3 Customer Service Lessons From Target's Register Breakdown

Last weekend was a tough one for Target, when its registers crashed nationwide. Customers across the U.S. were stuck in long lines, some waiting as long as an hour to check out while others simply abandoned their carts and left the stores. It was shaping up to be a recipe for disaster, but despite a somewhat sullied history of customer snafus (most notably their massive data breach in 2013), Target handled this crisis effectively.

Here are three lessons in crisis management that Target’s reaction to their register problems can teach any brand:

1. Communicate With Customers

As soon as Target’s corporate office got wind of the register malfunctions happening across the country, the company sent out a Tweet explaining to customers what was taking place.

The @AskTarget account wrote: "We are aware of a systems issue in store and are working as quickly as possible to get this fixed. Thank you for your patience!"

Employees were also communicating with shoppers on site, explaining the specific issue and not keeping customers in the dark. At some locations, employees even got on the loudspeaker to make announcements to customers. Customer frustration in situations like these grows when they feel like they’re being lied to or uninformed—providing clear, timely information keeps tempers under control. “They handled the situation like pros,” customer Jeff Clark told Buzzfeed News, “so the crowd didn't get unruly.”

2. Salvage the Situation

While on-the-ground employees could do little to fix the fundamental problem (a Target spokesperson later said an “internal technology issue” was to blame), they did have the power to make the best out of a bad situation. Employees handed out snacks like popcorn and beverages from Starbucks to keep customers as happy as possible.

While it didn’t cut down on their wait time, it did show that the company was remorseful. "They kept bringing out Starbucks shooters for everyone because what better way to calm an intense crowd than by giving them caffeine shots!” customer Jeff Clark joked on Twitter.

3. Own Up to Mistakes

With the weekend disaster behind them, Target began the journey back to earning their customers trust. To that end, CEO Brian Cornell went on CNBC early this week to apologize for what transpired. “A tough weekend. Tough for our brand and really disappointing for our guests,” Cornell said. “I need to start off by apologizing to thousands of guests who were shopping our stores on Saturday and then again on Sunday. Unfortunately, we had issues both days.”

The admission of the snafu and the apology, especially from the company’s top-most leader, was an important move for the brand’s recovery. Customers want to see sincerity and humanness from the brands they bring into their homes, especially when things go wrong. By taking this critical step, the CEO put the company on the right path forward.

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