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‘She Hung Up On Me’: Success and Failure in Owning Customer Service

I do believe that everything happens for a reason.
But yesterday I struggled with that universal truth. A day earlier, I’d shipped an important package via overnight express. I was hoping to make a good impression on someone I’d like to do business with. We’d met Tuesday night at an event in Miami and I knew he’d be in Atlanta on Thursday. I prepared the label online, double-checking that I chose the “guaranteed next-day delivery by noon” option.

Handing the package over the counter
I asked the employee on the other side if it would indeed absolutely be delivered next day. “Because the recipient is only there for that day and then he’s off to his next destination,” I said to him. “Yes of course,” Lloyd assured me. I made him promise it would be there the next day (as if he had any personal control over such a thing).

You already know where this story is going.
Early afternoon, I checked tracking info to see the box had left West Palm the evening prior. But no further info was available. Ugh, I didn’t have a good feeling about this. At 4:30, I checked tracking info again; nothing had been updated.

Couldn’t tell me exactly …
The “customer service representative” at the 800 number confirmed the package had probably not been delivered and couldn’t tell me exactly where it was. She could however tell me how to get a refund.

Since that was the least of my concerns, I told her I wasn’t so much interested in a refund as I was in why my “guaranteed delivery” was not delivered. She hung up on me.

(Image Deafening Scream by Lizard911, Creative Commons)

The drama: ramifications for my business were huge
I called the hotel where a very nice man in the shipping department checked and double-checked that, no, they had no record of receipt of a package for this guest.
Now I was mad, even though I know that doesn’t make things any better and pretty much just makes them worse. Receipt in hand, I raced to where I’d dropped off the box the day before. I stood in line and when it was my turn, I launched into my story of how Lloyd had PROMISED that this would be delivered. And now that it wasn’t, the ramifications for my business were HUGE!

Okay, I admit, a little dramatic.

In tears and no ownership in sight
A call to the Atlanta distribution center revealed only that the package had supposedly not shown up yet. I was near tears, so the man who was helping me summoned his supervisor. She reiterated that there was nothing they could do. Besides, she defended, they can’t guarantee delivery by next day to ALL destinations. (That I can understand if it was going across the country or to a rural area, but c’mon, this was West Palm to downtown Atlanta!)

No one was accountable
So great, there was nothing anyone could do to get the package delivered in time to my recipient. Got it. But to add insult to injury, no one would take any responsibility for this mess. No one was accountable. The woman on the phone was rude. The people at the drop off location were apathetic. That’s what really upset me. And yes, I can say I’ll never use this particular service again. But the truth is, I’ve had similar experiences with all the major delivery services in the past.

Not to rant for nothing: the point

The intent of my story is that when things go wrong, even if you can’t fix them right away, show some empathy and take responsibility.

Follow through on the follow up. Those actions go a long way in saving a client relationship.

What observations do you have from customer service experience and taking ownership?

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Lori Saitz

Guest contributor Lori Saitz is founder of Zen Rabbit Baking Company. She helps people show appreciation for and give recognition to others. The main (delicious!) tool her team uses to help accomplish this important feat is through The Gratitude Cookie(tm). A thin, crunchy cross between a butter and a sugar cookie, The Gratitude Cookie is so named because if you’re eating the cookies, you’re encouraged to think about something you are grateful for as you munch on each one.


    1. God, don't we all have stories like this? The thing that gets me is this: sometimes, we just want someone to say they're sorry, acknowledge that there was a screw-up, and let us vent, but often, we get the royal brush-off. I think every company should have a Chief Apology Officer or a Chief Groveler. Guess who that is at Matrix Group?

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    2. Exactly! I've learned that one of the best ways to handle an angry client is to say, “Oh, my gosh. That is terrible! I'm so sorry you had to experience that! That is NOT how I like to run my business. Here's what we can do to fix the situation.” And once you empathize with their plight, whether it's anything you have control over or not, they are super grateful for your kindness and willingness to listen.

      Even though I'm sure your job as Chief Apology Officer isn't always pleasant, it sure is vital to your company's success.

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    3. Exactly! I've learned that one of the best ways to handle an angry client is to say, “Oh, my gosh. That is terrible! I'm so sorry you had to experience that! That is NOT how I like to run my business. Here's what we can do to fix the situation.” And once you empathize with their plight, whether it's anything you have control over or not, they are super grateful for your kindness and willingness to listen.

      Even though I'm sure your job as Chief Apology Officer isn't always pleasant, it sure is vital to your company's success.

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