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A Tale of Two Customer Experiences

The most memorable customer experiences are often those that land on opposite ends of the spectrum: Either they’re really good, or they’re really bad. And these experiences can have a major impact on brands’ bottom lines. Consider the following data from the “2014 Global Customer Service Barometer” report by American Express and Ebiquity: 74% of consumers say they’ve spent more with a company because they’ve had a history of positive customer service experiences with that business.

Factors that determine whether a customer’s experience is positive or negative are usually the most basic: having empathy, respecting preferences, etcetera. Here are two polar opposite customer experiences that I had on the same weekend, including a breakdown of what one business did right and the other did wrong.


The good:

Last April my mom and brother decided to fly out for Easter weekend. I wanted my apartment to look perfect and feel like their second home. So on my way back from work I stopped at a wine shop just blocks from my apartment. I had shopped at the local business before, but the prices couldn’t compete with the “Two-Buck Chuck” Trader Joe’s offered. Nevertheless, this was a special occasion, and I felt like my family deserved a higher quality bottle.

With about an hour until their arrival, I went in to the wine shop looking for a specific bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon that I had purchased before. But when I asked one of the employees to help me locate the bottle, he informed me that they didn’t sell it any more. He recommended another Cabernet that he said tasted like a $40 bottle, despite its $16 price tag. Disappointed, I opted to do a little browsing on my own. But with the clock ticking down, I finally decided to just purchase the employee’s recommendation. I thanked him for his suggestion and went on my way.

I picked up a few other welcoming essentials on my walk back to my apartment, including a bouquet of fresh flowers and new soap for the guest bathroom. I felt like I had a good hold of all of my items—that is until I tucked the bottle of wine under my arm to fish my keys out of purse. Splat. The bottle shattered all over the sidewalk just steps from my apartment. The aroma of Cabernet on the pavement smelled amazing (shutting out any doubts I had about the wine’s quality). To make matters worse, two young men who witnessed my distress let out a big “Oooohhh, that sucks.”

I tossed the broken glass into the dumpster and called my boyfriend down so that he could take the rest of my belongings while I went back to re-buy the bottle.

I walked back to the wine shop and pulled the same bottle from the rack.

“Are you back for another bottle?” the employee who initially helped me asked.

“Noooo,” I whined. “I dropped the last one.”

Then, much to my amazement, the employee told me that if I brought him the top of the broken bottle back he would replace it with a new bottle free of charge. I couldn’t believe it. I raced back to my apartment, got my boyfriend to do a little dumpster diving for me, and wrapped the bottle carefully in a bag to avoid any potential cuts.

I brought the evidence of my clumsiness back to the store and, sure enough, the employee gave me a brand new bottle. I was so excited that my $16 didn’t end up in the sewer along with my first bottle of Cabernet. I thanked the employee and told him how much I appreciated it.

I scurried home, carefully holding the bottle with two hands, and told my boyfriend about how kind the employee was to me. I immediately went to Yelp and wrote about my experience. My mom and I enjoyed the wine, and knowing that this second bottle was obtained out of compassion made it taste even sweeter.

About two weeks later I went back to the wine shop to purchase the bottle again for an Italian dinner I was whipping up. The same employee recognized me and asked how I was doing. I told him that I was doing well and reiterated how much I appreciated his help a few weeks back. He smiled and told me that if I liked that bottle I should try his favorite Pinot Noir.

Great, I thought as he started to ring up my purchase, an upsell. “How much is it?” I asked, expecting it to greatly surpass my still college-like budget for alcohol.

“Only $12,” he responded. He continued to tell me about the wine and how it actually just made the top 100 list.

Again, I couldn’t believe it. He was recommending a product that was cheaper than my last purchase. Here was an employee who was taking my needs, my price point, and my preferences into consideration. What a concept.

He then double bagged the bottle of wine that I purchased and with a smile said, “Just in case.”

I still haven’t tried the Pinot Noir he recommended, but my boyfriend and I have continued to purchase from this wine shop. But I will definitely go back and buy that Pinot Noir from the kindest little wine shop in all of Manhattan.

What he did right:

1) He was understanding: All customers want in a sour situation is a little bit of empathy—and that’s exactly what I got. The employee could have easily forced me to fork over another $20 for a new bottle. Instead, he considered my situation and did what was best for the customer, and ultimately what was best for the business, and won my loyalty.

2) He remembered me: Not only did the employee remember me once (after I first dropped the bottle), but twice. I’ve been to restaurants where the hostess has forgotten me after five minutes. The fact that he remembered my business and my situation enough to double-bag my next wine bottle purchase made me feel like I was being viewed as a person, rather than just a sale.

3) He educated me but knew when to stop: Sometimes customers like to be educated on a business’s product, and sometimes they don’t. The key is being able to identify when enough is enough. Take cues from customers’ tone and body language. For instance, the first time I spoke to the employee I was in a rush, and told him that I just wanted to browse on my own after hearing his recommendation. He obliged and left me alone to roam the shelves. But when I returned the store two weeks later I was much more relaxed and willing to learn more about his latest recommendation.

4) He respected my price point and preferences: Knowing that I like red wine and had a less-than-$20 price point may seem like small details to some, but having the employee keep these nuances in mind made me feel valued. Had he tried to upsell me with a $60 bottle, I would have thought that he was more interested in my money and less interested in my level of satisfaction and loyalty.


The bad

I had a routine eye doctor appointment that same weekend my mother and brother came to visit. Since watching your daughter as she gets her eyes dilated isn’t exactly fun, my mom decided to walk around and do a bit of shopping.

After my appointment, my mom came back and told me that she walked past the cutest boutique just down the street and that it carried a bunch of items that she thought I would love. At first, I thought I should resist. Spring cleaning my closet was on my to-do list. But when she told me they had a $20 sales rack, I gave in.

We walked into the boutique and the employee working there seemed super excited that my mom had returned, especially considering we were the only customers in the store. The employee told me that the store was offering jeans for $50 and that its newer, more expensive inventory was towards the front. I thanked her for letting me know and told her that my mom and I were just interested in perusing the sales rack.

The woman seemed to want to join our mother-daughter outing because she followed us directly to the rack and stood there while we browsed through the clothes. It was so uncomfortable. The only time she did leave us alone was when she went to the front of the store to fetch more expensive items. She’d then return asking “What do you think of this one?” No matter how many times I told her that I wasn’t interested in looking at the new merchandise, she continued to bring more items. Strike one.

I then spotted a jacket on the sales rack that I thought was pretty cute, so I tried it on. It was definitely too big and my mom and I both knew it. However, the employee insisted that it looked great on me. Strike two.

Feeling totally smothered and like my needs weren’t being met, my mom and I decided to leave the store empty-handed. After we exited the store, I told my mother that I couldn’t believe how the sales associate was so pushy. My mother then informed me that when she first told the sales associate that she was going to come back and bring me after my eye doctor appointment, the sales appointment told her that she didn’t have to leave and that she should just text me pictures of the clothes instead. Telling my mother how to shop? Strike three.

What she did wrong:

1) She didn‘t put the customer first: Instead of focusing on my price point and my interest in the sales rack, the sales associate focused on her need: getting me to spend the most amount of money as possible. As a result, neither of us got what we wanted, and I was no longer surprised that her store was empty.

2) She didn‘t realize when she wasn‘t wanted: In today’s world, consumers are much more independent and much more knowledgeable. While the associate certainly could have told me about her new merchandise, she should have given us our space when I told her what my agenda was. A simple “I’ll be up at the front if you need anything,” would have been just fine. Instead, we felt completely smothered and uncomfortable.

3) She wasn‘t honest: When I tried on the jacket, it was very apparent that it was too big. But again, instead of focusing on my needs, the sales associate thought about her own agenda and insisted that the jacket looked great. This caused me to lose any remaining trust that I had with the sales associate and exit the boutique immediately. After all, if I can’t trust her to be honest about the fit of a jacket, how can I trust her with my credit card information?

4) She told the customer what to do: Marketers can always try to sway a customer’s behavior. But ultimately, the customer will behave how he or she wants. Telling my mother that she should text me pictures of the clothes she thought I would like after she said that she would come back was just out of line. That’s not trying to persuade someone; that’s outright telling them what to do. Just because a customer doesn’t immediately make a purchase, doesn’t mean that she’s gone for good. In this case, however, there’s no chance of winning me back.

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