Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Service Recovery

If you're a fellow Cox Communications customer, you'll be very familiar with this story; if you're not, read along for lessons to be learned.

Cox Communications has had an outage of their voice mail service for the last week or so (exact start date TBD - more on that in a moment). From a customer service perspective, I give them a B-. I think they did some things well, but there are some areas where they fell down.

So when did the outage actually happen? Unfortunately, like many of you, I rely heavily on my cell phone, so I can't really answer that question on my own. I usually forward my office line to my cell if I plan to be out and about... and then conveniently forget about that setting, so it's regularly on call forward. And I get so few phone calls on my home phone that I wouldn't know if there was a voice mail outage. (Advantage for Cox in this situation; I'm guessing a lot of customers rely more heavily on their cell phones than their landlines anymore.)

Mission Viejo Patch states the issue started on February 21, but the first message about an outage on Cox's Facebook page was on February 24. The first email I received from them on it was February 26. I subsequently received a message with a status update on February 28, and another mid-day February 29, indicating the service was restored. O! But wait! Not eight hours later, I received an email saying that the fix didn't hold. Ouch.

Here's the good, the bad, and the ugly of this issue and the way it's been handled. Within the good were some bad and ugly, i.e., they get an A for effort but failed on execution. Take a look.

The Good

There were a lot of things that Cox did right in terms of this issue. They...

1. Communicated proactively about it (for the most part, though I'm still not sure when it actually started)
2. Signed their emails with the name of a relevant executive's name (Vice President, Customer Care)
3. Outlined clearly what the issue was as well as who it impacted and what services were affected
4. Apologized sincerely and showed empathy: "We apologize for the inconvenience and frustration that this issue may be causing."
5. Offered a workaround, which included calling Cox Support for a feature (call forwarding) that would be added for free for the duration of the issue (if not already a feature you subscribe to)
6. Gave instructions on how to apply the workaround
7. Provided status updates, although occasionally set expectations that were not met
8. Offered various additional options for status updates
9. Showed genuine appreciation for their customers' patience by providing a free month of voicemail service ($7.99) for an issue that lasted almost 8 (?) days (though, now we learn it's not resolved yet); they had indicated in their status updates that customers would be credited, but I figured there would be a credit only for the days the service was out.

The Bad

On the flip side, there were two opportunities that they missed.

1. The email messages were not personalized. Cox knows very well who I am; I have been a phone/cable/internet customer of theirs for almost 10 years. The emails were addressed to "Dear Valued Cox Customer." In bad times, it's great to still be polite and address customers by name, especially if you know their names.

2. Again, this has to do with personalized service. Cox knows if you have call forwarding or not. So, rather than have you wait on hold with the hundreds or thousands of other customers who don't have call forwarding (keep in mind that it's part of a feature bundle that you pay for, and some of the features are likely not needed by everyone), automatically give everyone call forwarding for the duration of the issue. First, customers are inconvenienced because of the issue, but then you want to further inconvenience them by making the workaround more painful than it needs to be.

The Ugly

The Ugly is ugly for a couple of reasons: it lacks personalization, and it's useless.

The closing paragraph of the status emails read:  "For updates as we work to resolve this issue, please visit your local Cox Facebook page or the customer forum on cox.com..." Ok, what does "local Cox Facebook page" mean? 

I searched "Cox Communications, Orange County" on Facebook, and six "local" pages popped up, not one of which was the right one or had any information about anything. Somehow I ended up finding "Cox Orange County," which is their official "local page." (By the way, that Facebook page has 5,344 followers; it's not a great vehicle for them to use to communicate to their masses when there's an issue.) Why not link me right to that Orange County Facebook page in the email? You know I'm an Orange County customer. 

Then there was the other option, the part of that sentence that said "... or the customer forum on cox.com...," with a link to the so-called forum. (Clearly, that is a misnomer.) Call it what you want, it's a road to nowhere that gives you nothing more than what is in the email. Here's what that page tells me...


What I expected to see on that page was meaningful, timestamped, daily (at least) status updates. This message is of no help. As a matter of fact, it sends you somewhere else for updates! So I clicked on the Cox.com/Support link, and I was taken to the landing page for their online support area. See the image below. At the top of the page is a statement boxed in red with an "alert" symbol.


Wait, it gets better. See that link at the end of the paragraph? Want to guess where that takes you? Yea, back to the page where I just came from! The road to nowhere. A circular link to frustration. Ha!

Some of the lessons learned (and there are likely others) include:

1. Apologize, empathize, and be genuine
2. Personalize your communications
3. Communicate using a vehicle that your entire audience uses
4. Provide regular status updates
5. Don't send customers to your site for updates if there really are no updates
6. Don't make the the task of finding updates more painful than the issue itself
7. Make a peace offering (i.e., credit for cost of feature)
8. Minimize customer efforts for workarounds

Want to add any others? And am I being generous with a B- grade for this experience? Maybe. I'll let you decide.

Update: Once the issue was resolved (on 3/1), Cox continued to communicate with its customers to let them know they were monitoring the system to ensure that it remained working and stable. In the latest email (3/5), Cox let customers know that the credit had been bumped up from $7.99 to $25. ("I also know that even our most sincere apology may not be enough. In appreciation for your business, your patience and your loyalty during this time, we will increase the credit to your account from $7.99 to $25.00.") Nicely played.

Note: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly images (c) 2008 - Zach Bellissimo.

2 comments:

  1. Annette, I think you're being overly generous. I was not affected by the vmail outage but did have a Cox pay-per-view issue last Sunday evening. When I called the recording said "Due to an unusually high call volume we are not accepting calls at this time". Now I know why the call volume was so high, the vmail issue. But there is no excuse for telling customers your not going to take their call.

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    1. Yup. I think because I haven't really been impacted as much as others likely are or could be, my grade is skewed positively. I know it would have been a different grade had I experienced what you did on top of that.

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