Whole Foods, whose forum-crazed CEO prompted an SEC investigation and overly-restrictive corporate Internet policies, has become a model for handling customer service in the wake of an IT failure.
This blog often describes situations where IT failures become moneymaking opportunities for vendors. Sometimes it's a consulting company racking up fees as they "fix the problem"; other times, it's a software vendor pushing products that remain unused on the shelf. Either way, IT failure can be a big business with big profits.
Given this, it's great to hear Whole Foods' response when cash registers stopped working during a system conversion. Rather than inconvenience customers with lengthy delays during a raging snowstorm, the company let buyers go through checkout without paying.
From the Hartford Courant:
"It was clearly a snafu on our end, and it didn't seem right" to punish the customers by making them wait, Manager Kimberly Hall said.
Hall said the supermarket's computers were being converted to a new system from that of its former owner — Wild Oats — when they went down. Whole Foods purchased Wild Oats earlier this year.
Hall estimated that up to $4,000 in groceries were given away before the computers began working again.
Talk about great customer service in the wake of failure!
I'm certainly not suggesting vendors address failure by giving complete refunds; after all, most IT failures are highly complicated, driven by variables on both customer and vendor sides. Unfortunately, greed-driven arrogance too often plays a role in compounding failure situations, with budget over-runs, schedule delays, and other problems that hurt innocent bystanders.
The customer service attitude evinced by Whole Foods in this situation serves as a model for doing the right thing. Hats off to Whole Foods!