Opinion Piece: how to deal with a brand crisis caused by poor customer service

Opinion Piece: how to deal with a brand crisis caused by poor customer service

Brand crises are a harsh reality for all organisations. Dealing with them is not becoming any easier. Instead they have become complex tasks that require constant supervision. We live in a digital world and social media is often the catalyst that fuels brand crises, especially those caused by poor customer service.

From a product failure to a faulty part or a service failure, organisations have to ensure they have the right processes in place to overcome and fix these challenges, particularly in today’s social environment. The global economic climate is also changing consumer buying and behaviour patterns, adding another layer of complexity to the fold. Ultimately, the way you handle a crisis will determine the future of your brand.

A lack of understanding could be putting you at risk

A lack of understanding or even mapping of your customer journey can have a huge impact. If you have mapped your customer journey and you have a customer feedback mechanism, be it Net Promoter Score or Customer Experience Score, then you are in a great position to identify where your opportunities to enhance your customer experience lie. It also allows you to understand where your problems are – is it within the contact centre or another area of the organisation such as sales, marketing or IT?

There are various examples where divisions outside of the contact centre can have a negative impact on customer experience. Say, for example, the marketing department launches an amazing new product or advertising campaign but does not inform the contact centre timeously, not allowing them to plan or train their agents effectively. Should a customer call the contact centre and deal with an agent who is not aware of the product or campaign, this will lead to a bad customer experience and could lead to bad publicity on social media. A similar result can be expected if IT, for example, introduce new functionality without consulting end users, resulting in delays or backlogs in dealing with customer queries.

“There are various examples where divisions outside of the contact centre can have a negative impact on customer experience.​”

Declining customer satisfaction

Customer service has an enormous role to play in either causing or preventing a brand crisis. According to the 2016 Dimension Data Contact Centre Benchmarking Report, 82.5% of organisations surveyed saw customer experience as a key competitive differentiator, whilst 77.5% recognise it as the most important strategic performance measurement. Yet, while customer experience has steadied after a 4-year drop, services are not keeping pace with customer expectations. If you have knowledgeable staff and great customer feedback mechanisms in place that help you understand process failure as well as to identify opportunities for improvement, this could go a long way in preventing a bad experience, or, at a minimum, recovering from a bad experience much quicker. If the opposite is true, then the propensity for a bad experience is increased, which leads to unnecessary stress for the contact centre agent, your customers and ultimately your profit.

Overcoming a brand crisis

The first step in overcoming a brand crisis due to poor customer service is acknowledging the problem. Once that is done, apologise and advise on what actions can be taken to rectify the problem. Internally, you should investigate what lead to the situation in the first place and determine whether it’s product knowledge, process breakdown, a system problem or something else. Finally, you must ensure you put measures in place to address it so that it does not happen again.

Jeanne Bliss, Founder and President of CustomerBliss, sums it up perfectly: “Your apology is your humanity litmus test. It is unavoidable that at some point, your business will suffer a failure that disappoints customers. How your company reacts, explains, removes the pain, and takes accountability for actions signals how you think about customers and the collective heart of your organisation.”

“The first step in overcoming a brand crisis due to poor customer service is acknowledging the problem. Once that is done, apologise and advise on what actions can be taken to rectify the problem.​”

Is it really that serious?

Poor customer service can have a severely negative impact on business. You run the risk of alienating current customers through poor service levels and consistently poor service can impact your potential of attracting new customers, which in turn will impact revenue. If not handled correctly, it could lead to huge damage to the organisation’s staff, reputation, customers’ purchasing intention and, ultimately, brand attitude. All of these elements can lead to a vicious cycle in which an organisation tries to save money on staffing or customer service training, which in turn lead service levels into a downward spiral and could lead to a loss of “trust” and profit.

“Poor customer service can have a severely negative impact on business.​”

But, what now?

I would advise organisations that have experienced a crisis of this nature to take a retrospective look at the events that caused the crisis. Develop new training for your employees and enhance processes or systems, depending on what caused the situation, to prevent a similar situation from happening again. Also, consider running regular disaster rehearsals to make sure that your crisis management plans, processes and employees are properly geared to accommodate issues of this nature moving forward.

The objective behind these changes in operations and business structure is to become a more customer-centric organisation that provides improved customer service and efficiencies, optimised use of data and enables growth through focus and simplification. ​

In order to meet TransUnion’s requirements for a full business process outsource, the team ensured they had an in-depth understanding of the complexity of the client’s operations, its business drivers and its strategic objectives.


TransUnion recognised that its core business centred on servicing its customers via the management and procurement of data. It also acknowledged that its contact centre and business process outsource services are disciplines in their own right which require expertise and experience for optimal service delivery. In recognition of these factors and the strategy needed to enable such change, TransUnion made the decision to outsource the operations for three key lines of business to an appropriate partner.

TransUnion’s criteria for selecting an outsource partner were based on the following:

  • Specialist supervisory and managerial skills that are focused on ensuring customer service excellence and efficiency
  • Strong cultural alignment between TransUnion and the prospective outsource partner
  • A specialist approach to learning and development
  • Career management opportunities for current and future TransUnion personnel
  • Focused and effective HR practices related to the nature of the work

TransUnion engaged Merchants to deliver a convincing business case as part of the outsource partner selection process. Merchants was asked to demonstrate the cost benefits of outsourcing, and to illustrate how it could deliver improved customer service and benefits to the greater TransUnion business.
TransUnion identified three lines of business that would need to be outsourced and operational requirements would include the transfer of 146 permanent and contract staff members from the Credit Bureau (CB), Automotive Info Systems (AIS) and Cheque Guarantee Services (CGS) in South Africa.

The Credit Bureau targets consumers and commercial businesses and is strictly regulated and governed by the National Credit Act. Auto Information Solutions provides automotive industry data to auto dealers and Cheque Guarantee Services assesses the risks related to cheque payments and provides guarantees for approved cheques.

Along with operational requirements, TransUnion had an existing outsourcing strategy driven by shareholders in North America to offshore and outsource to India. For this reason, the proposed Merchants solution needed to demonstrate the comparative benefits and business value of outsourcing to Merchants in South Africa as opposed to India.



Merchants commenced its engagement with TransUnion by conducting a four-week due diligence assessment of the operations of CB, AIS and CGS. The assessment provided key insights into existing business practices and processes, and Merchants consultants were able to identify re-engineering opportunities and areas for improvement to achieve operational efficiencies and improvements in customer service.

The analysis and assessment exercise involved meeting executives and senior managers across the relevant business areas and engaging several subject matter experts in the process. In order to meet the TransUnion’s requirements for a full business process outsource, the team ensured they had an in-depth understanding of the complexity of the client’s operations, its business drivers and its strategic objectives.

Business Case

To achieve TransUnion’s objectives of eliminating duplicate overheads and driving operational efficiencies through shared services, the insight gained through the assessment provided Merchants with an opportunity to propose an end-to-end solution that would support the business case for what was a large transformation initiative.

The Merchants team presented a solid business case explaining the implications of the alternative option of offshoring South African business operations to India. Perhaps most importantly, it included the ‘softer’ elements which were critical to TransUnion such as job retention and service execution in South Africa.

Issues around language are important to TransUnion and would have required operations to be split and Merchants provided proof of these offshoring realities, layered with operating models to demonstrate the challenges​.


The cornerstone of the Merchants value proposition centred on TransUnion’s commitment to its people and the development and retention of jobs onshore. Compared to the cost differential offered by other offshore destinations, the team highlighted issues around the capabilities of existing staff under the strategic operating model and certain core competencies required to provide services in Southern Africa. The team also identified a higher than average proportion of staff with long tenure and a lack of career progression opportunities, which put the intellectual property at risk.


The decision to outsource a third of its operations to a strategic partner involved the crucial move away from a silo-based approach to a shared services model that could be provided by Merchants. The team also identified weak management information and reporting, and issues around quality and day-to-day staff management.

Facilities and Information Technology​

The existing premises were expensive and staff members were located across different buildings. The Merchants assessment identified largely disparate technology systems that were outdated and no longer fit for purpose. The new location is central, close to amenities and cost effective for staff in terms of travel. The new working environment is more comfortable and all staff will be located in one building. TransUnion branding of the new operation will ensure staff feel the same sense of belonging as before.

In addition, the solution adopted by Merchants incorporates an integrated telephony platform across all three business units.

Phased Transition Programme

The assessment resulted in a well-defined roadmap for improvement that included a three-step phased programme beginning with a transition phase, followed by two business improvement phases​​​.

Change the way you engage with customers