We are all customers who’ve felt the sting of mistreatment at one time or another — the unfriendly or incompetent company representative who forced us into a stalemate of dislike because they didn’t follow the simple rules of engagement.
A customer’s experience will be remembered much longer than a company logo or product packaging. A customer’s experience becomes the brand’s story, and how it is told will determine a brand’s value.
Seth Godin’s definition of brand spells out the fundamentals: A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. If the consumer (whether it’s a business, a buyer, a voter or a donor) doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer.
Learn from the stories. These five customer experience stories include the rules of engagement needed to create a positive value exchange.
1. Be clear on the policy.
Every time you check out at Forever 21, you are reminded of their store policy with a simple question: “Do you know what our return policy is?”
It’s a simple formality, and it shows that Forever 21 wants customers to be aware before they walk out of the store. When you have only twenty-one days to return an item for store credit, it’s critical to make it clear.
A customer who knows the limitations and rules up front are less likely to complain. Sharing information as part of the transaction helps to cement the agreement.
2. Bend the rules.
The return policy isn’t so clear with Game Gear, but when you’re ordering online it’s up to the customer to read the fine print. Depending on the situation, sometimes the rules are meant to be broken.
If a customer believes they’re being listened to, they will remain satisfied. Allowing for a dialogue gives consumers the opportunity to share their experience, and it gives the brand the option to make exceptions to store policy.
In this case, a thirty-day return policy was difficult to comply with when holiday gift-giving requires additional waiting time. Game Gear’s quick response was to allow for the return, and included a happy ending with: “We are sorry for the inconvenience and hope we get the chance to make it right.”
There’s no better experience than a company who shows they are listening with a little rule bending.
3. Own up to your mistake.
A local Domino’s takes your daughter’s custom order, the same order they’ve filled for months, and tells you no, that’s not something we do.
Wait a minute. There’s no room for an unequivocal no when a customer requests something. There’s room for let me check on that for you, or can you give me more information, or I’m sorry, but that product is no longer offered.
The pizza in question – a gluten-free artisan style – was eventually made after further inquiry, but the mistake was never acknowledged. There wasn’t an apology of any kind.
There’s always room to “make it right” when a customer feels wronged, even if it means being in the wrong and saying so.
4. Sometimes you gotta take a loss.
When Shutterfly didn’t cancel a duplicate order, they charged me for both identical pillows. Despite speaking with three customer service representatives, the issue remained unresolved.
The employees that are hired to work with customers should be trained to fix the problem, and when they can’t, to follow a procedure that does get it fixed. Three failed attempts could mean strike, you’re out.
In this case, I had to ask to speak with a manager. Fortunately, this individual had the training to effectively manage an order gone terribly wrong. The end result was a free pillow for me, and a home run for the brand.
5. A company’s face should be a smiling one.
For years we were greeted at our dentist’s office with a grim-faced receptionist. As if going to the dentist isn’t bad enough, we had to deal with a cross between The Grinch and an evil minion from Despicable Me before getting past the front desk.
Hiring the right person to represent you at the front lines is a critical decision. Your goal is obvious: to welcome your visitors and make them feel wanted. You only choose someone with the stature of a squadron leader if you’re trying to prevent customers from entering.
No matter which side of the desk you’re on, life is much more pleasant when the rules of engagement are handled with a smile.