It’s not your fault but it is your responsibility
I recently wrote about how important it is that brands not just be competent in delivering the products or services they provide to their Customers. From perusing your website, to making a selection there or in a physical location, to paying, to delivery, use, and re-purchase, Customers engage with your company along an entire journey filled with touchpoints not only directly related to what you build or do, but also in ways you might not even consider. If your Brand Promise is ease-of-use, you may make your product uncomplicated and simple. But if your ordering process or refund and exchange requirements are not simple, you’ve missed the mark in fulfilling that Brand Promise.
What’s tricky is that often, you actually have little direct control because you’re dealing with outside entities. Perhaps you contract or otherwise partner with another company to help you out, like last-mile delivery or sub-contracted service providers. But how closely do you monitor them, and how do you hold them to account for delivering your Brand Promise? Or do you even bother?
Earlier this year my partner and I took an overseas trip as a vacation. At the time, our destination was requiring negative Covid-19 tests within 72 hours of travel for entry into the country. Our airline teamed with a company that, theoretically was supposed to aid us in locating a testing facility, scheduling and paying for a test, and directly uploading the results into our airline’s system so that — again, in theory — we’d not even have to bring any sort of paperwork along when we flew out. I won’t get into all the details, but suffice to say, we encountered trouble with this provider from the very first step…and it never got better. The company seemed so disjointed and ill-operated that it took extra steps simply to confirm that they’d made the appointment correctly. For that matter, after having interacted with them, we lacked confidence enough that we went so far as to book separate appointments on our own with an urgent care clinic up the street just to be safe in case — as seemed more likely than we felt comfortable about — they dropped the ball entirely. And it’s a good thing because, although we did get tested, we never heard back from that partner company, and flew on our vacation thanks to the paperwork we’d brought with us from the other test, the one we’d scheduled on our own. Oddly, a couple of months later we were still seeing billing on our credit cards flit in and out of the “Pending Charges” section of our online accounts. Good thing too, because we never actually received any services for those charges! To this day we still don’t have any results from the company our airline partnered with.
But the really curious detail is that, when we brought this to the attention of the airline (after we returned safely to the States), their reaction itself was muddled. I penned a note to their Customer care email address almost as a professional courtesy: Hey, I wrote, this partner of yours is making you look bad…you should reconsider if you want to work with them because although surely your intent was to make things easier for us, it actually made the whole experience more stressful than it otherwise would have been. It’d have been easier if you’d just told us, ‘Hey…you’ll need a test, so hit up your doc and good luck with all that! You’re on your own, but make sure to bring your negative-test paperwork from your doctor with you to the airport when you go to fly out.’
Their reaction to my email? Some verbatim quotes: “You may want to check your spam or junk folder.” And, “While we appreciate your refund request, [our airline] is not part of the appointment booking or payment process.” Now, not only had I not requested a refund, in my original email, I had explicitly written that I wasn’t looking for one…or anything for that matter; rather just to offer them some feedback.
Issue ignored, shoulders effectively sloped, move on to the next issue, seemed to be my airline’s approach. They had specifically chosen this partner in an attempt to help us, the Customers, when we travel overseas. That partner failed them and I offered them that feedback. Instead of taking it to heart, they treated it as a gripe to which they felt they needed to defensively respond. It was a true face-palm moment for me as a CX professional. A much more earnest response would be to thank me for the feedback and say that they’ll take it into consideration as part of the assessment of their partnership with this third party. Simply shooting over some boilerplate from that page of their decision-tree guide shows that they weren’t even listening to what I had to say.
It happens all over the place, too. While we’re on the topic, don’t get me started on shipping. There’s one major shipping company (yes, it’s one of those two or three you’re thinking of) with which I’ve had so much trouble and which has failed me so many times that, when shopping online, I’ll inquire of the vendor with whom they ship. If they say this one, I typically will continue the search and check out their competitor online stores, returning only if I can’t find what I’m looking for anywhere else.
The point is, your Customers’ experiences do not end when your logo drops off the screen. They’re buying something from you! Regardless of which other organization or organizations you farm part of that journey out to, that experience will reflect on your brand. It’s not easy to hold other brands accountable for your Brand Promise (they have their own, after all!). But if you’re really serious about yours, you should be searching out partners and service providers that reflect it, or at least value it enough not to tarnish it on your behalf.
And the tough part is, when they fail your Customers, you have to take it personally yourself and recognize that they’re failing you as well. If your Customers notice it and point it out to you, it’s probably already caused considerable damage to your own brand, so the least you could do is take responsibility for it and take action, which should consist at least of making good and finding alternatives for your Customer in that moment, but may also include looking for a replacement partner altogether.