How ‘smart organizations’ transform problems into opportunities


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When teaching the subject on “achieving organizational growth through better customer care experience,” Stefan Thomke’s students end up discovering design principles that can act as building blocks to a great product or service experience.

The teaching note outlines three examples, using real stories from students to illustrate each one:

  • Solve problems with empathy and exceed expectations. “Our family went to Disneyworld and I lost my purse. Tickets, money, and IDs were all gone. A Disney employee gave me food vouchers for the family, park tickets for the following days, and helped with any inconveniences that we faced. While we enjoyed the rest of the day in the park, they looked for my purse and eventually found it.”
  • Become your customer’s champion and own the problem. “We landed after a delayed 12-hour flight and learned that our connecting flight was gone. Our expectations were low because we flew on a mileage ticket from American Express. The airline agent ignored us. So, we called Amex and the agent took care of everything (rebooking flights, notifying the airline, checking on our luggage). Forty-five minutes later, we were boarding the next flight.”
  • Trust your customers, take immediate action, and do not blame them. “After a long trip to India, my tired family arrived at a Taj Hotel in the middle of the night, but the front desk couldn’t find our reservation. The night manager immediately took us to our rooms so we could rest and even gave us an upgrade for the inconvenience. (We waited less than five minutes.) He didn’t ask for a credit card or any other kind of information. When we woke up, the problem was solved and it wasn’t even the hotel’s fault. Our booking agent had made a mistake.”

The good deed that keeps on giving


“Does it make economic sense to go over the top with it?” Thomke asks.

“I would say ‘yes’ because it creates that stickiness which is hard to measure.

“Aside from that customer coming back, you are going to benefit from word of mouth. I’ve had students telling stories about things that happened more than 10 years ago.”

Rather than worrying only about offering customers a discount on products or services or focusing on how fast employees can process transactions, companies could benefit in the long run from empowering their employees to meet customers’ emotional needs more often.

For example, an equipment company gave its frontline employees a “memorable experience budget” to solve customer problems without needing higher approval. An Indian hotel chain allowed employees to spend money on creating “moments of delight” for customers—and in 2013, staff logged more than 30,000 such moments for the chain’s hotel guests. Apple store employees are trained to handle upset customers; when a customer has a problem, workers are instructed to take their time to understand the issue, show empathy, and solve it.

“I’m not saying functionality and value aren’t important, but you should aim for the hearts of your customers, not just their heads,” Thomke says.

“You do that through empathy, by putting yourself in the customer’s shoes. You take over. You say, ‘Let me take care of everything.’ But you can do these things only if your organization encourages you to do that.”