Think about your worst customer experience (CX). Were you waiting in a crowded terminal for your flight that was delayed nine hours with zero reimbursement or apology offered? Were you on hold for what seemed like an eternity because your Internet was down?

Frustrating moments like those are ones we'd like to forget—but never will.

On the other hand, think about your best experience, where the service was incredible—can you pinpoint that time? (When asked to look back over the past 10 years, more than half of people couldn't remember their best CX.)

Failing to Foster Positive Experiences

The ability to foster superior experiences is vital to the success of any business today. More than 80% of retailers plan to increase their CX spending this year. Despite easier and faster communication, however, more CX failures are occurring.

Brands fail their customers far too often.

Moreover, often a discrepancy exists in the perception of a "failure" from the brand's view compared to the customer's. It doesn't take much for a failure to occur, according to a customer. Most CX failures cost less than the price of lunch to navigate.

What an organization may have perceived to be a slight misstep with a customer is actually a major failure from the customer's view.

The Price of a Failed Customer Experience

These missteps can have serious consequences. Only 20% of customers witnessing their "worst CX failure" will consider returning to the brand. And for those that remain as customers, about 60% will be less loyal.

There are major financial implications for organizations, too. The year after the fail, customers with a poor customer experience will cost a brand 65% of the revenue they had contributed. Moreover, 64% of customers experiencing a failure will stop recommending the brand. Many of those disgruntled customers will publicly bash the brand via social media and word-of-mouth.

Brands should do all in their power to prevent CX failures. The first step in doing so is to understand what these failures actually entail.

Understanding (and Fixing) What Went Wrong

The most cited reasons for consumers' "worst CX failure" relate to business process and customer service agent failure. The top day-to-day issues pertaining to CX include long wait and response times, poorly trained customer service representatives, and inaccurate or conflicting information available.

Organizations should ensure CX objectives and processes are aligned throughout the business to help eliminate some of those challenges and prevent failures from occurring. Companies also must see that technology and human processes are working together.

A customer service representative being ignorant about an issue might come across as a human-related failure, but technology-driven processes can help correct it. For example, is all customer data accessible to that agent? Or is it dispersed in several systems and not updated properly?

Despite the steps taken to prevent these failures, mistakes do happen.

Here are three crucial steps brands should take after a failure to enhance chances of bringing ex-customers back:

  • Own the mistake. Considering that only 20% of customers who experience their worst failure will consider coming back, brand must admit to the mistake.
  • Say sorry. Once the mistake is admitted, customers appreciate a sincere apology. It shows the brand is taking responsibility and will not make the same mistake again.
  • Offer something in return. Providing some type of free upgrade or loyalty points will potentially help sway a customer back after a damaged relationship. This also speaks to the brand recognizing its mistake and making an attempt to win back the customer. There is nothing worse than when a brand simply does nothing—meaning that is typical behavior and is likely to happen again.

Without sweating the small stuff regarding CX, brands will face the ripple effect of a failure, running the risk of permanently losing a customer and the accompanying financial hit.

With customers in charge of their own journeys with brands, they will be more than happy to take their business elsewhere if they are not seeing the experience and service they expect. Millennials are the most likely to move on from a brand after a failure without even attempting to resolve the issue.

Knowing that it doesn't take much for a customer to move on, brands should pay close attention to customer needs and expectations to ensure every interaction is superior to their competitors'. This goes far beyond customer service and stems from processes, technology, and the brands' overarching CX strategy. Without those, brands can expect more missteps and a sharp decrease in customer loyalty.

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image of Paige O'Neill

Paige O'Neill is CMO of Sitecore, a global leader in digital experience management software.

LinkedIn: Paige O'Neill

Twitter: @paige_oneill