Bad experiences happen all the time – you get judged for how you handle them, not for having one.
Not too long ago, many android smartphone users got a message from a mobile security app provider that their WiFi network was at risk. If you are like me, messages like this get noticed. If you are more risk averse than me (e.g. a beloved member of my family, aka my wife), messages like this cause considerable stress (freak out anyone?). They waste a lot of time and energy looking for reasons, explanations and solutions. To be fair, security and privacy breaches are quite concerning. Just ask anyone who has had their computer shut down due to malware, or their personal information stolen thanks to someone’s phishing. It is super frustrating. When the message comes from the provider that is supposed to protect us from this stuff, it is quite disconcerting.
In some cases, this unwelcome message simply said the network was at risk. In other instances, it also suggested the app be upgraded to a privacy protection module for an extra $30. Oh really? My brain kicked in then. It had to be an error in programming somewhere… Or perhaps my trusted app provider was doing an upsell…? I really wanted to believe it was the former. On the latter, my sinister side was already slamming my trusted provider for such a shameful ploy. My beloved family member, by the way, was already looking for the credit card to up our ante…
In looking into it further, we noticed that no other device on the same home network had the risk message, except for the mobile phones (hers and mine), and android phones specifically. We both ran mobile security scans. Shortly thereafter, the message appeared again on our mobile phones. Then the notifications just started flying – they arrived every few seconds and seemed impossible to stop. I was getting annoyed. My wife’s panic was now full blown. Money and shopping apps were about to be shut down. Passwords for everything were about to change. Marital stress levels were high – someone might be sleeping on the couch. I was really going to miss my bed…
We looked online at the providers web site. We found nothing about the alert message. We jumped on several social media platforms. We found some lively posts there! I assure you, the sentiment was quite poor. People were threatening to cancel their subscription. And note that his was for a reputable, well-established company that built its brand around reliable, error free security solutions. More and more customers were jumping to conclusions – the bad kind. This happened because of the long radio silence from the solution provider. Customers did not assume they did not know about the issue. They assumed they did not care enough to act on it quickly.
It took more than 24 hours for them to acknowledge there was a problem caused by an error. Customers cancelled their subscription over it. And I bet it far exceeded the number of people who opted to sign up for the upsell, even if that was not the intent. I learned later that they did not refund anyone who signed up for the upsell app unless they requested one. They should have done that automatically, without question. They knew who upgraded and when. They also know why.
Customers were eventually told that it was an ongoing issue with the app incorrectly detecting that the WiFi network had been compromised. It was a programming error. The engineers and developers were racing to fix it. The problem would be resolved within 24-48 hours. It would be fixed automatically on people’s phones. Their device was still safe, provided they continue to run the app.
With six sentences, they restored order and created calm. But by waiting more than 24 hours to figure it out and publish something about it, they had lost customers. Their brand took a hit on trust and favourability. But those were short-term losses only. Customers will forgive companies sometimes, but they may not always forget. How many more of these can this company afford? Time will tell how many bad experiences customers will forgive before they abandon that particular ship.
When material operational problems occur, and they will, remember:
- It’s good to jump on it as quickly as possible, even to communicate that you are aware of the issue, are looking into it, and care about it since it affects the promise of value you made to customers;
- It’s bad to assume a little headache for you is just a little headache for the customer – always wear their hat when thinking of the consequences; and
- It’s ugly to profit from an error and not come clean on it.
Andreas H. Noe, MBA, BComm Marketing, is a founding partner of Phase 5 and has more than 30 years of experience in marketing research and consulting. Andreas leads Phase 5’s Customer Experience and Market Insights teams.