The BP Story Has Great Lessons For the Customer Experience

Steve Cohn

Everybody who has watched even 10 minutes of the footage from the gulf is angry. Angry at BP, angry at our leaders, and especially angry at the feeling that nobody seems to be able to do anything about it. People want to scream, to yell, to let loose this frustration and helplessness, and since they can’t direct these things directly at the culprits, they get angry with the President for not showing his own anger.

There are few of us who would fault gulf residents and those in the fishing industry down there to vent their anger at the powers that be if the leaders of BP deigned to meet with these citizens. Actually, we would probably yell right along with them. After all, we’ve all felt that kind of helplessness before—when we’ve been customers.

The Importance of Empathy in Customer Experience

How come we can show this kind of empathy to these people yet become annoyed when our customers express their own anger and helplessness towards us?

There is only one reason customers become upset, really upset – they feel helpless. They feel helpless just like the residents of the gulf. Except in their case, the company or person they’re dealing with has your name rather than BP.

Customers get angry, customers get upset, customers lash out. They yell. They scream. They cry. They go away and don’t come back. They decide to discontinue doing business with you. Why do customers scream and yell when they feel wronged? Why do they lash out? Because they don’t think anybody cares. In other words, they feel helpless. It’s like they’re in the gulf. Why do they feel helpless? Because they’ve been in this situation before and have been met with disinterest, a lack of empathy, and people who just didn’t give a damn. So when we’re thinking, "Why are they being so difficult," the difficulty often is us.

Preventing Customer Anger Through Improved Customer Experience Management

Sure, we could list all the reasons we think customers get upset. We could list all the reasons they’ve been nasty, obnoxious, arrogant, and, in rare cases, violent. We could list all the reasons they become snide, condescending, and demanding. But all of those reasons fall under the same category: helplessness. When you’re transferred three times and then cut off, you become upset because you feel helpless.

When you call the insurance company for the third time to find out why you haven’t been paid and they tell you they can’t find your claim, you feel helpless. When you can’t understand the representative based in a foreign country who insists that he doesn’t need to transfer you to someone you can understand better, you feel helpless.

When you’re in the middle of telling your tale to the service desk employee, he interrupts you to answer a phone call, and then he is on the phone for almost 10 minutes while you stand there, you feel helpless.

When the DSL company continues to tell you how to fix your service yet their solution doesn’t work, you feel helpless. When you hear "There’s nothing we can do," you feel worse than helpless. You get my drift. It’s not rocket service. Though the problems your customers may have with your company may not rise to the level of frustration the residents of the gulf have with BP, helplessness is helplessness. The residents of the gulf want some answers or indication of how BP is going to fix it or make the situation better. Your customers want the same thing. The number one question on the mind of gulf residents is, "Is anybody going to help me?" Your customers are asking the same question when they have a problem.

Your job is to answer the question and give them an indication of how the situation is going to be fixed. Tell them what’s coming next. Tell them how you’re going to make it right. But most importantly, tell them that you are going to help them. It’s hard to feel helpless when somebody keeps telling you they’re going to help you.

Thankfully, most of your customers’ difficulties aren’t nearly as difficult as the situation in the gulf. You may have to give a refund, but at least you’re not going to be paying out billions of dollars, as BP will.

First published on Call Center IQ