When Did We Stop Incorporating Service As Part of the Customer Experience?

With Black Friday and the holiday shopping season upon us, retailers across the country are gearing up to ensure they win the hearts – and wallets – of customers.  The holiday season represents a significant proportion of most retailers’ sales, making their customer interactions and promotional activity especially critical to the business’ success.

As part of retailer efforts to succeed during the holiday season, particular attention is spent (or should be spent) focusing on the customer experience.  How do we engage with our customers in-store?  What is the online / mobile experience like?  How do we connect all online and offline touchpoints and experiences to deliver an ideal and authentic ‘omni-channel’ approach?  But as we’ve proposed in our recent whitepaper, the customer experience isn’t just about the transaction and the sale… it’s about the relationship and the expectations brands set with their customers about how they will be treated and nurtured. 

The channel that appears to be frequently missing from the customer experience conversation is a critically important one – customer service. 

  • 47% of customers would take their business to a competitor within a day of experiencing poor customer service (source: 24/7)
  • It takes 12 positive customer experiences to negate the poor impression left behind from one unresolved, bad experience (source: BI Intelligence)

A few recent customer service interactions support the statistics above and hopefully provide food for thought as we all think about customer experience this holiday and in the future.

Two months ago, one of the installed components of my home alarm system began to noisily malfunction.  It had reached end of life and needed to be replaced.  When I called the alarm company, I was told it was going to be over $100 for the first 30 minutes of the service call (!!) and the first available appointment was weeks away.  As you can imagine, I wasn’t happy with this response and, knowing I could get much less expensive alarm monitoring by just about anyone in the market (not to mention a sweet new system by signing up), I asked to just cancel my account and I’d get a new service installed.   I was immediately transferred to a different agent who was not only able to “magically” waive all fees for having the component replaced, but was also able to schedule an appointment for me the following day. 

At the end of the day, was it really necessary to anger a good customer before making things right?  Why couldn’t the experience have been pleasant from the start?  And why do brands continue to focus all their love and attention on acquiring new customers (free system set ups, lower rates, etc.) instead of retaining existing customers and keeping them happy?

As another example, a few months ago I purchased a rather expensive necklace online from an upscale department store.  Three days after the purchase (and, of course, after the sale had ended), I received an email from the retailer informing me the necklace was no longer available and that my card had not been charged.  No apologies, no make good, just an FYI.  Here I was, an avid buyer, ready to spend a significant amount of money without the retailer having to make ANY effort to sell to me, and when all was said and done, they couldn’t deliver.

As an elite tier cardholder with this retailer, was I crazy to have expected something more?  I sent an email expressing my disappointment, not expecting the retailer to do anything more than acknowledge they had delivered a less than desired experience.  Unfortunately, I never received a response to my email.  How can they continue to tell me how valuable they consider me as a customer if they won’t even respond to an email?  So weeks later, I tagged the retailer in a tweet expressing my surprise at their non-response.  No response to my tweet either.

If you are an online retailer and you don’t respond to a customer email or a customer tweet/post, how is this any different than an associate ignoring a customer in-store?  Again reflecting back on our Loyalty 3.0 Whitepaper, in this case, not only did the transaction fail, but so did the relationship and the experience.  I could have gone anywhere to purchase the necklace but I selected this retailer because of our relationship and how they have treated me in the past.  Now, I think twice about where I shop (and more importantly, where I spend) because of this experience.

There are multiple lessons to be learned from just these two examples which, as highlighted in the statistic above, have still not been “erased” in my mind by positive experiences.

  1. Exceptional customer service should be a goal of every organization.  Charging outrageous repair and appointment fees for products which will inevitably require repair will never have a positive outcome or result in a positive customer experience.  Retailers like Shinola go above and beyond by pre-emptively sending new watch batteries to best customers when they anticipate the watch battery will need replacing.  Many service providers, like DirectTV for example, offer customers an option to pay a small monthly fee to cover all repairs and service calls.  The total annual cost for this coverage is less than the quoted 30 minute appointment cost for my home alarm provider.
  2. Re-examine your customer communications, particularly those which are automatically triggered.  Is the message appropriately apologetic or empathetic?  Are you leveraging available customer data to personalize the message?  Do best customers receive a different message than a one-time customer?  In the necklace example above, when I received their automated message, my first thought wasn’t concern they were still going to charge me, but that I was disappointed I wouldn’t be getting this necklace I’d really wanted.  The correct messaging in that first email would have prevented the following two customer service failures.
  3. It is increasingly important for all social media channels to be monitored and customer messages responded to as appropriate.  Between sent emails and posted tweets, there was absolutely no two-way communication with this retailer where I have been a loyal big-spender for years.

As our customers become more connected, we continue to emphasize the importance of the omni-channel customer experience… but let’s remember, to be truly omni-channel and shift our thinking to Loyalty 3.0, we must consider every touchpoint.  Your customer service representatives are among your first opportunities to reverse bad customer experiences, whether I’m wearing a new necklace or not.

And during the ever-important holiday season, retailers simply can’t afford to lose customers and shopping spend for overlooking such a logical and integral part of the customer experience.