Designing the Unhappy Path: How to Fail Successfully
In the world of experience architecture, it’s our job to craft the optimal user experience, facilitating the so-called Happy Path from the moment the customer becomes aware of your brand to the delivery of the product or service. Unfortunately, sometimes things go wrong – and not always during the pre-purchase portion of the relationship. There’s a world of trouble just waiting to happen between the “successful” web transaction and the satisfied customer with product in hand or service skillfully provided. How you handle post-transaction failures can be the difference between providing a modified Happy Path and a frustrating Trail of Tears.
User Experience and Mother’s Day Flowers
As an example, consider a recent transaction I had with a popular online flower retailer. The Saturday morning before Mother’s Day, I was shopping for flowers for my dear mum (who, despite her many virtues, managed to raise a world-class procrastinator). The online transaction went smoothly, and shortly after completing the order I received an email confirmation that my flowers would be delivered no later than Sunday. The perfectly designed and executed Happy Path, right?
Unfortunately, a few hours later I noticed a voicemail on my phone. It was “Joe” from the online flower retailer calling to let me know that he’d like to speak to me about my order. He asked me to call him back at a specific phone number and instructed me to reference my order number – both of which I had to write down. I had to listen to the message several times, because Joe was a fast talker with a thick accent.
I called the number Joe provided and was dumped into an automated answering system that prompted me to speak my order number out loud. As with nearly all voice response systems, I had to yell my order number three times and scream, “YES!! YESSSS!!!!” before proceeding. At this point, the Customer Service Robot told me that my order was being processed and everything was fine.
Sunday morning, I got a little nervous about the above interaction and thought I’d better check my email to make sure I hadn’t missed an update from the retailer. There was a new email from them, but it was just welcoming me as a new account owner at their site. So, I logged back in to my account to double-check my order status on the web site and found that the order was indeed being processed (sent to a local flower shop for delivery, according to the status page).
Fast forward to 7:00pm Sunday night when I received an email from the retailer informing me that my order had not been delivered because it was not available locally:
“We left a voice mail for you to contact us to approve a product substitution so we could meet the delivery deadline, but we did not receive a respond[sic] from you.”
Yes, that’s a frustrating experience. But it didn’t have to be. I still could have been a satisfied customer even though the flowers I wanted weren’t available for delivery. Instead, each step of the company’s issue resolution process was increasingly irritating, conflicting, and ultimately unsuccessful. Here are a few things to consider when managing order failures:
1. Honor your customer’s preferred method of communication.
If a customer is using a web-based application to complete a task typically done over the phone or in person, a phone call from you may be the last thing the he wants to deal with. Ask for the user’s preference during the account creation process so that you don’t get off on the wrong foot when problems do arise. With time-sensitive issues, a phone call may be necessary to get the ball rolling, but try your best to get the customer back into his preferred method of handling transactions. A more helpful version of Joe’s voicemail message would have directed me to the retailer’s web site or phone app to resolve the matter on my own time. Instead I had to call and yell at a hard-of-hearing robot.
2. If you must call the customer, identify the problem with as much clarity and specificity as possible.
Be brief but crystal clear about what you need from the customer. Joe was brief, but vague about why he wanted to speak with me and he did not convey how urgent the issue was. He also failed to communicate the proper path for me to follow in their automated system to get to the information I needed.
3. Utilize multiple customer service channels, and make sure they’re all telling the same story.
This retailer got the first part right. Between Joe, the web-based account status, the phone-based account status, and the initial email confirmation, I had four channels of communication about my order status. Unfortunately, Joe was the only one with accurate information, and he was a little cagey with the details.
4. Be careful with the automated call centers and extra careful with voice recognition!
If your resolution process requires a return call from the customer, think long and hard about the flow of that call. You’ve already got bad news for this customer, better to have it coming from a real human than an automated system. If you’re using voice response, at a minimum, let the customer know that he can still use the keypad to enter selections.
The critical thing these suggestions have in common is the need to understand not only how your customer uses technology, but how he expects you to use technology. In the case above, this retailer lost a potential lifelong brand advocate, not by missing a flower delivery, but by failing to meet my expectations regarding how problems with my order would be communicated and resolved. Delivering on a brand promise isn’t always about delivering a product successfully; sometimes it’s about knowing how to fail successfully.
SOUND OFF: Have you experienced a successful failure? Share a customer service experience you’ve had that didn’t go quite as planned, but still left you a satisfied customer.
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