain level of expectations.
The story starts with prepaid booking through ebookers, a big online travel agency. I made the initial reservations for two rooms and two nights on the morning of the arrival. One hour later I realized we only need the two rooms for one night, called ebookers, cancelled the reservation and made a new booking for two rooms and one night. No problems. Paris, here we come.
On our arrival to the hotel we were told that our reservation doesn’t exist, but they had one room for two nights, and we can pay for the other room. We tried to show our confirmation, we weren’t listened at all. So we ended up staying in the hotel and having our other room swiped from a credit card. There was also some rudeness in the air, but let’s not go there now.
Once I got into my room, I tweeted to Accorhotels customer service and expressed my sentiment on bad customer experience. We checked out from the hotel before there was any reaction from Twitter.
Afterwards, Accorhotels raised my issue with the hotel, and the hotel sent me a formal apology, only stating the wrong information which caused the confusion in the first place. At this point, no person from Mercure had heard our side of the story.
Disappointed with the treatment, I wrote a formal reply to the hotel management and also copied the customer service. For some reason, the customer services had asked me separately about what happened, before I had time to answer the hotel management.
I don’t know what happened after this, but next thing was that the customer service told that they will investigate this issues and get back in 10 days. Only couple of days later I got a phone call from the person who is responsible for the hotel rooms and reception. She had gone through the whole case and wanted to discuss with me personally. We had a very nice and constructive call, and she said she had taken the precautions to prevent such things happening in the future. She also wanted to check that our balance was ok and extended an invitation to visit the hotel again.
Afterwards, she sent me a full description of what had happened and clarification of everything was settled and ok. And an invitation to visit the hotel with upgraded hospitality.
I had to thank the social media team for taking my issue forward. This is a case of a standard customer service process gone wrong, but after escalation extra miles gone to save the situation.
And guess how many times I’ve told this story? A lot.
Continued arrogance: Scandinavian Airlines
The largest airline in Northern Europe, Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), has a long history as the main airline for Sweden, Denmark and Norway. They’ve been struggling with the changes in the industry, and just last week they were saved from a bankruptcy barely.
This story starts in a taxi in Paris, stuck in the traffic jam. It’s almost impossible to make it in time for flight to Scandinavia. What to do? Call SAS Hotline to the rescue!
First call agent was a helpful one, found our flight details with our names only and started to check the rescheduling possibilities… until the call was cut off.
The second call agent denied to help us without reservation code, which was in the trunk of the taxi, on a motorway. A new policy was enforced in three minutes. This call included lot of arrogance and we ended up rebooking one of the flights, giving the credit card details and then we were cut off, without flight details.
At this point we took the rebooking of one flight through other channels, since SAS just made it too difficult for us. This was a matter of couple of minutes, easy.
For the other two remaining flights, we took a third call. This time a nice call agent said that they can’t rebook us but the SAS ticket office at CDG (Paris Charles De Gaulle airport) can make magic.
When we arrived to the airport, we found out that there is no SAS ticket office at the airport, only two check-in machines.
Well, we took our chances and ran to the gate, and were very happy to make our original flight. Had we not made that flight, we would have be stranded overnight in Paris.
The next day I decided to give customer feedback. The whole mess should be clarified.
I started with Twitter. Go to the website or Facebook page for customer service, the profile said. So I went to SAS Facebook page: “Welcome to the SAS offical fanpage! If you have any questions we are here daily between 8.00-20.00 CET.”
So I posted my complaint with questions. Reply from SAS was to go to the website, where the customer care is. I said I don’t want go to another counter, I wanted answers. This started a public discussion, where I reminded that I wanted answers, and SAS Facebook team promised me the customer care would contact me.
The last communication from SAS was “the customer care will contact you tomorrow” but I have heard nothing from them since.
Today, I have no answer to my complaints, three promises that I would be contacted and a very bad feeling about the whole airline.
And guess how many times I’ve told this story? A lot.
Social customer service can make a big difference
All of these three stories started out in a similar manner. Something did not go as planned and customer experienced it. The consequence was a confusion by the customer and a will to clarify the situation. All three cases had a different result, caused by the way how the customer service was organized and how it reacted.
In the Hilton case the social team took a minor confusion and turned it into a positive story. It’s a result of good social listening tools and a permission and will to go beyond expectations and organization in customer service. Well done, Hilton!
The Mercure story started off slowly by the customer team, but eventually a process gone wrong was converted into a happy customer and a positive story. The social listening tools exist, but it seems that in the beginning the was no person/team responsible for taking the issue to conclusion. Until maybe when it was escalated. Mercure/Accor survived and are on the positive.
The yet to be solved SAS case is a total failure. No social listening, no ownership of the the channels, likely a heavy siloing that prevents good customer experience and likely not very motivated staff either. It may have something to do with the economic situation SAS has, but it’s not a good excuse, vice versa.
How to deal with such cases
Time.It is of utmost importance that in any social media environment, all deviations or signs of a deviation from standard customer communication are always treated promptly and with high priority. Most of the problems can be solved quickly and any further escalation are likely to be prevented. Oversolving should be the goal, and it will lead into positive viral stories.
Permission. Customer should not be expected to understand how the organization works. Any touchpoint is a representative of the company and that touchpoint should have a permission to solve the problem to the end.
Tools. There are a large number of tools available for running social customer service, such as social CRM and social media listening tools. Use them, they are worth it from day one.
Overall, lot of the company reputation will be formed within social media and from the stories told by customers, who had good and bad experiences.
Do you want to be my SAS or Hilton?