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Don’t Blow Up Your Customers

Updated: May 8

Today we are excited to share with you a guest post from Jana Sedivy.

When I was 14 years old, I blew up our kitchen.

I don’t mean a small kitchen fire, I mean there was an enormous “BOOM,” and then flames everywhere.

To be clear, I’m not a pyromaniac. It was an accident.

I was heating up a big pot of oil to make deep fried chicken (don’t all teenagers do that?), the pot got too hot, and burst into flames.

“No problemo” I thought. ” I just need to put some water on the fire.” So I turned on the faucet, picked up the flaming pot of oil and brought it over to the sink.

In hindsight, that was a bad move.

Instead of fizzling out as I expected, the water made the pot of oil, quite literally explode. I was knocked to the ground from the force of the blast (and miraculously was unscathed otherwise). I wish I had understood the basics of chemistry back then. Oil and water don’t mix. The water sinks to the bottom and instantly vaporizes, pushing the burning oil up and out. In other words, KABLOOOEY!

(PSA: should this ever happen to you, just put a lid on the flaming oil to suffocate the fire.)

Have you ever accidentally blown up a customer experience?

Sometimes, in customer experience, we can inadvertently make a bad customer experience even worse by adding fuel to the fire. We see it all the time.

When United Airlines overbooked a flight, they made the situation worse by forcibly dragging an unwilling passenger off the plane. Then, the executive team dug the hole even deeper by issuing a lukewarm apology.

When Uber held a board meeting to discuss diversity, one of the board members said that having more women on the Board of Directors would result in “too much talking,” pouring gasoline on a smoldering fire which eventually resulted in the CEO resigning (among this and other scandals) and adding to the #deleteUber frenzy.

Customer experience explosions can happen in less public ways as well.

Nortel, once a telecommunications giant, noticed a shifting tide in their customers’ buying processes. Customers began asking for responses to RFPs (Requests for Proposals), and didn’t want to be just told what to buy anymore. Nortel ignored this changing tide and simply doubled down on what had worked for them previously, which was to be the expert and tell the customer what technology decisions they should make. The customer discontent smoldered for a while, then eventually exploded, as customers began to lose confidence and look more closely into Nortel’s internal finances. The end result was a spectacular implosion of a company that once employed almost 100,000 people, and now employees less than 1,000.

So what should you do to protect yourself from these accidental explosions?

When I was a teenager looking at a pot of flaming oil, I wish I had had more information about what to do in a bad situation. So here are some things that you can do when things go south for your customers.

Step 1: If you screwed up, apologize and own it. Publicly is even better.

Step 2: Even if the mistake wasn’t yours, you should probably apologize.

Step 3: Find a way to make it better.

Step 4: Figure out what can you do to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

These are simple steps but very few companies follow them. The reason they don’t is because they are hard.

Admitting to yourself (and in your company) that you did something wrong is hard. Indeed, this is often the hardest step of all. Apologizing publicly is hard. Finding a way to fix a problem is hard. Figuring out how make sure it doesn’t happen again is even harder.

Creating good customer experiences is difficult. That’s why the companies that do it successfully stand out, because they have done the work.

The good news is, if you put in the work, you too can stand out.

Photo Credit: Skeeze | Pixabay


Jana Sedivy helps to make enterprise products better. She brings the voice of the customer into the boardroom so that you can build what your customers really need, not just what they say they want. The result is happier customers, shorter sales cycles, and less customer churn. As the Founder and Principal at Authentic Insight, Jana gets a call from companies that are tired of making product decisions based on the loudest person in the room. She is also deeply uncool but has finally come to peace with it.

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