Zipcar crash

How to Save a Moment of Un-Delight

It’s trite but true: Every person and every organization makes mistakes. Imperfect people and processes, sometimes combined with unavoidable circumstances, inevitably lead to product and service failures that disappoint or even infuriate our customers.

Obviously, strategic experience design to reduce systemic failures before they affect customers must continue to be everyone’s priority. But, in a world where mistakes happen, what can we learn from great organizations about accepting responsibility, empowering teams to address the problem, and winning back a customer’s trust?

Consider the experience of Zipcar, the Boston-based brand that’s pioneered hourly car rentals for city dwellers. The team prides itself on delighting its customers and long ago thought they’d seen every imaginable service problem. The afternoon of July 7th, 2010 proved them wrong—but also created a powerful service recovery lesson.

Zipcar’s EVP Lesley Mottla recounts the story in this clip from her Delight 2013 keynote below:   So, what are the takeaways from Zipcar’s incredible story?

  • Don’t count on miracles. As with all problems, prevention—not heroic reaction—is your wisest strategy. Learn from each problem and reduce the likelihood of it ever happening again.
  • Own the problem quickly and proactively. Your first instinct should be to accept responsibility, share your empathy, and offer help. And yes, do all this even when it’s not your fault!
  • Empower your front-line team. Treating customers the way they’d want to be treated should be the norm, especially after a letdown. No action is too big—or too small—if it restores a broken trust.
  • Celebrate your team’s decisiveness and creativity. As Zipcar does, use your service recovery stories to create and reinforce a customer-first, whatever-it-takes culture.
  • Appreciate the limits of what’s possible. Winning back a disappointed customer isn’t always possible if you’ve caused material harm, are seen to be negligent, or have a history of similar problems. 

zipcar bride image

 Not surprisingly, we’re all drawn to examples like Mottla shared—bold, unexpected actions that surprise and delight upset customers.  While we shouldn’t allow them to mask larger problems, they can be a powerful way to rebuild strained relationships and demonstrate our humanity.  Done right and done sparingly, they can even lead to corporate evangelism from previously upset customers—perhaps the greatest win of all.