How to Excel in a Customer's Crisis

Posted Thursday, June 28, 2012 in Customer Experience by Patricia Seybold

Most firms don’t design for exceptions and breakdowns. They design for the “happy path.” Yet, we all know that what makes or breaks most customer relationships is how your organization/people/process/partners and technologies react when things go awry.

Why Don’t Most Companies Do a Better Job of Designing for Exceptions and Customer Crises?

For one thing, what may be a crisis for a customer may be routine or uneventful for your firm, given the fact that you’re dealing with thousands or millions of customers and for most of them, things are going smoothly. But for a customer, having an overdrawn checking account, missing a job interview, having a piece of equipment break down—these situations can feel catastrophic!

What’s the Best Way to Design for Sh*t Happens?

Customers are brilliant and humorous in describing all the things that go awry in their lives. We’ve found that if you recruit a bunch of customers who have just been in the crisis (for them) circumstance you want to understand, and you ask them to design the best possible way(s) to recover from that situation, they’ll show you two things:

  1. How to avoid the problem(s) in the first place (including things that have never occurred to you)
  2. How to proactively alleviate the customers’ biggest frustrations and concerns.

What are the Most Common Things that Customers Care About in a Crisis?

We have the advantage of having done this “what to do when sh*t happens?” customer co-design work with clients and their customers in many different industries. Here are some of the things that customers want to have happen, whether the issue is medical, financial, technology-related, or service-related:

  1. Everything is taken care of and everyone is happy!
  2.  You take immediate steps to remedy the current situation
  3. You help me with the next steps to achieve my desired outcome

But that’s not all—customers also have a “way” that they want a crisis and its aftermath to be handled. Again, across industries, we find that customers tell us:

  • I want to be reassured that everything will work out
  • I want to be able to see how things are being handled
  • I want to understand what went wrong
  • I want to be assured that it won’t happen again
  • I want to be compensated for any loss
  • I want empathy and support
  • I want a great story and to be the hero of the tale

Why not start here? Assume that sh*t happens. Co-design the best ways to remedy the situation and to help customers achieve their goals. And, figure out how to proactively address each of these very human conditions of satisfaction up front.

Want more? Read Ronni Marshak's article: What Do I Do Now? When Customers are in crisis, how well do you support them?

1 comment


  • Ronni_author
    Ronni Marshak on September 12, 2012 at 11:30 a.m.
    Great insights, Patty. You got at the essence of my article beautifully and provided some actionable advice: design for the unhappy paths!
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