Contrary to most assumptions, it is not catastrophic service failures that erode customer satisfaction and market value… it’s the little “everyday” negative experiences which best predict the performance of our companies!

Wherever the root cause of these little failures (either in poor experience design or experience delivery), the Immediate Response skill — systematically following up with customers after failures — is an essential part of the XM Operating Framework. Closing the loop is a business imperative that reduces customer churn and can even improve overall customer loyalty. When done unbelievably well, it can even be a brand-building experience that generates positive word of mouth that converts new customers.


The SPACE Model

There are a dozen aspects of your closed loop process that should be completely custom to your company’s take on experience management – from interaction scripting to customer incentives to escalation mapping – but the 5 basic principles in the SPACE model apply to every organization.

Speedy: Move with Brisk Intent

Being quick on the draw can improve recovery outcomes significantly. Not only does this put customers quickly back onto their journey, but it can also reduce future contact volumes with those same customers. There are two components of moving quickly:

  • Find cases quickly. While some customer recoveries can be triggered from direct detection (such as low CSAT or even a mix of your X- and O-data), cases can also be triggered when a score is much lower than the historical average for that specific customer. Even better: apply voice and predictive analytics to a broader spectrum of customers in need, not just those who take surveys. Once a recovery opportunity has been identified, aim to have your first contact with the client within 24 hours… but sooner if possible.
  • Manage cases quickly. Managing cases quickly requires the simultaneous prioritization of all active identified cases and assigning them to an employee who is accountable and empowered to take action. Once customer contact has been established, assign a brisk timeline for successful case completion; set goals based on the journey type and customer segment.

Personalized: Give Customers Some Control

Customers have come to expect personalized experiences from the companies they do business with; helping unhappy customers is no different. Using all available historical X-data, O-data, segmentation models, and more can help make a highly-scalable customer recovery interaction feel tailor-made.

  • Let customers choose their path. While it may be enticing to simply offer the most objectively valuable solution to the customer, research clearly shows that allowing customers to create or choose their own solution by including them in the process is much more effective in ensuring they leave feeling heard and satisfied. Create a number of valuable recovery alternatives for each case type, and simply let the customer choose which one they want.
  • Let customers communicate however they wish. Many firms capture a “preferred contact method” for customers, yet communication preferences still are not always clear. Some customers prefer email for journeys that are expected to take long periods to resolve, while some prefer the surety of talking live with a human. Meanwhile, the primary emotion Millennials feel when talking with customer care agents is anxiety, so they may prefer text in all cases. We should open communications by asking customers how they wish to carry forward.

Authentic: Build Humanity into your Process

When a customer is struggling to accomplish their goals, they can become understandably frustrated by any indication that the company isn’t doing whatever it can to be helpful. Inauthentic interactions exacerbate customer feelings of not being valued or treated like a number and could result in loss of brand affinity or outright customer defection.

  • Act with empathy. In service environments – and especially during closed-loop opportunities – emotions can sometimes interfere with perception, judgment, and behavior. Getting away from scripts and instead, using more checklists is an effective method of letting frontline teams be “in the moment” so they can authentically listen and react instead of pushing a highly-polished, robotic reply. Replace scripts with interaction checklists; checkpoints should cover each chapter of a customer journey and promote overall customer success.
  • Be on-brand. Closed loop can be a brand-building exercise because it shows what your company is willing to do when a problem arises and, thus, is the true mark of how customer-centric a company is. Any organization can be great at customer recovery, but using recovery interactions as brand-building opportunities can be exceptionally difficult for most. Intentionally design both standard interactions and recovery opportunities with intent, ensuring that brand principles customers like and distinctive brand assets customers recognize are infused throughout the experience.

Consistent: Operationalize Customer-Centricity

While negative experiences are common enough, executing closed loop recovery is often underfunded or de-prioritized by companies simply because traditional thinking suggests it’s difficult to scale well. The remedy to this roadblock is creating a consistent process across the most commonly-encountered recovery opportunities.

  • Be consistent within case types. The first hurdle to scaling customer recovery is ensuring that all customers with similar service failures are treated equally and with equal outcomes. Analyze historical customer pain closely, then develop very tight parameters around defining the problems encountered. This makes applying the correct recovery method and incentive simpler and obvious.
  • Be consistent across case types. The second hurdle to scaling customer recovery is to ensure that all customers experience uniformity of care, regardless of the journey they are on. Compare relative satisfaction with recovery experiences and work to reduce variance within and across efforts.

Emotionally Aware: Translate Intuition into Advantage

Intercepting, managing, and rebuilding residual memories is a high-wire act that exists in any case where customer defection is likely (or statistically predicted). Even if a solution path is clear, present, and viable, customer defection and negative word of mouth are still likely if you don’t attend to the emotional aspects of the customer experience.

  • Use deep listening to calibrate metrics. One common reason customer recovery efforts fail is misidentifying the depth of the customer’s pain. This happens either because the emotion is masked in what the customer shares or because an apparent resolution opportunity supersedes our willingness to listen.  Closely re-examine the definition of interaction resolution and ensure that case re-contacts, customer attrition, and other lagging indicators of failed interactions are meaningfully reflected in metrics you manage. This will help decisions about adjustments to interaction expectations like average handle time which can prevent positive outcomes.
  • Be mindful of Peak-End. Many recovery efforts are intently focused on getting customers to a good place at the end of a recovery interaction, managing the emotional “peak” of the interaction is often overlooked. Alongside standard customer journeys, map the most sensitive parts of the journey and design recovery efforts to counter predictable failures at these moments of truth.


Bottom Line. Stop ignoring customers; close the loop with SPACE.

Luke Williams is an XM Catalyst with the Qualtrics XM Institute