the word "goodbye" painted on a blue wall

Customer Experience Fundamentals: When Customer Support Goes Horribly Wrong

7 minute read
Anita Brearton avatar
You have to work pretty hard to turn a brand advocate into a brand detractor, but that's what happened here.

As a former ecommerce CEO, I know that one of the most, if not the most important metric is customer lifetime value (CLTV) — how much each customer contributes to the business over time. Brands work to drive loyalty, advocacy, repeat purchases and do what they can to encourage customers to spend as much as possible with each purchase. 

To achieve CLTV objectives requires a great deal of focus on the post-sales customer experience: once someone has purchased, how do you inspire brand loyalty and repeat purchases? Compelling incentives can be helpful, but are just a piece of a much bigger puzzle at the core of which is the experience you deliver when something goes wrong. A good customer support experience can have more impact on brand loyalty than a 20% discount. Eighty-nine percent of consumers have switched to doing business with a competitor following a poor customer experience, and 95% of unhappy customers share their experience with others.

Companies are investing heavily in technology in support of creating the optimal customer experience. This technology is most effective when matched with a plan and metrics around the human interaction portion of the experience equation.

Let me share a story of what happens when that is not the case. 

Related Article: How to Deliver Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Customer Experience

When Customer Support Moves From Bad to Worse

I am a big fan of Jo Malone. I use and gift their products and have introduced many friends and family to this fragrance brand. As a purchaser, I am sure I am in the high-end category of their CLTV cohorts. Knowing how much I love the brand, my father sent me a gift card for my birthday. A few weeks ago, I went to use the gift card. 

That is when things started to go wrong.

First, I chose my products (more than the gift card was worth — so a win for Jo Malone there) and then went to check out.  When I entered my gift card as a payment type, a message appeared that said: "Your Gift Card Number or PIN is not recognized. Please re-enter the numbers in the Gift Card number and PIN fields."

gift card order

I was not concerned, and after a few more failed attempts, I clicked on their chatbot in the hope that it would help me resolve the issue. This was Jo Malone's first opportunity to deliver an excellent customer experience. It didn't turn out that way. I'm guessing the chatbot that is used on the site is a robot; there was a long delay between me typing and receiving a response. After multiple exchanges, the chatbot replied that I needed to call customer service and provided me with a number to call. I was frustrated but still not overly concerned because I love the brand and was working on the assumption that the problem would be resolved as soon as I connected with a person.

I called customer service and talked to a pleasant woman who told me the problem was most likely a result of them forgetting to activate the gift card before they sent it. She told me that she couldn't help me and that I should send an email to an address she gave me. I wasn't thrilled, but she'd been pleasant, and I was still optimistic.

I did as I was told and sent an email documenting all the steps I'd taken and the issue only to receive the following response asking me to clarify if the customer support team member gave me this email address to resolve my issue:

customer support email gone wrong

Now I was frustrated. I was 30 to 45 minutes into this exercise. I responded affirming that indeed this was the email address I had been given. I expected to receive a response telling me they would get someone involved that would help me, but nothing happened. I gave up that day and decided to try again the next day.

Learning Opportunities

The following day I found an email form for customer support. I filled out all the fields requested and then wrote a narrative about my experience up until this point.  When I clicked on SUBMIT, I received the following response:

customer support: access denied

I was moving beyond frustrated and getting angry. I decided to try calling one more time, and after working my way through three automated telephone trees I found myself connected to e-gift card support — it was a short moment of euphoria until I heard an automated message saying everyone was busy and to leave my number and I would get a callback. I'm still waiting.

At this point, I was fed up, had given up on ever resolving this issue, and was beginning to think that this would make a good story for this month's column. If you've read any of my other articles, you might recall that when I call out poor performance, I don't generally mention the company by name. In this case, I thought it was important to the story but decided that to be fair I should let Jo Malone know I was going to be writing this and give the company an opportunity to talk about their approach to customer service. I sent an email to their media email address and, no surprise — no response.

Sadly, I'm done with this brand and will certainly never purchase a gift card. Accidents happen, we are all human, so forgetting to activate a card wasn't a big deal for me. Being unable to resolve the issue was.

Jo Malone has a fantastic product that's packaged beautifully, and every interaction I've had in store with a salesperson has been a good one and usually results in me buying more than I intended. My customer support experience, on the other hand, was dreadful, and I am now one of the 68% who is switching brands because of it and one of the 95% who is sharing their experience.

Related Article: Keep These 3 Things in Mind When Introducing Chatbots to Customer Service

Have You Checked Your Customer Service Lately?

This should be a relatively simple problem to correct:

  1. If you are going to deploy technology that affects customer experience, make sure the experience it provides is a positive one. A robot chatbot isn’t reflective of a high-end brand. It says, "I don't care enough about you to connect you with a human being." If there had been a live, empowered person engaged in the chat, the problem could have been resolved on the spot. Also, calling customer support and having to work through three automated menus to reach the appropriate extension is not something I would expect from a high-end brand. Dropping the ball when someone takes the time to work their way through the menu is inexcusable for any brand.
  2. You must have a human customer experience plan, objectives and metrics in place alongside your technology strategy. Whoever engages first with a customer in trouble should have responsibility for seeing the issue to closure. Everyone should be oriented towards providing an excellent customer experience.
  3. Make sure that marketing is responsible for customer experience cradle-to-grave and empower them to direct the organization in how to engage with customers. Run regular spot checks of your service operation. 

I hope my experience is not indicative of the experience others have had with Jo Malone customer service but this is what happened to me, and it's a great reminder of how important it is to look at the customer experience through the lifecycle of your relationship with each customer.

Post script: Before submitting this article I tried one last time to reach out to Jo Malone, this time via Twitter. I did get a fast response directing me to reach out to another email account which I did; that was five days ago and since then nothing.

About the author

Anita Brearton

Anita Brearton is Founder/CEO and Co-CMO of CabinetM, a marketing technology discovery and management platform that helps marketing teams manage the technology they have, and find the technology they need. Anita is a long time tech start-up marketer and has had the great fortune of driving marketing programs through the early stages of a startup all the way to IPO and acquisition.