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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Saturday Night, Alive.

I’ve been holding onto this one for a few days because I didn’t quite know how I felt about it.

On Saturday evening, we heard tornado sirens sound in our neighborhood, as they do anytime a tornado is sighted in our rather large county in northeastern Kansas.

It was late, and not wanting to wake the kids up unnecessarily, we quickly tuned in to the local television broadcast to quickly see what exactly we were faced with and whether we would have to beat a hasty retreat to the basement.

It turned out that the tornadoes were as far away and as small as they could be and still cause the alarm, but in our minds – as always with these things – better safe than sorry.

But here’s where the service encounter comes in. To broadcast the emergency, the Kansas City area NBC affiliate broke in on Saturday Night Live. Specifically, the season finale featuring Justin Timberlake and Lady Gaga.

As they did so, the meteorologist almost continuously apologized for preempting SNL, which to me seemed a bit unnecessary, in that I couldn’t imagine anyone who would be willing to forego their own safety or that of their neighbors for a rehashed version of dick-in-a-box.

At that point, I did a quick twitter search on “SNL Tornado”, and saw the vitriolic reaction that the weather alert was generating towards NBC.

At first, I didn’t consider this a service failure, so much as a group of irates voicing their displeasure at a very sensible action on the part of the network. But the idea stuck with me. I wrote a post about situations when one service experience (National Weather Service) interferes with another and another about cases where the customer isn’t right, taking the position that the Meteorologist shouldn’t have to apologize for keeping viewers safe by the best means available.

What I came back to, though, was that as much as I didn’t agree with their positions, this was a service failure in the eyes of the customers that were complaining. Their service outcome – namely experiencing the finale of SNL – was not fulfilled by NBC, regardless of how good the reason. The local NBC meteorologist was right to apologize. Better, their service recovery of pointing watchers to the broadcast streamed over the internet kept with a key element of good service recovery, providing successful delivery – either through the streaming video or a later rebroadcast – as a fair outcome.

NBC prioritized the service needs of its customers appropriately. Serving some caused an unavoidable service failure for others. But in recognizing it and offering an alternative, they provided each customer group a fair outcome in the service they wanted or needed in the first place.


Mike Brown said...

I'm really glad to see you tackle this topic Chris, because it bugged me on Saturday night.

The issue went beyond SNL to include a soccer match on another local channel which was being disrupted due to weather updates. The furor on Twitter was ridiculous. One local Twitter rockstar who has a tendency to go off the deep end on things like this, was tweeting incessantly demanding the soccer match return to TV.

Beyond the service recovery angle you took on the story - which is a fantastic perspective from which to look at it - I found the concept of proximity of interest in Saturday night's story.

At our house Cyndi insisted she wasn't going to go to the basement because the weather people were over-reacting - the storm was too far away. On Twitter, the uproar was in part because the weather didn't have anything to do with the tweeters. Sounds like you wrestled with the same issue.

Yet, by Sunday and Monday, as the story in Joplin started to unfold, we (and the whole nation it would appear) got interested in severe weather that was clearly outside our immediate area. It will be intriguing to see if one aftermath (even if it's a short-lived) is that for the next weather warning that's 45 miles away, people start to consider that it's not too far away to pay attention!

Chris Reaburn said...


Great comment and thank you for posting it!

There was a lot of depth & complexity to this service encounter. Aside from the service failure element, there was the question of how to react when the customer isn’t right (though eventually I decided that they were – even if expressed badly), there was the theme about different types of complainers and how best to respond to each – something that is a common Twitter theme I’ll use in a future post, the aspect of one customer’s service needs adversely impacting others’, and the inefficiency of being needing to serve customers with varying levels of need in the same way.

Though I had an extremely negative reaction to the twitter complainers, I kept coming back to the idea that even though it made me angry to see the customers who wanted to view SNL demonstrate complete lack of understanding for the needs of the customers in the tornado-impacted area, that their complaints were legitimate, even if how they voiced them were in poor taste.

These customers did not have a successful outcome to the service experience they wanted, and for what was a tangible failure, it needed earnest recovery, which NBC did as good a job as they could.

Great example of the complexity of service encounters, and the variability in any given customer’s perception experience, and their reaction to it.