Customer Fright? Or Customer Delight?

Rob McGann

Updated · Jul 31, 2001

A couple of months ago I wrote a story about one of my shopping experiences and asked readers to email me their thoughts on who was right and how the situation should have been handled.

To summarize: Dealing directly with the owner, I had recently purchased three expensive Hawaiian shirts from a small, independent boutique. I loved the store and sent a couple of friends over. They also made purchases. When they were there, the store had a sale: 50 percent off all Hawaiian shirts. That was a Friday. The following Tuesday I revisited the store, hoping to take advantage of the sale. The storeowner said the sale had ended the day before. I responded that I had driven 30 minutes to get there and two of my friends, whom I had referred, had told me about the sale; couldn’t he sell me some shirts at a discount? His response was an emphatic NO, to which I responded: “That’s the last time I refer friends over here.” He then responded, “That’s fine with me. And don’t you bother coming back, either.”

The response to the story was incredible: I received over 50 emails. Never before have I written an article that elicited so much response. Perhaps it was because I asked for one, in which case there’s a valuable lesson here for all marketers: Ask, and ye shall receive. So much advertising fails to generate the level of response advertisers are looking for. In many cases this can be traced directly to the fact that the advertising contained no specific call to action.

Perhaps the volume of response was also because I touched a nerve with readers. It seems that all of us have our horror stories about the way we’ve been treated as customers, and, of course, we all have strong opinions about the way we think we should be treated.

Readers Write

In the interest of building a more customer-centric world for all of us, I’d like to share with you some of the comments (direct quotes) from those who responded to my article:

  • Too many people are talking about CRM [customer relationship management] these days when they actually mean a computer system. No computer system is going to help you build strong customer relationships if you don’t really care about your customers at heart.
  • Business is about building customer relationships, no matter how big or small you are.
  • When we run sales in our online shop, we extend the sale in both directions. First, if we receive an email from someone who ordered within two weeks prior to the sale, we’ll give them a refund for the difference. And if someone misses the sale by a week and is an existing customer, we’ll honor the sale price as well. This has worked well for us, and we actually have had very few requests. But I know when I grant such a request that I’ve made a much stronger bond with the customer.
  • Reminds me of my stint as a corporate concierge. I was running our dry cleaning station, and a client came in raving mad about how we had ruined his $125 Dior shirt. As soon as I was able to get a word in, I asked him to whom I should make the check payable. Real confused, he asked me what I meant. I said “Well, your shirt needs to be replaced, so I was wondering, would a check for $125 be okay?” He asked me why I wasn’t going to fight him and compromise, say $62.50 for depreciation, and I said, “Because you are my client, and you’re right.” Over the ensuing months he sent me more business than any ad campaign had ever done. He even wanted me to speak to his managers (he headed a major hotel chain) on how to remedy customer complaints.
  • When you take the time to help a customer who is clearly in distress, you will build a bond that generates a lifetime of loyalty, even when the urge to buy from a competitor is strong.
  • The storeowner had a valuable marketing tool standing there in front of him, and he chose to kill it rather than nurture it. So what does he end up with? An angry ex-customer who will spread the word about his negative experience.
  • Anyone who pays any attention to customer service knows you never let a customer out of the store angry. There’s a simple saying: If you don’t keep your customers happy, you don’t keep your happy customers.

You Stand to Gain

The payoff for treating a customer right can be huge.

About six months ago, I had a flat tire and took it to a nearby tire shop for repair. When I went back to collect the repaired tire, I got my checkbook out, expecting to write a check for around $20.00. “Don’t worry about it, sir, the repair is free,” said the store attendant. Amazed and delighted, I returned to this same store several months later and purchased a new set of tires for over $1,000 — without doing any comparison shopping.

So what did that $1,000-plus sale cost the tire store? I’m guessing around $10, the cost of a little labor to repair my tire. Now compare the tire store’s cost of customer acquisition with that of most dot-coms — $1,000 spent to generate a $10 sale. OK, perhaps I exaggerate, but you get the picture.

Treating customers right — indeed, even packaging into your offering some unexpected surprises that create customer delight — can pay off big time.

Which brings me to my call to action for this story: Got a great story to tell about customer delight? I’d love to hear it.

Reprinted from ClickZ.

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