art installation by Adel Abidin: neon sign that says "I'm sorry"
PHOTO: einer von denen artwork by: Adel Abidin

In the last two weeks I’ve had two customer experiences that started with a problem and ended with me becoming a brand advocate for each of the companies involved.

Going Above and Beyond to Turn a Bad Experience Around

The first was with 24hourwristbands.com, a promotional products company. I was looking to produce a small quantity of customized coffee mugs quickly at a reasonable price for a social event I was hosting and 24hourwristbands fit the bill. I chose my product, uploaded my design, previewed the result, selected the rush shipping option and initiated payment. 

Two hours later I was heading to the airport to attend a wedding in the Midwest. I arrived in Indianapolis to see I had missed a number of calls, but since I didn’t recognize the number I ignored them. 

The same number called again a little while later — this time I answered the call. It was 24hourwristbands calling to tell me that the mug I had selected couldn’t be personalized the way I designed it. My immediate response was irritation since I was able to go all the way through the design process and submit my design with no indication that I couldn’t order the mug, and I had no time to look for another option. I was ready to complain about their misleading site and to disconnect, but before I could, the customer service representative, Walter, said, "I think I have another option for you if you would be willing to switch to another mug." With no other options I said, "Go for it." Walter told me he thought he could deliver what I wanted, save me some money in the process and get the mugs to me in time. He asked me to give him 10 minutes to figure it out. 

Ten minutes later he called to say he’d figured it out and in the process could save me 40 percent of what I’d originally paid. Over the course of the next 24 hours, Walter called at least four more times — once to tell me he didn’t think the text color I’d chosen would look good on the new mug and to ask if I’d mind if he tried another color, then to let me know a proof was available for my review, then to let me know the mugs were in production, and finally to let me know that the mugs had shipped and would definitely reach me on time. 

All of this was for a $100 order. What’s particularly impressive is the company was also emailing and texting updates, so there was no reason for the phone calls other than to make sure that I was reassured and felt taken care of.  After this experience, 24hourwristbands.com will be the first place I go when I need promotional products.

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

Action Speaks Louder Than Words in Customer Experience (and Life)

As I sat down to write this article, I visited the 24hourswristbands site to see how it describes itself in order to position the company accurately. I was fascinated to see how much of the company description is related to customer experience. Read this extract for yourself:

Who is 24HourWristbands.Com & Imprint.Com?

“With hundreds of promotional product companies in the market, it's difficult to choose one to trust. Since 2006, our focus has been providing our best price, quality, and service in the industry. Thanks to our amazing customers and our dedication to providing high quality products, we have developed into one of America's fastest growing promotional products manufacturers.

We take pride in processing all of our products in house. Knowing our products leave a lasting impression, each team member works diligently to make sure each order is made to provide the utmost satisfaction for our customers.”

Service for this company is clearly not just a marketing message, it is a business priority. My takeaways:

  • If service is a marketing message, make sure there is something behind it.
  • Every customer issue is an opportunity to deliver an exceptional customer experience.
  • For the best customer experience, follow the issue to a final conclusion.
  • Sometimes a phone call is much more powerful than electronic communications.

Related Article: How Good Experience Can Turn Bad, With the Swipe of a Credit Card

Owning Mistakes and Taking Complaints Seriously

My second experience I observed second hand within a business context. But in the end, it had the same impact as my personal experience.

Last week two of my team members attended the Drift HYPERGROWTH conference in Boston. Drift is a fast-growing Boston-based marketing and sales technology startup that positions itself in the conversational marketing space. We are a new customer and are in our second week of deployment. 

During the conference, one of the guest speakers punctuated his talk with a misogynistic, sexist and sexual rant (which was particularly jarring given that Aly Raisman was also speaking at the conference about the #METOO movement). My co-founder who was attending the conference texted me throughout his talk with texts that began, “OMG he just said ....” 

This isn’t the first or even the second time in my career where I’ve seen off-color and misogynistic speakers at a professional event.

Historically, I’ve shaken my head, commiserated with other women attendees, and shrugged it off. But this time you didn’t have to be a woman to see how blatantly wrong it was to give a stage to an overt sexist. One of my teammates came back to the office angry and determined to send a message to Drift about how offensive she found the speech. She didn’t expect a response but felt she at least had to make her voice heard. Within 15 minutes she received the following reply from the company:

“This is Jim Kelliher, CFO of Drift. Thanks for coming to the conference and thanks very much for your comments. We greatly apologize for the comments and behavior of Grant Cardone and fully agree with your comments. We were also extremely disappointed and never expected anything of the sort. It's the exact opposite of what we as a Company and management team stand for and as DC said at the conference, we take full responsibility for the mistake, will learn from it and take measures to ensure it is not repeated. Thanks again for your support of Drift.”

It’s hard to describe the impact of that message on me, my teammate, and every other woman at the company. After years of receiving responses along the lines of "you are being too sensitive" or "if you want to play with the big boys you have to toughen up," it was more than gratifying to see our concerns validated and taken seriously. The senior staff addressed it head on, quickly and definitively. They didn’t put it into the hands of their public relations team — they took ownership. The moment we received that note, our estimation of the Drift team rose exponentially, and I’m proud we’ve chosen to do business with them. 

Related Article: DevOps How To: Learning From Failure

Expect the Best, Plan for the Worst

What we now know a week later is the company addressed it in every way possible. The company founder, David Cancel, addressed it at the end of the conference, on Twitter and has written a blog about the experience.

Here are my takeaways:

  • The company took the issue seriously. Thumbs up!
  • The company took ownership of the issue and addressed the issue quickly and head on. Thumbs up!
  • The company executives did not delegate the issue to subordinates even though it was most likely someone else who booked the speaker. Thumbs up!
  • While I appreciate David Cancel falling on his own sword with regard to not vetting the speaker properly, I don’t fault him or his team for that. I could have made the same mistake a million times. Anyone who has staged a conference is used to assessing someone’s speaking ability and their subject matter expertise knowing how a poor speaker impacts the customer experience. But how often do we consider the risk that someone will speak inappropriately? I always vet slides but have never spoken with someone about how they should conduct themselves on stage. I can honestly say I’ve never considered that. David, we all have something to learn from the Drift experience. I, for one, will be creating a set of guidelines for speakers for any of our upcoming events.

In my days running marketing teams, I made sure we had a crisis communications plan to ensure that in the event of any public-facing problem we were prepared to move quickly. This experience has reminded me of the importance of those plans. I don’t know whether Drift has one, but I do know that in the last week they showed us how to do it right and I am a big fan.

Related Article: Can a Little Paranoia Save Media and Public Relations?

Final Takeaway

I came away from both of these experiences a fan of both companies and have told numerous friends and colleagues about each of them in the days since.

These experiences were a good reminder that when faced with a customer issue — whether big or small — focusing on the customer experience as well as the issue can lead to increased loyalty and customer satisfaction.

Oh and if you are the Drift employee who booked the speaker, it’s time to move on. You delivered a great conference, the sky didn’t fall. Don’t let one bad speaker take away from that and don’t let it affect your confidence. It was a learning experience for all of us.