There have been many announcements over the last several months of retailers and other businesses closing their doors, reorganizing, selling off business units and other moves to save their businesses from extinction. Meanwhile there are companies that are doing really well (Apple for example) yes it’s about the product and the market and the industry, but I think there is an area that has been largely ignored. There is one person that many businesses have completely forgotten about: the customer. They have not only forgotten about the customer, but no one is thinking about the customer’s experience. So below are three experiences I have had in the last two months as a customer, and the valuable lessons these experiences can hold for all of us.
Mail Order Mayhem: There is a very well known mail order apparel company I spend a decent amount of money with each year, for the last five years. I got a $10.00 check from them in the mail. “How nice” I thought to my self, “an unexpected unrequested check.” Then the cynicism kicked in and I wondered why they were being so generous out of the blue for no reason. (Maybe it is a function of age?) I carefully examined the check and in very small letters it read on the face of the check at the bottom “cashing this check means you are accepting member ship into our ( fill in company name) rewards discount program which is billed at $14.99 per month to the credit card we have on file.” So the company that I have bought from for five years is trying to fool me into signing up for their “club.” When I tried to contact the company there was no phone number on the web site and no email mail “contact us” button. I decided to write a letter to the CEO, but after fifteen minutes of trying to find a name and mailing address I gave up.
Lesson#1: If you have to fool me into buying something from you- who is the real fool? You have lost me as a customer.
Lesson #2: If you make if nearly impossible for me to contact you or communicate with your executives- you have lost me as a customer.
It’s All Your Fault: I rented a car at an airport in South Florida. Two days later I returned it a 5:00 AM in the morning to catch an early flight home. Parked in their lot, turned the key into the lock box, and off I go. One month later I get “the letter” saying I owe $600 dollars for the “damage to the vehicle you returned”. Huh? I call them to discuss and talk to two different people. They tell me the damage is to the driver’s side door handle which is inoperable! Gee I wonder how I ever got in the car to drive the airport? I tell them I returned the car in perfect condition. They then tell me that the car is not “officially or technically” returned until their representative checks it, so because the damage occurred before they checked it I am on the hook. My return argument is that when I returned the car to their lot, it was then in their possession. “Well” says the Regional Manager, “that is where you are wrong we don’t own the parking lot, the airport does.” How was I to know who owned the lot? Were their not ten signs there all branded with their logo? After one week of discussions back and forth, I asked them to look at how much I spend with them each year. They decided to back down. The entire time I was treated as if I committed a misdemeanor and later in the transaction a crime.
Lesson #3: Give customers the benefit of the doubt unless you are completely sure, and please, lose the “huffy” tone.
Lesson #4– You need to seriously consider the long term value of a customer. How much will they spend over 10 years?
Lesson #5– Don’t use words like “technically” and “officially” or “policy”. Customers don’t care about technicalities and rules especially when it is always in your favor.
Gates from Hell: I arrive on a flight from Charlotte at midnight at the Philadelphia Airport. We land at gate 26, which is the last gate at the very end of the longest terminal I have ever seen. It is at least a mile and half from there to baggage claim. People are tired and some are grumpy. This is the firth time I have been on that same flight at the same time and each time the same gate. Now I have noticed that all the other gates (1- 25) are open and available every time. One night, out of curiosity I asked an employee of that airline why they did that, because it made people have to walk a country mile to the bag claim. His answer was refreshingly honest, but still infuriating “The plane is closer to our service hanger so it is easier for us.” I ask him “but what about the customer?” and he looked at me like I had antlers.
Lesson #6– Every decision should be based around the customers experience. Not yours.
Lesson #7- If it really is all about you don’t tell me, its very insulting and amazing that as are telling me you don’t even realize its an insult!
So let’s just scrap customer service. Let’s finally get down to what matters- their experience. When customers have a great experience word of mouth will travel and business will boom in good times and bad.
Photo: Getty Images