The Unsettling Impact Of Seemingly Minor Missteps

June 10, 2016

No matter the industry you’re in, it’s widely accepted that quality customer service is paramount to success.

But upon hearing the phrase “customer service,” our minds often dart to the moment of transaction – the exchange of a specific product (or, in the case of a marketing agency like Fast Horse, a service) for a particular price.

However, a handful of recent (and frustrating) experiences got me thinking about customer service more holistically – and the importance of always delivering your best game, even during seemingly minor moments that are tangential to the transaction.

The Yelling Gate Attendant

People air grievances about air travel every day, and increasingly long security lines have only added fuel to the fire. But my latest poor experience occurred after passing through security.

As I approached my gate, I saw hordes of people huddled closely together, leaning over and into one another, apparently straining to decipher the instructions from their respective gate attendants, because the intercom system was on the fritz. The situation was exacerbated by the fact that the attendants were in an excruciating shouting match, attempting to out-yell their counterparts at neighboring gates.

In the realm of airport frustrations, this experience initially registered as a drop in the bucket. But I suddenly felt a wave of unsettling irony from the fact that this airport and airlines – the ones to whom each traveler had paid hundreds of dollars, entrusting them with our lives at 30,000 feet in the air, over mountains and bodies of water, during a storm – were unable to solve a problem so seemingly simple as fixing a faulty intercom. It had a weird, lingering way of shaking my trust.

Silent Treatment from a Software Provider

Shortly after that flight, our team began researching software solutions for live-streaming high-quality video to a large audience. In a nutshell, we had to do a high-profile live video shoot, we had very little time to do it, and we needed to place trust in a third-party partner who could help us execute.

After in-depth research, we landed on a partner that sounded like a perfect fit. So we filled out a form to access a free trial and were told we’d receive a confirmation code by email. Accustomed to, say, the experience of online shopping in which a confirmation arrives in your inbox the same moment that you hit “buy,” it was disconcerting when, an hour later, no email had arrived, even in a spam filter.

Assuming a one-time glitch, another colleague tried signing up, but they failed to receive a text message code that would allow them to register. It wasn’t until much later when we emailed customer service that a confirmation email finally arrived. (They said they review each sign-up individually; hence, the delay. I’d counter that an acknowledgement that we’d signed up at all would’ve been a no-brainer.)

Like the airport intercom, this was likely just a small, garden-variety technical glitch – one that constituted a minor inconvenience at most. But it’s what the communication (or lack thereof) conveyed that counts: the fact that we wanted to trust someone with a very sophisticated technical task, but they weren’t meeting our standards for a run-of-the-mill email response.

Since then, other examples have been surfacing everywhere, from the New York cab driver who couldn’t figure out how to turn on Google Maps, to a renowned concert venue that failed to send any communication whatsoever to ticket holders about a major concert that had apparently been postponed indefinitely.

Why do these seemingly minor missteps matter? Because they’re a stark reminder to professionals – in marketing and any other industry – that even the smallest details matter, and they add up to a bigger picture that conveys capabilities and trustworthiness on a much larger scale.