Andrew Mason on Customer Service

17 01 2011
You may have read about Groupon’s recent fiasco in Japan.  If you have not, here’s the basics: the Bird Cafe in Japan signed up for a groupon during Japan’s New Years celebration, when a family-sized meal called “osechi” is traditionally served.  But osechi, at it’s fundamental level, is groupon kyptonite: a carefully crafted complex set of food (33 different types) and enough to feed the entire family.  The groupon demand overwhelmed the Cafe, and as a result food was delivered late, incomplete, and inedible.  This lead to the company president of Bird Cafe stepping down shortly after the New Year.

This is clearly a huge issue for Groupon.  As they grow at such an astronomical rate, how do they continue to pair with small mom and pop type restaurants without completely overwhelming them.  What small restaurant owner in New York City isn’t thinking right now about the effect an angry, foodless mob of grouponians would have on their shop!

Groupon’s CEO, Andrew Mason, took to the digital airwaves today to apologize to his Japanese customers regarding the osechi incident.  The apology, in my mind, is constructed very well: honest, transparent, and constructive.  Mason apologizes profusely, acknowledges exactly where things broke down, and then outlines how Groupon will fix the problem so it never happens again.

This reminds me of the Zingerman’s model, where they outline a “recipe” for how an employee should handle customer service should problems arise.  Step one: acknowledge the customer’s complaint.  This involves listening to the guest as they completely air their grievances, no matter how tough that might be.  Step two: apologize honestly and profusely for the issue and what occurred (“I’m so sorry, I really do apologize your soup came out cold.”).  Step three: make things right for the guest.  This involves learning what will make the guest happy and whole again.  In Groupon’s case, they have refunded their customers money completely, and I’m sure there are some cases where they are going even further.  Step four: thank the guest for their complaint.  Quite simply, the upset guest has two options: complain about the lack of service, and give the company a chance to rectify it and keep them as a customer, or not complain, and simply leave and vow to never return.  Depending on how the company answers the complaint, they could either lose the customer, or gain a loyal customer for life.  That’s how powerful customer service is.  The final step, step five, is to write up the full complaint and what broke down.  This is what Groupon is going through now at a larger scale.  They are dissecting the problem and putting measures into place to make sure this never happens again.  That makes for a company that learns from their mistakes well and continues a strong trajectory of growth.

Check out the video below, and leave in the comments suggestions for how you think Andrew Mason could have improved on his message to Japanese customers.




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