Customer Experiences: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

 In Create Loyalty, Increase Frequency, Remarkability

When something goes wrong, how do you make it right? 

It happens to all of us as consumers – we make a purchase,  we plan an evening at a special place, we order something that looks incredible on-line trusting that it will look just as incredible in the real world. And then something goes wrong. Sometimes TERRIBLY WRONG!

In this past year, I have personally experienced some of those moments.  And today I would like to share 3 experiences.  Let’s call them The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Customer Experiences, 2013 edition.

The Ugly

Let’s just start with the Ugly  – no attempt to save the sale.

Purchased my sister very cool active wear pants from a well know, high-end yoga pant store that has had plenty of negative press as of late. Sister finally gets around to trying on said pants just after the window of return on the receipt.  Arghhhh!!!  I am already experiencing the disappointment of a gift gone wrong, and now anticipating the frustration of making a return.  So the pants go back into signature bag and off to the store I go.  My goal – exchanging  for another item to replace sister’s  gift.  My expectation – that although I was 5 days beyond the return window, exchanging for another item would not be any problem.

Into the store I go and approach the cash wrap with my bag in hand.  The “Educator” (yoga pant store speak for Sales Associate) response when I explain I need to exchange… “I just want to let you know that I am making an exception for you as this is beyond the 30 day return window.” While the words aren’t so damning, the look in her eyes added “and don’t even think of letting this happen again.”  What the unhappy, snippy “Educator” did not do was the following:

  • Say “I am sorry that these didn’t work out.”
  • Ask “Can I help you find something that would fit better?”
  • Invite me to come back and shop again!

Her loss.  I was going to spend the $125 on something else.  Instead, I took the “exception” credit and went elsewhere to replace the gift.

Chance of a return visit:  Zero (at least not for a long while).

The Bad

And now The Bad – a fine attempt at trying to save a customer, but points lost for repeat error.

Went to try a splashy new spot in Georgetown.  Absolutely beautiful dining room, great menu, just what I was looking for to take a friend for significant birthday celebration.  So into the bar to try a signature cocktail and soak up the atmosphere.  As my companion and I were sipping our drinks, I spy an unwanted visitor across the room.  A small mouse was prancing back and forth over some floor lighting.  I quickly hopped off my barstool and told the host in lobby of the sighting.  Not sure what to do, he and another employee observed the mouse and everyone then ran away (both employees and the mouse).  All of a sudden a 2nd mouse appears at my feet, next to the bar. Me: “EEK – it is another mouse.” Bartender : “We seal everything tightly at night so there cannot be a mouse.”  Me: “But don’t you see the mouse?” Bartender: “Yes, at least it is not a rat.”  Me: “Check, please.”

The check arrived – and to my surprise both cocktails were priced $3.00 more on our tab than on the menu.  When I called this to the attention of the bartender, he explained that “he would honor the menu price, even though it is wrong.”  After stewing about this for a few days, I wrote a note to the manager and to my delight he called first thing the next morning.

Here is what he did right:

  • His response time – the next morning was exemplary – less than 24 hours!
  • He apologized immediately and took responsibility for the mouse and service issues.
  • He told me what he was doing to fix the issues.
  • Sincerity was evident in his voice and tone.
  • And in the mail, within 4 days,  I received a generous gift certificate.

Follow-up to the first visit – I went back and enjoyed their signature cocktails with a couple of friends.  No mice to be found.  Great experience until the check came – once again the drink prices on the menu and on the bill did not match.  It put me in the uncomfortable position of calling out this error, again. Not a way I like to end the evening.  Once again, the bartender explained that “he would honor the menu price, even though it is wrong.”  Very bad when this happens once, but no excuse for twice.

Chances of a third visit?  Pretty low.

The Good

And finally, the Good  Customer Experience.

Enjoying a festive post-holiday lunch with a friend at Vermillion in Old Town Alexandria.  The restaurant was quiet when we arrived with only one other table seated.  All of a sudden, a group of 6 was seated at the banquette just over my shoulder.  The room suddenly went from placid to rowdy as the gang was celebrating a birthday and in high spirits (probably not there first stop on the Birthday Party tour).

While my friend and I accommodated the change in noise level by leaning in and speaking up, a guest a few tables away approached the party group and asked them to lower the volume on their conversation. While I think calling the Manager would have been a better approach, he did make his request politely and maturely.  Unfortunately, his request was not well received.  Matters got worse when the waiter serving all of us took sides with the Birthday group and stirred up the noise and conflict even more.  Since we were the only 3 parties in the restaurant, it was an uncomfortable situation.  I sent for the Manager who came and put things right.  Here is what he did well:

  • He apologized to us.
  • He moved the other party to a quieter part of the restaurant.
  • He acknowledged that the waiter should have remained neutral and been part of the solution, not part of the problem.
  • He invited us back and gave us a gift certificate to enjoy on our next trip in.

The good news – I have been back and will continue to patronize Vermillion.  The manager handled it just right, was gracious and accommodated all of our needs.  That is the way you ensure a return visit!

Make It Great

The reality is that these types of experiences are not that uncommon.  We all have experiences in Customer Service that are disappointing. Try as you might,  it is unlikely that they won’t ever happen in your establishment.  But whether or not your customer “forgives and forgets” is all in the way you handle the situation.  The takeaways that I offer are these:

  • A sincere apology when your client is unhappy is a good way to start.  Doesn’t matter what caused their dismay, whether or not it was in your control.  Just taking a minute to acknowledge their frustration sets a tone or a positive resolution.
  • Don’t assume that they won’t come back and patronize you again just because something went wrong. Consumers know that things don’t always work perfectly- that is ok – we just want to know you will be our partner in fixing the situation
  • Offer a solution – show that you care and that you value their business.  When a guest takes time to share what is troubling them, they are opening the door for you to fix the problem and change the outcome.  Figure out what it will take to them happy and then take action.
  • Follow-up quickly – If a customer gives you a chance to fix something, do it right away! Displaying a sense of urgency makes a guest feel valued.
  • Train your team members to always offer gracious service – during a purchase, a return or anything in between.  Remember, they are the face of your business.  Their approach leaves a lasting impression.
  • Make sure your policies and practices allow them to give a great Customer Experience.  And most importantly  empower your Associates to do the right thing to make a guest or customer happy!

Opportunities are there everyday to deliver a Good, Bad or Ugly Customer experience. But truly, when it comes to Customer Expereince, let’s all strive for greatness!

From contributing writer, Madelon Mulcahey. Madelon’s extensive sales, operations and training background with restaurant and retailers like Starbucks, Blue Mercury and Sylvan Learning Centers.

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