Sometimes Bad News is Better than No News

The bad newsAbout two weeks ago, I woke up, checked my emails and learned the phones went down at the hotel sometime during the night. Nobody could call in or out. I immediately went in.  Our night audit team had called our telecommunications company and they reported the problem was not on their end.  That meant it must be our phone system.  I called them and in less than an hour a technician was at the hotel.  Long story short … the problem was with our telecommunications provider, not the phone system. There were large scale outages being reported and equipment was being replaced.  About five hours later, the phones came back on line.

Two nights ago work called just after 1:00 am.  The internet was down at the hotel, again a disruption to business.  Not as severe as if it had happened in the middle of the day, but never-the-less, something that needed to be looked into.  Once again, the staff working the desk had called our telecommunications provider and been told the problem was not on their end.  So I got up and went in to work.  I called the 24 hour service line for our telecommunications company thinking … “they were wrong last time, maybe they are again”.  After waiting for quite a while for my turn to talk to someone, I went through the drill, sharing our account number, business address and description of the problem.  I was also told that all systems at the hotel showed green on their end; therefore the problem was on our end. At which point, I very nicely shared with them the story about the phone incident in which we were told the problem was on our end when in fact it was theirs and asked if there was any way they could dig deeper.  Less than two minutes later,  I received an apology and was advised that yes, in fact the problem was on their end.  Outages were being experienced, equipment was being replaced and all should be back up and running within the next five to six hours.  It was back up again in less than two hours.

Why am I sharing this story with you?  Because it’s such a great example of how to frustrate customers!  When the phone system was down, I would periodically check the companies website to see if any status updates were being provided to customers.  Nothing.  The only reference to the outages I found on-line were by frustrated, angry customers, with part of the frustration attributed to not having any information and being stuck waiting to talk to someone at a call centre only to be told …nothing.

Which brings me to the call / service centre.  Is the service team trained to look beyond the quick and perhaps usual reason for the problem?  In scenario two, I asked the person to dig deeper, he did and in no time at all, recognized his first response was incorrect. If I had accepted his first response, additional calls and needless searching for the source of the problem would have resulted in wasted time and even more frustration.

Beyond the training question, I have to wonder why the outages were not reported to the service centre.  While knowing when and how to dig deeper for an answer to a customer problem is important, wouldn’t it be better to give them a heads up so that when a frustrated customer called, they would be able to immediately respond with accurate information?

Of course, it’s not just telecommunications companies that fall down when it comes to managing bad news or frustrated customers.  When something goes wrong, when customers are going to experience service disruptions, say so. Be upfront, acknowledge the frustration, apologize for the inconvenience and share information on when they can expect service to be restored.  If you can, and this doesn’t apply to all businesses, let your customers know of alternative places to get the service they need in the interim.

Share all of that same information with the people who are responsible for responding to reports and questions from customers.

Outages happen. Stuff happens. Whatever the disruption is, understand that your customer is inconvenienced.  It may or may not be because of an error on your end.  It doesn’t matter whose fault it is.  Whatever the reason, know what information your customer needs and be prepared to share it. Acknowledge their frustration, keep them informed and if possible, provide alternative solutions.

In many cases, how you manage the service disruption has a bigger impact on a customer’s continued loyalty than the disruption itself.

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