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I’ve been creating customer journeys for a long time, and for different sized organisations as well. The one thing that nobody has asked me about is what to do when the customer journey doesn’t go as planned, which is surprising.  Because just as in life, nothing ever goes perfectly according to plan even when we plan it out in fine detail. So now I’m going to explain what to do when your customer journey doesn’t go as planned, and how you can recover from it.

This is more than a blog article about showering your customers with attention, gifts or apologies if something doesn’t go as planned. Because you can do all of those things, but they may not work if they aren’t done properly!  I’m going to give you an example of a customer journey that didn’t go as planned and how it was salvaged – and also what could have been done to make it better.

Here’s the story.

Recently I went away with my kids on a short holiday and we stayed in a resort opposite a beach in a popular location in Queensland.  On the first day we kept busy visiting relatives and then using the facilities at the resort which the kids loved. We were barely in the apartment at all until around dinner time.  We settled in and enjoyed the evening views of the beach from our patio and played family games in the lounge area. Shortly after this my adult daughter fell asleep on the couch – as she’d had a long day and didn’t get much sleep the night before. After getting the younger kids ready for bed one of them came out to the lounge room and noticed that his sister was suddenly covered with white ‘stuff’ that looked like fine flecks of paint or little white balls. We inspected the ceiling and found that the rough cement render of the ceiling was literally falling away, and unfortunately a lot of it was all over my daughter’s face, hair, body, and the surroundings of the couch including her belongings.   Upon further inspection of the other areas of the apartment we found that it was also falling in other places too.  We were very concerned and clearly didn’t feel safe to be there!

I immediately rang reception and spoke with the night manager, who came up to the apartment and inspected the situation. She agreed that it was a situation that meant we couldn’t stay there and needed to move.  What happened after this was a big part of the failure of their customer journey, and an example of when a customer journey doesn’t go as planned.

Firstly, the night manager needed to contact the General Manager and explain the situation to get approval to move us into another apartment. This took over 30 minutes just to contact him because he had decided to upgrade his phone after receiving her initial call, and so he was uncontactable for the next 20 minutes.

Was this the best time to be upgrading your phone, if you have a family with young children in an apartment that is shedding white paint all over them? I would think not.

She finally got hold of him and got approval to move us to another apartment which luckily was only down the hall. However we were told that it was only for the night – as they needed to figure out the next day whether they could keep us in the new apartment or not.

This didn’t make a lot of sense: we clearly couldn’t stay in the first apartment, and yet they wouldn’t give us confirmation that we could move fully to the second apartment. So we could only take our things we needed to sleep overnight. How disruptive!

Next, I was told by the Night Manager that the General Manager had advised that I would need to contact the Manager who arrived at 8am in the morning and explain the situation all over again, and ask him where we were going to be spending the rest of our holiday.

It was well past 10pm by this time. I was tired and still had to get the kids into bed. I was not feeling very settled and the stress of having to deal with this played on my mind to the point that I couldn’t fall asleep quickly.

The next morning we woke up and headed back to the first apartment in our PJs and had breakfast and got ready for the day. The white stuff had fallen a little bit more in the lounge room and the bedrooms, so it was a good thing that we didn’t sleep there.

Shortly after 8am I received a call from the new Manager on duty, who luckily had been briefed on the situation and he came up to the apartment to see it for himself.  He said he would get maintenance to inspect it to see how bad it was.  He focused on the building problem, rather than the human problem!

He then told me we could move fully to the second apartment as he had done a “great deal of background reorganisation” to ensure we could spend the rest of our holiday there.

At this point he still had not addressed the customer journey or emotional journey failure that had occurred. He had addressed a) the building problem and how he was going to solve that, b) the logistics problem of where my family was going to stay, but he hadn’t addressed the human problem – which actually was THE MOST IMPORTANT THING. He had responded to the practical side of what happens when a customer journey doesn’t go as planned.

My kids were in the room listening to him speak, and waited to see how I would respond. I too waited to see what the Manager was going to say, and let him finish before I expressed my feelings and the experience that we went through since about 6pm the night before – and the impact it had had on all of us already.

Unfortunately this manager didn’t know how to respond properly: he simply said “I can’t say sorry enough for this”.  Yet “sorry” wasn’t what I needed to hear.  And this is the crucial thing.

You see, when a customer journey doesn’t go as planned and fails for reasons that could be beyond your control – such as this example of our holiday apartment – often the person in charge first looks to ‘fix’ the physical property and ensure that their perceived asset is maintained.  This is definitely important, but it is never the first thing that should be displayed to the customer.

In this situation, the Manager failed to ask me how I felt. He failed to ask me how my family had slept. He failed to acknowledge the disruption that the situation had caused and his understanding of how it had dampened our holiday (and trust me – it had!).

He simply focussed on the building, getting us to another apartment, and then apologising in a way that made him exempt of liability.

This is one of the dangers you can fall into when you apologise profusely instead of seeking to understand the emotional journey your customer has had.  You will come across as uncaring and not willing to take full responsibility.

How does one come across as caring and take full responsibility?

You firstly listen. Then you ask questions. What the Manager at the resort failed to do was listen to me up front. He didn’t show me that he actually cared about the impact it had had on me and my family.  So there was no emotional connection made. No heart.

And what happens when there’s no emotional connection? In this example I became disconnected from him and his brand (his entire business) and I know that I am not going to want to buy from them again.

This is why apologies on their own do not work properly.  When your Customer Journey fails you need to respond to the Emotional Journey that your customer has had, and reconnect to them from the place of understanding and true empathy FIRST – and then follow that up with action where it’s needed.

So what happened in the end with us on our holiday?

Luckily for us after the Manager had left our apartment and left us all feeling quite let down and disappointed (not understood or cared about), we decided to just get on with our day and not let the situation drag us down.  Roughly 30 minutes after he had left he contacted me again to apologise again, explained his understanding of how disruptive the situation had been for us and how it had dampened the start of our holiday, and not allowed us to truly relax. (I couldn’t believe my ears: was this the same man I was just talking to in the apartment who could only focus on getting maintenance in to look at the ceiling and saying sorry 3 times over?)  He then said he was going to refund us our first night’s accommodation as a way of acknowledging what we’d been through.  A total turnaround from his earlier position.

I’m not sure what happened in those 30 minutes, but whatever it was I was very grateful. He showed understanding and empathy. It wasn’t delivered in the best way at all, it wasn’t done in the best way as the timing was off, but it was better than nothing.

Hopefully you can see the importance of the connection with your customer. It is always the emotional connection that matters and that will ensure you can respond to failures like this one that come out of ‘left field’ and that are out of your control. There is always a way to mend a broken Customer Journey, and it always starts with the emotional connection being rebuilt.

Contact us if you need help with your customer journey especially if the customer journey doesn’t go as planned…