The Customer Experience

As I am working on the details of a downtown office and expect to have someone in that office representing me this summer and as always a few guides who sometimes fill in for me on trips.  I need to make it crystal clear what kind of experience I want my clients to have and provide those folks with the tools, knowledge and ability to make it happen. Along with the promise that we will deliver with a positive attitude.

After all who wants to have a lousy experience outdoors!

I have been in business for a long time and always like to watch how other businesses operate to see what I can learn. Last week I saw the two extremes of how to try and make your customers happy or fail in that effort.

The upside was at LL Bean a Maine company known for their customer service. I had work various duck hunting parkas as winter coats for years Argy always commented that she felt like we were going hunting whenever we went for a walk in the winter. A year ago I relented and purchased essentially the same parka but not in camo from Beans. Last Saturday morning the zipper gave out on the new coat. Since we were headed down that way for the day I threw it into the car to stop in and see if an exchange was possible. When I headed to the customer service counter that afternoon the line was long. Who knew people would be returning a lot of stuff on a Saturday in February.

The staff responded as you always wish they would. You could watch as more customer service reps arrived behind the counter from around the store. A line with maybe 50 people in it melted away in a few minutes. When I got to the counter my coat was out of production. Instead of “sorry I can’t help” I was given a gift card for an equivalent coat. I headed to the coat department and with the help of a cheerful sales person was on my way in about a half an hour with a new (and much improved) coat. A very happy customer.

The other extreme started Wednesday morning. My internet was flickering on and off something that had happened about once a month for maybe six months. After rebooting the system a few times I called my provider Redzone Wireless. The agent assumed I had no clue first telling me that the problem did not exist and then admitting that something was in fact wrong. They would reboot on their end and be in touch. After a few hours with no change or call I called again and was told that the rep did not have any idea what could be done and would call me back. A couple of hours later a service van pulls into my driveway. Very lucky I was at my desk all afternoon! And by the way no call back.

After a few minutes of checking (and calling their own customer service desk!) it was determined that the unit on my roof was not working. The tech told me that this is an old one “I have never seen one of these before” so a replacement was needed. But they did not have one on the truck! The schedule was full for tomorrow but they left with a promise to be back in the morning to restore my system.

I arrived back at the office late Thursday afternoon expecting to have my system restored only to find nothing had changed. A call to the company was answered by someone who clearly realized that this was a problem and did call back to tell me that there was nothing she could do.

On Friday I called the main office and talked with someone who explained that there was nothing that they could do and yes I would be down all weekend. When I mentioned that my bill for the coming month was due and I was reluctant to pay it with no service and no prospect of service in the short term. I was told not to worry and to tear up the February invoice for my trouble.

You know this is coming. Sunday morning first thing I get an e-mail that my credit card was charged by my ISP for February! Still no service Monday morning but a promise that a tech will be here by 10:30. I have little hope that is true given the last few days.

Not sure how this story will end but there is a clear lesson here for someone who runs any business. You and your people have the power to make or break the experience and your reputation. I don’t think that the ISP folks are bad people but simply uninspired or not empowered to make customer service what it could be. While everyone I interacted with at LL Bean was trying to make sure my experience was positive and made me want to come back.

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