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How to Prevent Your Customers From Failing

Customers are often involved in the design or delivery of services, and in this respect, they function as coproducers of the service. What happens when customers fail to perform their roles effectively? Customer failure is not uncommon; the authors cite research indicating that customers cause about one-third of all service problems. To study the issue of customer failure and its prevention, the authors conducted interviews with managers and customers in a variety of industries about experiences of customer failure, developed case studies related to the topic and conducted secondary research to identify examples of best practices in customer-failure prevention. From their research, the authors conclude that recovering from instances of customer failure is difficult, in part because the customer and the company may have different views of the causes of the problem. As a result, companies should focus on preventing customer failures. An effective three-step approach is first to collect diagnostic data about where customer failures occur and then to analyze the root causes of cases of customer failure — whether the root causes are issues of technology, people, processes or the design of the physical environment that customers encounter. The third step is to establish preventive solutions, such as process redesign. The authors cite a number of examples of companies that try to prevent customer failures. For instance, customers of Weight Watchers International Inc. may offer each other encouragement at Weight Watchers’meetings and thus help prevent one another from failing in their weight-loss plans.

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