When the Customer Experience Breaks Bad

Responses separate companies that get it from companies that don’t.

breaking_badI have an addiction (pun intended) to the AMC show Breaking Bad. It’s about a 50-year-old high school chemistry teacher who finds out that he has lung cancer. With a pregnant wife, a young son with cerebral palsy, and little in the way of money and time to live, he “breaks bad.” That is, he begins manufacturing crystal meth.

Things get very interesting after that.

In this post, I’ll explain how this relates to the customer experience. Also, once you’ve broken bad, the customer experience is tough to repair.

When Salmon Breaks Bad

Well, let me tell you about a recent hotel stay of mine that broke bad–and how you can use it as an opportunity to still leave a good impression with an angry customer.

On a recent trip to Las Vegas, I stayed at a hotel. On my second night, I ordered the salmon with vegetables. It was custom-cooked and not from a buffet.

The salmon and vegetables tasted fine going down but, as I would soon discover, I was in for a world of pain. Over the next 14 hours, I became violently ill and could not keep any food down. After attempting to eat some very light cereal with Gatorade, I relapsed and needed to go to the hospital and incur medication costs. (Note to self: avoid milk next time.)

The entire experience put a wrench into my plans. Severely dehydrated, I could barely move, much less do the things in Las Vegas that I needed to do.

Things happen, but responses separate companies that get it from companies that don’t.

To its credit, the hotel’s employees couldn’t have been nicer and more helpful. A hotel employee drove me to the hospital, picked me up, took me to a pharmacy, waited while I had my prescription filled, and then took me home. The entire staff knew about my situation and frequently asked me how I was doing. The manager comp-ed me two nights for my trouble and apologized, even though no one else became sick from the salmon.

Simon Says

To be sure, this wasn’t a crisis on par with Johnson and Johnson’s handling of Tylenol in 1982. It’s not as if hundreds of guests were keeling over in the lobby.

And that’s precisely the point.

As I mentioned on this site before, a single, social customer can do a great deal of harm and good for a business of any size. Think about ways to turn crises into opportunities. No, you can’t give a customer free hotel nights for the rest of his life. By the same token, however, a free meal is an insulting accommodation for someone who had to endure 24 hours of hell.

So, to the folks at the hotel: Thank you for doing the right thing. You have made a customer for life. More than that, you have set an example for other companies of all sizes to follow.

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