I recently had two very different customer service experiences with Marriott properties in the Southern California area.

The first was outstanding. The service was impeccable, even when we had unforeseen glitches in our travel plans that necessitated extra effort on the hotel’s part to accommodate us.

The second was absolutely horrid. No extra effort was required on the hotel’s part to serve us, but the check-in process was so badly handled and the attitude of the staff so customer unfriendly that it was impossible to get beyond that negative impression during our stay.

Having two opposing back-to-back experiences like this within a twenty-four-hour period is a bit unusual. Yet in our day-to-day lives, we often have very different customer experiences with a product or brand.

In some cases, our positive feelings about the brand are reinforced. However, all this good work can be undone by other customer service interactions that make us feel we’ve made a mistake to trust the brand with our business and goodwill.

The result is something I call brand dissonance. Dissonance is the unsettled, jarring feeling we get when something does not meet our initial expectations. In music, it’s the note or chord that causes us to stop and take notice—to interrupt our otherwise pleasant listening experience.

None of us are perfect—mistakes happen. The good news is customer service dissonance by itself is not fatal. The key is how the dissonance gets resolved. How are customer service mistakes and complaints handled? Are they resolved with speed, agility, and humility on the part of the brand? Or is the dissonance left unresolved—a bad taste left in the customer’s mouth for an extended period of time?

Seven Steps Toward More Harmonious Customer Service

Here are seven things to remember that can help you resolve customer service brand dissonance when it occurs in your organization:

  1. Human nature tends to focus on the negative. Rather than be upset about this, we need to focus on how to minimize negative brand experiences and how to respond quickly and efficiently when these events do occur.
  2. It’s the resolution that will be remembered. We understand stuff happens. We’re also likely to remember when an organization takes immediate actionable steps to resolve a bad situation quickly.
  3. Bad service trumps good product every time. In the incident above, the second property was significantly nicer than the first. But our customer service experience was so negative that the superior product was lost on us.
  4. Customers talk. You need to listen. Social media and easily accessible review sites make it very easy for customers to broadcast their impressions of your brand. This usually happens in two situations: when a customer is extremely happy and when they are extremely unhappy. That’s why it’s so important to be monitoring appropriate social media and jump on customer service issues as soon as they appear.
  5. Empower the resolution team to make changes. Telling me you’re sorry this happened is a small start. Taking action to show me this will not happen again is much more satisfying, and it’s something customers will remember and talk about in the future.
  6. Look at these situations as growth opportunities. Use these dissonant situations as a growth opportunity—the chance to show customer facing personnel how to handle real-life situations, to look for the root cause of the situation (rather than just to assign blame), and to model the customer service behavior you’d like them to exhibit should a situation like this occur again in the future.
  7. Positive experiences are money in the bank. Building a reservoir of extremely positive experiences with customers means they are more likely to see the dissonant experiences as anomalies, and to forgive and forget. However, if your customers’ experiences are not consistently positive, the increased dissonance may lead them to consider other alternatives to your offering in the future.

How are you handling brand dissonance within organization? Take time to stop and hear the music—while you still have time to resolve issues and build customer loyalty through customer service that is consistently harmonious with your brand.