CX Chronicles: When Beloved Brands Bomb Customer Experience

Small gestures can go a long way in creating a better customer experience and fostering long-term loyalty. Without them, you put your brand at risk.

By Loraine DeBonis, Ubiquity

Sometimes even beloved brands need a reminder about what makes or breaks great CX.

After gaining some initial pandemic pounds those first few months, I found the sliver living in more time at home by exercising more. I started bicycling outside, but I knew I’d need an indoor option as the days got shorter and the weather turned cold.

Everyone was raving about their experiences with one of the premium bikes you’re probably familiar with. I have to admit that competing with peers and being motivated by some of the best instructors in the industry on demand was pretty compelling for this mom of four. My big sticking point was price.

When my neighbor asked if I knew anyone who might be interested in her used bike—she was upgrading to a newer model—I thought it could be the perfect opportunity to jump on the bandwagon. After a test ride, I was convinced that the experience was far superior than the recumbent bikes of my childhood that just gathered dust in the corner.

Once we moved the bike across the street to my home office, I was eager to get started. It was a Sunday. I went on the website to set up my account. Since I already had a bike, I incorrectly assumed that all I needed was a digital membership rather than a full membership. The site was geared toward people with a new bike. And, unfortunately, after downloading the app, creating a username and password, and adding my payment details, I realized my mistake. It was impossible to connect my digital membership to my bike. In other words, the digital membership was worthless.

Multichannel disfunction

I hunted around on the website and discovered that my scenario—a used bike—did require full membership. But lo and behold, self-service was not an option. You must speak to a customer service representative to activate your bike. (How is this an efficient use of anyone’s time in the digital age?!) But, I really wanted to do my first workout, so I begrudgingly dialed the customer service line. According to the prompt on my bike monitor, agents were waiting to take my call until 7 p.m. It was 6 p.m.

After a voice told me to expect longer wait times because of the pandemic, I went through an endless menu of options only to learn that the offices were closed. I was not going to get in a workout that night after all. The business hours had been listed incorrectly.

Like so many fitness goals, my ride would have to wait until tomorrow.

In the meantime, I tried to cancel the digital membership I didn’t need. Within the app, I was informed that there were no refunds. Literally, it had been less than an hour since my purchase, but I’d have to pay for the full month even with immediate cancellation.

So far not a great CX, but I was undeterred. Did I mention my test ride was really good?

Plus, I figured I’d be able to get some help reconciling the digital and full memberships when I finally talked to a customer service agent.

On my lunch hour the next day, I called again to get things set up. The customer service agent was very knowledgeable and kind and seemed excited for me to join the community of members. However, when I complained that I couldn’t get a refund for the digital membership I mistakenly purchased, he seemed to audibly shrug and again pointed me back to the app store.

Nothing he could do.

Yes, it might be an app store purchase, but this is YOUR BRAND, I wanted to shout.

I can’t be the first person this has happed to. Did I mention how hard it was for me to find accurate info on the site? Add to that the considerable chunk of change I’d just invested into cycling equipment and a monthly membership, and you can’t do anything about this $14.99 I wasted? I never would have purchased the digital membership in the first place if the website was clear about how to get started with used equipment.

Small gestures matter

I know it’s not a lot of money, but the whole thing just left a sour taste in my mouth. I love my new bike, the classes, the community. However, I would have a totally different feeling about the brand right now if that first customer service agent had offered a solution—even if that solution wasn’t a refund. I would have been happy with $14.99 off of my first month’s full membership, a discount or credit for an accessory or apparel purchase—something to say we’re excited you’re here. We’re sorry we confused you and kept you waiting.

Agents need to be empowered to waive fees or give discounts, especially when the amount is trivial but would mean a lot to the customer. In the grand scheme of things, $14.99 is a drop in the bucket of what I’ll spend with this company. But, will I willingly promote them to friends and family now? Will I be a true brand ambassador and buy the towels, shoes, water bottles, shirts … probably not.

And it’s too bad. Because the product is great. When I talk about how much I love the intense workouts and the competition, there’s always a caveat because of my onboarding experience. After all, if the brand was unwilling to budge over $14.99, what will they tell me when the bike has a mechanical issue or something goes wrong with my monitor? I hope that initial unwillingness to help is uncharacteristic, but I’m going to associate it with that brand for a long time.

Loraine DeBonis is the director of corporate communications for Ubiquity. She lives in Murray, Ky., with her husband, their four kids and boxer. She spends a lot of time getting to know brands through their online and mobile CX.

Lessons from Bad CX

Small tweaks can have a big impact on how customers feel about your brand. Make sure you’re updating your information everywhere and always making it as easy as possible for customers to do business with you. Here are a few tips:

  1. Stop using the pandemic as an excuse. Back in March, customers were much more understanding when contact center agents couldn’t immediately answer their calls. Wait times were long everywhere. Everyone was in the same boat, and there was a shared sense of upheaval that led customers to cut brands some slack. But patience is wearing thin as the pandemic extends longer than most of us ever anticipated. While it’s important to set the proper expectations at the outset, customers may not trust you with their business if you don’t have your customer support figured out by now.
  2. Do what you say you’re going to do. If you say someone will be on the phone to help at a certain time, make sure they’re there. If hours have changed because of the pandemic, make sure you update that information in every channel. And be clear about the time zone.
  3. Update your IVR. Customers can become frustrated quickly with IVRs that are seemingly designed to keep them from speaking to an agent. This is where actually going through the IVR for different scenarios is critical to ensuring a positive CX. Yes, solve problems that are simple—balance check, shipping confirmation—but minimize the hoops customers have to jump through to talk to a person. And, for heaven’s sake, if there’s no chance of talking to a person because your offices are closed, say that first.
  4. Empower agents. Encourage agents to actively listen and offer recompense for customers who might have had a negative experience. Waive a fee, give a discount for the next billing cycle, offer a coupon—do something that shows you’re sorry and you want to make things right. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to every situation and you have to weigh financial risk, but small gestures that acknowledge a customer’s frustration can make them feel heard and appreciated.
  5. Go off-script. Not all scenarios can be pre-scripted in advance. And there’s some evidence to suggest that scripts can do more harm than good (more on that in our next blog post.) Yes, you can be prepared for most things, but there’s always a chance that something unexpected will happen. Make sure agents are prepared for the unexpected and know how to troubleshoot to figure out the problem. They have to know the product or service inside and out and be confident enough to ask probing questions to get the full picture of the problem. Yes, you have processes in place for a reason, but customers also want to be treated as individuals. Train agents to actively listen, so they can mitigate any lingering negative feelings and turn an awkward or unfortunate incident into an opportunity to show the customer that you’re in it with them, and you’re able and willing to figure out how to solve their problem.