Customer misfortune – Don’t make a drama out of a crisis

POSTED ON August 28, 2018

By Howard Morgan, Founder & MD, RealService

There’s no better test of a business than how it handles a customer with an emergency problem or personal misfortune.

I want you to imagine that you or your partner has just had your bag stolen at your local shopping centre.

Now, imagine that everything is gone – your mobile phone, credit cards, travel card, cash, car keys, house keys and office keys. In an instant you’ve not only been robbed of your possessions but also been robbed of your ability to call a loved one for help or even to get home.

Well that’s exactly what happened to my wife just 36 hours before we were due to go on holiday last month.

I was 20 miles away driving back home at the time when I took a call from her on a phone she’d borrowed from a security guard.

What would you do next?

My immediate thought was to put a stop on her credit cards and get her phone barred.

I parked up by the roadside and spent the next hour ringing her mobile phone operator and credit card companies. Fortunately, most of our accounts are joint, which I’m sure made things a lot easier to get through the never-ending security questions. Do you just happen to know the last balance on your credit card statement? Me neither!

What I discovered is that once you finally get through, and it could be 10 – 20 minutes waiting, the credit card companies are pretty good at handling this type of situation. I wouldn’t say they were strong on emotional empathy – a bit robotic – but at least the job got done.

Full marks go to mobile phone company O2, who did demonstrate real concern and asked if my wife was OK and even offered to call the police. They explained the process very clearly and before the call ended I had an email from them with all the information I needed to get a new sim, make an insurance claim and set up a replacement phone.

My next task was to do something about our home security. We feared the stolen keys being used to break in while we were on holiday. It was 5pm on a Saturday and we needed to change our door locks quickly. I made one call to a local locksmith. My call was routed through to a call centre and before I knew it, a very professional locksmith came around and two locks were changed within 90 minutes. The guy was genuinely empathetic and made the whole thing as painless as possible. I was expecting to be ripped off, but the charges were entirely fair.

Driven by excellence?

Compare that experience with trying to get the keys and locks replaced of our German manufactured car. It was as if no customer ever before had suffered their car keys being stolen and needed fast help. I spent the first day or so be bounced between the ‘Service’ and ‘Parts’ departments of the main dealer, and the ‘Emergency assistance’ and ‘Warranty’ departments at head office. Each told me a different story and either left me hanging on and/or passed me back to where I’d started.

The fact that part of the loss was covered by a key insurance policy that came with the car seemed to add complication rather than ease the process.

I eventually went to the main dealer’s showroom. Again, I was passed from ‘Service’ to ‘Parts’ and from ‘Parts’ to ‘Service’. No one seemed to know what to do and by the way, no one empathised with the situation and took personal ownership.

Comparing the situation with replacing our home door locks – the experience could not have been more different. One was a fast, responsive and personalised service. The other – slow, confused and impersonal.

So, what’s the lesson for the property industry?

Ask anyone who is buying or renting a property, or even has a maintenance issue to deal with, and they will tell you how stressful being a customer of our industry can be.

The lesson here is not just that a swift resolution is required but also that empathy, and sometimes even sympathy, can make all the difference to how your customer is feeling.

The best organisations have clearly spent time mapping the customer journey from first phone call to resolution and done all they can to make it easy for the customer.

Last chance saloon

I was eventually passed on to the head of the Parts Department at the main dealer. He apologised and told me that “unfortunately these things can happen when you deal with a big company like this” – … priceless!  But to his credit, he took hold of the problem, but even he failed to get the message to the service desk so when I arrived to drop off the car they knew nothing about my case and any conversations leading up to it.

We went to pick up the car with replacement locks and keys today, 10 working days since I first contacted the dealership. Ironically, I noticed that the showroom was littered with signs promising a fast and responsive service.

Here at RealService we school our clients to take the positive approach that it’s never too late recover a customer’s loyalty.

The optimist in me was hoping that the replacement keys would be handed over by the service manager with an apology and perhaps some flowers for my wife. But no…….nothing.

I guess it’s another clear reminder that creating a great customer experience requires dedicated effort by businesses to design operating systems that work and to hire and train people that have genuine empathy.

Key to the highway

At RealService, we’re enjoying working with a wide range of property industry clients to help them to measure customer experience, improve customer journey’s and enhance their customer service skills.

If you’re curious to find out exactly what it really feels like to be a customer of your own business – there’s no better time than now!

To find out more about our services please contact

Howard Morgan or Louise Freethy


+44 (0)20 3393 9603