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Customer Experience: heroes and villains

Large organisations can make small gestures with a great effect. They can also fail the customer quite spectacularly

Hero: stolen dog recaptured by an Amazon employee

Just after a delivery driver dropped off an Amazon parcel, containing dog food, the owner noticed that his young dog, Wilma – a reasonably valuable miniature schnauzer – was missing.

He informed Amazon in UK of his suspicions about the driver (working for a contracted delivery company) and, for good measure, he emailed Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and CEO and reportedly the world’s richest man.

Rob, an Amazon UK employee, saw an email from Bezos expressing his concern about this incident and took the initiative to take personal, direct action.  He was able to track the driver’s journey back to his home, via GPS, and drove straight there where he found the dog and took him back to the owner.

Two great aspects here:

  1. The person at the very top of this massive organisation took a personal interest and acted in a positive manner
  2. The hero of the story, Rob, used initiative in solving the problem. He used an unorthodox approach, confidant that his “out of the box and outside the rule book approach” would be supported.

Perhaps because of the sheer size of the organisation, Amazon are occasionally the target of criticism, but this story demonstrates that big companies can show a personal and extraordinary service to solve a problem.

Villains: travelling hopelessly

I aim to publish frequent “Heroes & Villains” stories but there’s been a dearth recently. This is due to a lack of “Heroes”, whereas the “Villains” tales are piling up, awaiting publication. Despite this, I am pushing a personal story ahead of the queue.

Last week, I travelled by train to Birmingham for a couple of meetings.  Everything went well and by late afternoon, I was at Kings Cross station in time to catch a train to Hitchin where Mrs Hales would be picking me up at 5 p.m. My train was showing as being on-time, but no platform was indicated.  Then came the message that “overhead cables at Finsbury Park” were causing delays.  The train was shown as “delayed” and then “cancelled”.  I wasn’t too worried as the next train would still get me to my destination in time.  Then came the announcement that no trains would be able to travel through Finsbury Park, which is – as far as I am aware – pretty much all the trains leaving Kings Cross.  The barely audible announcement advised the alternatives available and for Hitchin and Stevenage the advice was to go to St Pancras station and catch a train to Luton.  This I did but when I got out at Luton the staff denied knowledge of any arrangements and one of the two station staff, I spoke to, told me quite authoritatively that should go back to St Albans where there would be a bus replacement service.

I duly arrived at St Albans but the staff there know nothing about this at all and began to tell me of their problems (all the station supervisors and managers had gone home, leaving them to cope alone!)

They told me to go back to Luton but being reluctant to return there without a more certain answer, I asked them to check.  Eventually and about three telephone calls later, I was assured that Luton was the answer but whilst there was no “bus replacement service” the local bus route would accept the train ticket.

When I arrived at Luton, once again, the scene was one of chaos: there were dozens of stranded passengers all wanting to know what bus to catch and where was the bus stop?  When the bus arrived, the driver knew nothing about what was going on and would not let us get onboard, until he rang his depot for confirmation.  We could not all get on and I managed to claim one of the last standing spaces.

After a very uncomfortable ride – all around housing estates and via the airport (although no further passengers could be picked up as the bus was full and all passengers were for Hitchin or Stevenage) – we arrived at Hitchin about 4 hours after I had left Kings Cross.

I appreciate that incidents can cause delays on the railways and safety has to come first. However, it seemed ridiculous that the railway and bus staff were so ill-informed and unprepared.  I am sure it is neither the first or last time that problems at Finsbury Park affect Kings Cross departures.  But there seemed to be no joined-up contingency plan.

Anyway, I have got my personal rant over.  We will soon be back to “Villains and Heroes” nominated by others.

Comment from The Next Ten Years:

Don’s tale of woe indicates how ill-prepared most organisations are when things go wrong and coordination outside of the normal organisational boundaries is required to put things right for the customer. In this case it’s a clear indication that the customers’ desired outcome of “get me home” was nowhere near being fulfilled, with only a “best endeavours” approach being taken that was uncoordinated to say the least. By contrast, the hero story shows how a culture of empowerment and customer focus allows employees to bend the rules and get things done.

Which type of organisation would you rather work in?




Don Hales

Having successfully built two major businesses using great customer service as his USP (long before it was fashionable), Don launched the National Customer Service Awards in 1998. Right from the start this event attracted over 1600 diners to the award event each year and Don started to use the stories as best practice examples to fuel his live presentations. Today as Chairman of Awards International – a leading awards company, operating in several countries and International Advisor to the Customer Experience Foundation, he remains an in-demand speaker on an international basis. He is joint author (with Derek Williams) of “Wow! That’s What I Call Service” and welcomes contributions to his “Customer Experience Heroes & Villains” series of articles. Now in his mid-70s, Don retains his enthusiasm and belief in the benefits of great service as a key business differentiator.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Jo Boswell

    I love the idea of naming heroes & villains. Interesting that you chose an Amazon example though, and amazed to read of an experience when a customer has been able to get through to them so quickly. My own experience of contacting Amazon when something has gone wrong is somewhat different: very hard to find the contact numbers on the website, and then you can’t call them directly – they call you back at their convenience!

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