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Next Level Customer Service Blog

News, tips, and trends to help you reach that next level of customer service.

Entries in service recovery (9)


Live Experiment: A breakthrough with Whirlpool?

I think I finally have a resolution after contacting Whirlpool 16 times to update an expired credit card. And, I've also confirmed my suspicions that there was a broken link in the chain. As I've written before, your service is only as good as the weakest link in the chain.

My wife and I had a subscription where Whirlpool automatically sends out a new water filter for our refrigerator every six months and bills the credit card they have on file. Our credit card recently expired, but so far we've been unable to give Whirlpool the updated information. (You can follow previous posts here.)

Yesterday, I exchanged direct messages on Twitter with Chris, a Whirlpool employee who monitors their customer service Twitter feed @WhirlpoolCare. This led to a phone call where I explained that between my wife and I, we had now contacted Whirlpool 16 times in an effort to update an expired credit card. Chris listened, apologized, but like everyone else we had interacted with, he told me he was unable to help me. However, unlike everyone else so far, Chris offered an alternative solution and explained why he was unable to fix my expired credit card (more on the credit card in a moment).

The alternative we agreed upon was that Chris would send us a complimentary water filter as a gesture of goodwill. It would then be up to me to re-establish a new online account with my updated credit card as a workaround to the problem. (I could also find an alternative source for the water filter.)

This is huge because, as I explained to Chris, I have a house full of Whirlpool appliances. Before this incident, I wouldn't consider another brand. Now, I wouldn't consider Whirlpool unless this was resolved. If the filter arrives as promised I'll consider Whirlpool back on my list of preferred appliance brands (their appliances are really, really good).

The Broken Link
Chris also revealed the broken link in their chain. The water filters are fulfilled by a third party, so Whirlpool customer service employees have no access to that company's fulfillment system. The only tool they are given is the instructions on using the website that they can relay to customers. This explains why each customer service representative we've encountered has been unable to help. Apparently, the system's designers never imagined the system could break so there were no contingency plans for handling this sort of situation.

Unanswered Questions
I didn't want to press my luck by asking Chris too many question since I was his last customer of the day and he had stayed a little late to talk to me. My top priority was getting a resolution and I had that now. However, there are a few unanswered questions that could be instructive.

What is the escalation procedure? If a system is broken, someone should be able to escalate. Why couldn't (or wouldn't) Whirlpool's customer service employees escalate this issue to someone who was empowered to fix it?

Where is the process broken? The specific problem was technical, but was it on Whirlpool's end, the fulfillment company's end, or both? When two parties encounter a problem, the instinct is often to point the finger at the other party, which means nothing gets resolved.

What's the full impact? I have to imagine my wife and I aren't the only ones to experience this problem. Is this problem really an iceberg? In other words, how much business is Whirlpool losing due to situations like ours?

Jeff Toister is the author of Service Failure: The Real Reasons Employees Struggle with Customer Service and What You Can Do About It. The book is available in paperbook, e-book, and audio book formats.

You can learn more about the book at or purchase a copy online at AmazonBarnes & Noble, or Powell's Books.


Service recovery from Heitz Cellars

Earlier this week, I wrote a post about three wineries that all handled a missing or delayed wine shipment in different ways. (See Good, Bad, and Ugly ways to handle the same problem.) Since then, Heitz Cellars has made a bit of recovery.

Heitz Cellars was my "ugly" example in the post because I had called three times to check the status of some missing wine and they had short shipped my order twice. Yesterday, the last two missing bottles finally arrived. The modest recovery came from the refund they issued to my credit card. This means the end result was I finally had my delicious wine ('07 Zinfandel) and I didn't have to pay for it. Heitz Cellars makes some terrific wine and this gesture was enough to keep me as a customer.

This also serves as another installment in my collection of stories that prove the longer you take to solve a customer service problem, the more expensive recovery will be.

Related posts on expensive service recovery:




Unexpected customer answers reveal "moments of truth"

There are certain stock phrases used so often in customer service situations that they've almost lost all meaning. They've become perfunctory and the responses they illicit from customers almost seem scripted. "How are you today?" asks the customer service rep. The answer, of course, is "I'm fine."

But what happens when the customer goes off script and says something unexpected? You can earn an "A" for service if you are recognize these moments of truth and are ready for a little improv. On the other hand, you might get a "C" or even an "F" if you don't seize the moment.

Here are some examples:

Did you find everything OK?
Expected Answer: "Yes"
Moment of Truth: "No". My wife, Sally, got this one at the bookstore last night. She was looking for some note cards but didn't find anything she liked. She bought a few other items and the associate at the cash register asked her "Did you find everything OK?" Sally said "No", but the associate missed the opportunity to make some suggestions. She simply ignored the response and continued the transaction.

How is your stay at our hotel so far?
Expected answer: "Good"
Moment of truth:"It's OK." There's a subtle difference here, but a savvy hotel associate will catch it and take action. I once gave this answer to a hotel associate while sharing an elevator. Instead of following up with "How can I make your stay better?" it got uncomfortably quiet until we got to her floor and she quickly exited the elevator.

How are you today?
Expected answer: "I'm fine"
Moment of truth: "I'm terrible". I must admit I dropped the ball on this one when I was a teenager working in a retail clothing store. I really didn't know what to say until the customer, seeing my surprised look, followed up with, "Well, you asked!" Yes, I did ask, but I also realized I hadn't cared what the answer was. From that point forward, I was ready for those moments of truth and knew to respond with, "I'm sorry to hear that -- what can I do to make your day better?"

What are your moments of truth?


Frame-up! The exciting conclusion...

And now, the exciting conclusion to my incredible misadventures getting some frames made at Aaron Brothers. Special thanks go out to all the people who left comments (mostly on Facebook) wishing me well and especially my friend Marjorie, who wondered what I might have done to deserve bad customer service karma.

The big day

In action movies there's often a montage scene where the hero is shown training for that inevitable big moment. I imagined a montage all last week where Mr. Clean-up was busy building my frames while "Eye of the Tiger" or some equally corny rock anthem was playing in the background. At first, it was very difficult for him and he almost quit. But, through determination and hard work, he got better and better at it until finally he was ready to take on the forces of poor customer service and deliver my order.


My phone rang on Friday afternoon. It was Mr. Clean-up. I held my breath.

"Your frames are all ready for pick-up," said Mr. Clean-up. I could hardly believe it. Are you sure? "Yes - they're ready to go. We close at 9, so you can pick them up this evening if you'd like."

Plot twist?

My wife, Sally, and I headed down to Aaron Brothers later that night to pick up our frames. In the back of my mind, I was anticipating a plot twist. The kind where you think the super villain has been vanquished, but suddenly he comes back to life for one last-ditch attempt at chaos. When we walked in, we were greeted by the Ball Dropper, that fiendish customer service villain who shirks responsibility and never seems to get things dong. Aaaaarrgh!

Bracing ourselves for the inevitable conflict, we were surprised to find the Ball Dropper contrite and eager to please. He brought out our frames (they were all great) and apologized for the hassle. A few minutes later we were walking out of the store with our frames in hand. Somehow, this really was the happy ending we had hoped for.


Frame-up! Service hero, villains, and not-so-innocent bystanders.

My favorite framing store in San Diego has evidently disappeared, so my wife (Sally) and I recently decided to give Aaron Brothers another chance. We'd received a lot of disinterested service from Aaron Brothers in the past, but they have a store near our house and we didn't feel like doing too much searching for a new place to get a couple of prints framed. Little did we know our adventure would read like a customer service comic book, complete with a cliffhanger ending!

The Villains

The Ball Dropper
The Ball Dropper shirks responsibility. Sometimes intentionally and sometimes just because, well, he's the Ball Dropper. That's his stupor-power -- not getting things done. In our case, the Ball Dropper struck twice. First, he mis-measured the matting for our frames, causing a delay since it resulted in the last piece of that matting being cut to the wrong dimensions. Zap! Pow! Backorder! The second instance was worse -- he neglected to call us and let us know there would be a delay.  Aaaargh!

Apathy Girl
We dropped by Aaron Brothers on Sunday to buy some additional frames and check on our prints. They were due on Monday, so we figured we'd see if they were ready a day early. That's when Apathy Girl materialized and informed us there had been a delay and our prints wouldn't be ready on Monday as planned because the evil Ball Dropper and bungled the order.

Apathy Girl's favorite phrases are "I don't know", "That's not my job," and "That sucks for you." The last phrase sometimes sounds like, "I'm sorry", but that's because she has a thick Apathetic accent. She's really saying, "That sucks for you."

In this case, Apathy Girl told us she didn't know when our order would be ready. We wanted to order an additional frame to match the first one, but she told us it was out of stock. She also didn't know when it would be in (maybe February?!). We asked if we could pick out a similar frame and get it all done by Friday since the original order was delayed. Apathy Girl didn't know. The new frame was also more expensive, so we asked if they would give it to us at a discount since we were inconvenienced. Apathy Girl didn't know that either. "I only work here one day a week," she said.

Apathy Girl's evil forces were so powerful that Sally and I decided to give up on Aaron Brothers for this frame job. We took our prints, got a refund, trudged out of the store, and then shook our fists at the sky. (Shaking your fist at the sky is what you do when you feel powerless because an Evil Customer Service Villain took advantage of you.)

Not-So-Innocent Bystander

The store manager witnessed all of Apathy Girl's show. She didn't say or do anything. Perhaps it was because she was assisting another customer and didn't want to cause a scene. Perhaps it was because she felt powerless to stop the awesome power of the evil super villain Apathy Girl. Or, perhaps she was secretly Apathy Woman and Apathy Girl was her prodigy. Whatever the reason, she didn't do much store managing on this day.

The Super Hero

Mr. Clean-up
On Monday, the date when our framed prints were originally due, I received a phone call from a Service Hero, Mr. Clean-up. He told me he was the framer at Aaron Brothers and was surprised to come into work to find our order had been cancelled. Mr. Clean-up was calling to see if he could do anything to win back our business or at least find out what went wrong. I told him our story.

"Ahhhh, the Ball Dropper and Apathy Girl strike again!" Mr. Clean-up then offered to do what he does best - clean-up a bad situation.

I asked Mr. Clean-up if he could frame our original prints plus make the additional frame we wanted at a discount, and get it all done by Friday. He explained that was a tall order because he had to get permission from the store manager (who might very well be Apathy Woman), but he would see what he could do. Could he give me a call back by Tuesday and let me know? Sure.

I can only imagine what happened next as Mr. Clean-up took on the evil forces of indifference and poor customer service that were part of the Aaron Brothers company culture.

Biff! Pow! Boom!

The rest of the story...

Mr. Clean-up left a message for me yesterday - we got the deal! All I had to do was bring the prints back in that day and everything would be ready by Friday. At a discount. I grabbed the prints and hustled out the door as soon as I got the message.

When I got to Aaron Brothers a few minutes later I was told Mr. Clean-up had already left for the night. (Has anyone actually seen Mr. Clean-up?!) However, another employee offered to help me. Unfortunately, I could tell she was another not-so-innocent bystander who was lured by the call of Apathy. "Mr. Clean-up has already left for the night." And, "We don't usually do that." And, "I couldn't guarantee it would be done by Friday." Aaaaargh!

I felt the urge to shake my fist at the sky again, but I had one last card to play. "Let's call Mr. Clean-up and see what he has to say about it," I said. She agreed and made the call. I only heard her end of the conversation:

"Uh huh. Uh huh. Well, we don't normally do.. Oh, I see.  Oh, OK. OK."

She came back to the counter, smiling. "We can do it all by Friday and give you that discount. Mr. Clean-up says it's OK."

Cliffhanger Ending...

I left Aaron Brothers last night feeling confident that I'd get my order by Friday. Or will I? Will Mr. Clean-up finish the job? Or, will the Ball Dropper intervene and drop the ball? Will Apathy Girl swoop in on her day off (she only works Sundays, remember?) and spread apathy across the store? I won't know until Friday, but I'm excited!