Planning For A Customer’s Bad Day

Recently my wife’s car was broken into. You can see the glorious carnage of shattered glass in the attached image. Unfortunately this is an increasingly common problem in Cincinnati. From what the police say, Drugs + Desperation = Shattered Windows. But that’s another column entirely.

Instead we’re here to focus on how companies should plan for a customer’s bad day.

Once my wife called and told me her car had been broken into, we made a flurry of calls to the police and credit card companies. If you’ve ever had to make a call to report a theft you know that your mind is racing with thoughts and emotions. You also know that you’re not really at your “best” in those moments. So as I made calls, one of the companies I called (it doesn’t really matter which one), put me quickly through to their fraud department. I talked to very helpful people who quickly resolved my problems and canceled the credit card. Overall it was a really good experience. And I was done in under 10 minutes.

It’s Never That Simple

So what’s the problem? That sounds like a pretty good experience, right?

Simple. During the call, when I was put on hold, I was given the standard message telling me about all of the great services this company has to offer. Now my question is this: did I really want any of that advertising? And more importantly, was this the moment to try and capitalize on some good will so I’d use more of your company’s services?

Of course not. And that’s the catch. While the credit card company had great customer service, I was not in the mood to listen to advertising. I wasn’t calling a general number, I was calling the Fraud Line. They should have known I was not “planning on saving” or interested in a “limited time offer.” They should have known I was frustrated and angry that I had to spend my Sunday fixing the mess a few criminals made.

But they didn’t. They weren’t planning for a customer’s bad day.

So what can we take away from this:

1. Use technology. With call waiting, computerized call centers, and automated menus, how does a company allow unhappy customers to get the “usual” greeting? I have caller ID on my phone, and I change how I respond based on who is calling. Technology means upset customers should get a unique experience, geared toward fixing their problem and addressing their emotional needs.

2. Feel their pain. Bill Clinton may have been onto something. And I suspect this is really the issue. The call system for this credit card company was designed to handle “normal” calls, and little to no thought was given to people who were calling in and upset already. This is a strategic and management issue. But companies should be thinking of their customers, and make sure they aren’t causing more problems. Why lose customers just because it was “easier” to keep them in a “standard” calling experience?  (Hint: if you think your policy will annoy the customer, you shouldn’t be doing it.)

Leaving A Customer Behind

When an employee leaves a company it’s never because of one moment. It’s always because things were building over time. The climate didn’t fit their personality. The boss wasn’t cooperative. Their co-workers weren’t friendly. The pay wasn’t enough. And at some point, the employee reaches a tipping point and realizes staying isn’t worth it.

I believe customers are the same. With enough bad experiences, even small ones, you can cause a customer to “quit.”

In my own experience, I’ve been growing increasingly unsatisfied with my credit card company. But that weekend might have been the tipping point. I wasn’t in the mood to be “sold” to. I just wanted my problems fixed.

And that’s the catch with running a business. You never know when someone has reached the tipping point. Which is exactly why you should work to reduce those moments of bad experiences. A little bit of planning can help a customer having a bad day.

About Eric Barrett

Eric Barrett is an organizational psychologist who specializes in connecting the dots of work, life, and meaning. He has worked as an organizational psychologist for over a decade, and is most recently working on developing social media guidelines for a real estate company. He also teaches psychology at Xavier University. In his spare time he… wait, who are we kidding… he has no spare time. You can follow him on Twitter @MeaningToWork or his blog at Meaning to Work.


  1. Great story! Love to connect with you Eric.

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