A friend of mine relayed a recent experience with Ikea and the first thought that popped into my head was – ugh, a customer experience dead end!

deadend

He’d purchased some furniture like chairs, tables, bed, mattress etc.  The majority of the furniture shipped on time, arrived early, and was easily assembled as advertised.  The mattress, however, seemed to vanish into thin air.  Like many of us when confronted with a problem like this he called customer support.

A few phone calls later he learned that the mattress shipment function had been outsourced to another company.  Communications and system integration between that company and Ikea were limited so Ikea had no idea where the mattress was.  Since they couldn’t find it, he asked for a refund. But Ikea said they needed the mattress back before they could refund any money so he was stuck at a dead end.

On the positive side at Ikea the representatives were:

  • Friendly, polite and professional,
  • Thorough with clear documentation of case details, dates and times, and
  • Prompt when answering the phone queue

For many companies, this is as good as customer service gets.  They hire nice people who pick up the phone quickly and take good notes.  Meanwhile, the real problems remain unresolved as the negative side of the ledger shows.  The customer service team failed to:

  • Follow through.  Although they committed (multiple times) to respond with an update or some progress, that didn’t happen.  Not once.
  • Solve the problem.  My friend never did get the mattress.

Here’s where the story improves.  He called Ikea again (he had to, since he was stuck with no mattress and no refund) and spoke to a different representative who grasped the situation and took action immediately.  She said, “I see your point, this situation isn’t right, let me issue a refund.”  Within five minutes she did just that – problem solved.

All it took to escape the dead end was one employee with (1) the intelligence and empathy to recognize the problem, (2) the cultural and organizational latitude to do the right thing, and (3) the tools and skills to make things right.

Even though Ikea ultimately issued the refund, they shouldn’t get a free pass.  The pivot point for companies (there are many) is to ensure that your customer-facing teams have the common sense, tools, and drive to handle customer issues effectively.  Presumably, the other representatives could have done the same thing but either didn’t think of it (handcuffed by a policy), lacked the initiative, or didn’t know how (not trained).

How have you enabled front-line employees so your customers don’t end up on a dead-end customer experience street?

Customer Experience Dead Ends
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  • I believe that companies (especially those as big as Ikea) should empower their employees and trust their judgement (of course after training them) to make decisions when it comes to customer support. After reading your post I felt that the employees probably had their hands tied, like you mentioned, due to company policy. Sometimes it takes a quick judgement and action call to do the right thing, just like the lady who finally solved your friend’s issue, did.

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