service recovery

Recently I visited the drive-thru of that popular national coffee chain that people seem to either love or hate. I drove away with my drink, not thinking twice. However, a mile down the road when my coffee was cool enough to taste, I realized they screwed up my order.

As someone who works with companies to align behind their brand promises, I find it interesting to see how brands approach service recovery and customer feedback. Back at my office, I submitted a comment through the company’s website. Within an hour, I received an apology and an offer to credit my purchase. That seemed reasonable.

In order to receive the credit, they asked me to provide a copy of the receipt or the number of the gift card I had used to purchase. (Who keeps receipts for coffee purchases if it’s not business travel?) Even though I had provided the approximate location, they also asked for the address of the store along with the date and time of my transaction. After searching on Google maps, I responded back with the requested information.

Within an hour, I received another response saying my gift card was invalid or unregistered. I would have to register the card in order to be credited. Did I really want to register a gift card just to get credit for a three dollar cup of coffee? I emailed back, telling them to forget it. Again I received a quick and apologetic response. This time they promised to simply mail me a seven dollar gift card to show their appreciation for my continued loyalty.

Putting the Burden on Customers

Their approach to service recovery put much of the burden on me – the customer. Instead of offering a gift card first, they requested I jump through several hoops, as if they’re asking me to prove my bad experience. While the company may use this as a way to get to the bottom of a situation, customers may interpret it as an attempt to get them to drop the issue. Many would simply be annoyed and walk away. After all, it was only a three dollar cup of coffee.

In this situation, casual or occasional customers may not even bother providing feedback. They likely don’t have enough experience with a particular brand to know something is amiss – or they don’t feel a strong enough connection to a brand to be bothered to provide feedback.

Loyal Customers Provide the Most Valuable Feedback

It’s often the most loyal customers who take the time to offer their comments. Usually they’ve had enough positive experiences that a random negative experience really stands out. Providing feedback is a way for customers to give a favorite brand the benefit of the doubt. Smart brands take advantage of these golden opportunities to solidify the connection to customers who might have taken future business elsewhere. But if a brand makes customers work too hard to be compensated for a poor experience, loyal customers may simply walk away.

This makes me think of very different experience with Alaska Airlines a few years ago. A scheduling mishap on the part of the airline left me sitting in an airport for eight hours. The airline was very forthright and admitted it was their fault. Gate agents passed out piles of food vouchers and provided regular updates about the delay. When I finally boarded the plane, the captain and flight attendants repeatedly apologized, and they offered $150 travel vouchers in addition to the multiple food vouchers I had already received.

When I was given the chance to provide feedback after the flight, I complimented Alaska for making the most of a bad situation and working hard to maintain my loyalty. Several years later, I still recall that day in San Francisco, and I remain a loyal customer.

Look at these two very different customer experiences and the corresponding service recovery delivered by each brand – one over a three dollar cup of coffee and another with a major airline. The airline took immediate accountability and worked hard to make things right, which has maintained my customer loyalty. The coffee brand, while doing the right thing in the end, appeared to put the burden on me before going to the effort to make up for a poor experience.  When you’re the customer, which type of brand experience would you prefer?

For more thoughts on customer experience, you might want to explore these articles:

How to Create Behaviors that Build a Seamless Customer Experience

How to Build Customer Loyalty through Moments of Surprise and Delight

About Alice Wright

As Director of Content Strategy, Alice directs projects while also designing program strategy and instructional content. She has more than 22 years of experience managing integrated strategic marketing, communication and training programs for globally recognized brands. Some of her current and past clients include Nike, Sunglass Hut, Safeway, Banfield Pet Hospital, Office Depot, Unilever, LensCrafters, EMC, Intel, Microsoft, Dell, adidas, Joann Stores and others. Alice earned her bachelor’s degree from the School of Journalism and Communication at University of Oregon. She lives with her husband and teenage son in Portland, Oregon where she loves exploring the outdoors and being a soccer/band mom.