Service Recovery After A Failure

In my inbox I received the communication from United Airlines about the changes they are making in response to their recent service failure. I thought it was well written, so I though this would be a good time to review one of my favorite topics. Every organization fails their customers at some point. Whether it be an unplanned EHR downtime, or dragging a paying customer off of a plane in a manner that upsets passengers.

Once the actual event has concluded there is a set of steps an organization should take to recover its standing with customers and to continually improve. These basic steps are the same for an IT team or an airline. In my opinion, United Airline’s initial response to recent events their response was terrible. Their subsequent efforts are on target. They followed the process that I have championed within my organization.

  1. Accept Full Responsibility: Accept full responsibility for not living up to your promise. Sure, the actions of others may have contributed to the incident. But, blaming others is deflection and not ownership. Ownership is empowering because it gives you the ability to fix the problem.I actually prefer to avoid apologies. I reserve apologies for personal failures and actions that are true negligence. Instead, I prefer to thank customers for their patience and their feedback and to let them know that we will work tirelessly to improve. A thank-you elevates a customer, it is a gift.
  2. Root Cause Analysis and Systemic Change: In United’s recent letter to customers they asked “How did this happen, and how can we do our best to ensure this never happens again?” Bingo. One needs to understand why it happened and make systemic changes to prevent recurrence. Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is a well understood science. Every CIO should understand RCA basics and they should have people on the team that are RCA experts. Finally, it is important to communicate to your internal customers the changes that you have made.
  3. Cultural Assessment: The extent to which the United CEO understands the cultural aspect of this situation is impressive. As the leader his language and the behavior will be reflected by the 87,000 United employees. While the team closest to the work should complete the root cause analysis, the leader must reflect with the leadership team regarding how organizational culture contributed to the event. Are financial constraints putting pressure on employees to move to quickly and skip steps? Is the lack of investment in employee development keeping people from meeting their full potential? Are leaders openly making negative comments about customers they should revere?

How does your organization handle service failures? What would you add to this approach?

The Importance of IT Customer Satisfaction Surveys

CIOs need to balance three goals:

  1. Advancing the organization’s strategy
  2. Engaging the IT team members
  3. Keeping customers happy

By customers, I mean the people that your IT organization provides services to. In my case it is doctors, nurses, and other knowledge workers. Some people call these people their “users”, but, as I have written in the past, that is a mistake.

Many IT Organizations Are Blind With Regard to Customer Satisfaction
I would argue these three goals are equally important. But, customer satisfaction is the most neglected. In my experience, most CIOs have all types of project portfolio reports that tell us how our strategic initiatives are doing. And, most organizations wisely survey their employees periodically to measure employee engagement and satisfaction. But, most CIOs do not have good overall metrics about customer satisfaction. Are you doing better than last year? Which IT provided services most need improvement according to your customers?

Sure, you might send help desk customers an after-call survey. But, that is a narrow measure of a single service. And quite frankly, these scores are largely meaningless. But, that is a blog post for another day.

Customer Satisfaction Is Important
An IT division can be completing all of their strategic projects with great success, and still be perceived within the organization as a failure if they are not meeting their customer’s expectations.

My Customer Satisfaction Story
I found (the hard way) that you really don’t know what your customers think of your service until you survey them in a methodical manner. I recommend all IT organizations survey their customers annually. In fact, all internal service providing organizations (HR, Legal, Finance, etc.) should join together to survey customers annually.

I thought the IT organization I led was providing good service until our first customer satisfaction survey: 71% of customers rated our service as good and great that year (ouch). My first reaction was to blame the customer and rationalize the data by claiming how difficult it is to provide good IT services. Once I got over that initial bout of self-pity I got to the business of identifying the area of greatest customer dissatisfaction (as surfaced by the survey and follow-up discussions). Our IT team developed a plan to improve those areas. Every year we would get more feedback and every year we would develop improvement plans.

In our last survey 92% of our customers ranked our service as good or excellent. This year-over-year improvement has been my most cherished accomplishment. It was also one of the greatest sources of motivation for the IT team members. They loved hearing the comments and seeing the scores.

Happy To Help
I am happy to share the survey tools that I have used. I am also happy to share my aggregated results if you want to benchmark your results.