I will start with what I consider a missed opportunity. A young woman, let’s call her Stephanie, has drawn a name for a company gift exchange. The individual she draws if British so Stephanie decides to put together a gift basket and include some English tea. She goes to a shop for the tea, and after she gets it home she notices the best-before-date is less than a month away. She returns to the shop and all of the similar packages have the same date stamp. There is a smaller size of the same tea that has a much longer expiry. Stephanie decides to accept the smaller size in exchange even though she has paid for the larger size. The shop keeper agrees and Stephanie leaves.
When Stephanie returned for the exchange the shop keeper was busy and even though she was the only customer in the store she was left to her own devices. What the shop keeper could have done was engage Stephanie and find out what she needed the tea for. The shop keeper could have offered her two of the smaller sizes in exchange. Although this comes to a little more than Stephanie had previous paid it’s an investment in good will. The shop keeper could have suggested it was in consideration for her trouble, and perhaps she would like to try some of the tea for herself. And in learning that Stephanie was giving a gift to an English co-worker could have suggested she put in a good word on behalf of the store.
In a previous post I talked about “Moments of Truth” which is borrowed from Jan Carlzon who wrote a book by the same name. Moments of truth refers to those times when a customer comes in contact with your business. It’s their experience during the interaction that defines your business for that person. One of my mentors, Roy Williams, author of The Wizard of Ads series refers to “Personal Experience Factor.” This PEF is a key element in the success of the businesses he chooses to work with.
Consider that there are four levels for each experience. Is it a poor experience? Is it an average experience; what the customer was expecting to happened is pretty much what did happen? That’s not bad, but this becomes a baseline. When you deliver below that level customers are disappointed. Third, was it a good experience, and lastly did you WOW them.
Aiming for WOW is challenging but if you aim and miss you end up at good. If you aim for average you never WOW anyone and when you miss you disappoint. In 1994 Tom Peters released his book “The Pursuit of Wow! Every Person’s Guide to Topsy Turvy Times.” These are once again topsy turvey times, perhaps it’s a good time to study WOW.
Let’s face it, even when you aim for WOW, you end up with situations where the customer is disappointed. Interestingly, one of very best times to WOW a customer is after they’ve had a bad experience dealing with your company. How you respond to a complaint can be more important than what you did in the first place. This is especially true in today’s retail environment with all of the online opinion sites. The better sites allow the business to respond to a complaint. Most people are pretty reasonable and if they see a business has 4 or 5 good to great reviews and one bad review but the business made an effort to correct the situation they are fine and will consider the business a good choice.
Some business owners try to minimize or even dismiss a complaint. I’ve seen many many cases where the business owner is in denial. You cannot determine how trivial or important this is to the customer. Let them tell you the problem but also how they feel. Then ask them what they would like to make this right. If you are the type of person that has no time for this “feelings cr-p” find someone else in the company that is a calm, good listener. It can be a very simple gesture.
Canadian cellular phone companies really annoy me. In terms of plans on offer, customers that are new to the provider get better deals than the existing customers. It’s been this way for some time. I was originally a Rogers customer and switched to Bell. This was back when numbers weren’t portable so I had to change my number when I made the move but I was annoyed with the service and a clerk in a Roger’s mall kiosk admitted that new customers were offered better deals.
I recently went through a “hardware upgrade.” I was nearing the end of my three year contract and after doing some research had decided to get the new iPhone 4. I went to a Bell corporate store, and spoke with a clerk. I told her which phone I wanted. They didn’t have any but she took my name and I was added to “the list.” Apparently I was in the cue early because about a week after I was in the store, Bell started demanding a deposit before they would add you to “the list.”
At any rate, after waiting for weeks, I received a phone call from the clerk. She said she had two questions for me, first, did I want the 16-gig or the 32-gig phone (my answer was I would take whatever they had). The second question, was I a current Bell customer or would I be a new customer. When I answered that I was a current Bell customer she quickly said she was sorry but she didn’t have a phone for me. WHAT!!!! OUTRAGEOUS!!!!
I phoned the 800-number to complain and was told they couldn’t do anything for me. I phone back and complained to the store manager. She explained that some phones are allocated to existing customers and some to new customers and then offered to see what she could do for me. She phone back later that day and said there we no phone available and she couldn’t help me. That was almost three months ago and I still haven’t received a call from them telling me they have an iPhone for me.
In almost every circumstance I recommend you look after your existing customers first. It’s much better and usually much easier to get a larger share of a customer’s business that it is to win a new customer. Bell had access to my activity with them over many years as their customer, how much airtime and data I use. They know not only my usage and how much I paid them every year but they also know my payment history.
New players have entered and more are coming. As consumers we can hope that the competition makes the industry better. What did I end up doing? Well I went to an independent dealer, got an Android phone. I’m still with Bell but the plan they got me costs me about half what I was paying on my old plan. Bell seems to put you on the plan that’s best for Bell while the dealer put me on a plan that’s best for me.
With the recent announcement that Sky Service has gone under, I am motivated to tell of our worst vacation experience. It is perhaps ironic that this nightmare involved Sky Service (the charter airline) and Conquest Vacations (the tour operator). Conquest ceased operations in April of 2009 and now Sky Service ceases operation in April 2010. In both cases they cite the economy as a major contributing factor but I hold that it was their past treatment of customers that did them in.
Here’s our story. We had booked a flight to Mexico’s Mayan Riviera region which means a flight into and out of Cancun. On the day of our return, we were informed that the Calgary flight had been cancelled and all Calgary passengers were being placed on the Vancouver flight. By combining flights we had an aircraft that was completely full. We departed from Cancun in the early evening. After many hours of flying, the cabin crew announced that we must prepare for our approach into the Vancouver airport. A few minutes passed and the steward came back over the P.A. and said that he had been informed that we were in fact preparing to land in Spokane, Washington. The plane did not have enough fuel to get us to Vancouver. We were a plane load of Canadians landing in the United States in the middle of the night. We didn’t have U.S. Customs clearance so we couldn’t leave the plane. We were parked in some dark corner of the airport while the flight crew negotiated to buy enough jet fuel to get us to Vancouver. We completely ran out of supplies, there was no coffee, no soft drinks, no water, no snacks. We finally got fuel and were able to fly to Vancouver. The Vancouver passengers de-planed, the plane was refueled and the crew was changed but the Calgary passengers were not allowed to leave the plane. When we arrived in Calgary, Canada Customers hadn’t yet opened so we had a further wait. In total, we were on the aircraft for 12 hours.
We vowed to never again do business with Sky Service or Conquest Vacations. The decision to cancel the Calgary flight was likely a move to save a few dollars. When you are in a position to make these decisions for your company, don’t just look at the money that is saved in the short term, you must also consider how it impacts the delivery of service and the experience of your customer. Calculate the lifetime value of a customer and decide if you are willing to risk that value to save in the short term.