Just the title alone makes you cringe, doesn’t it? Are you already scared for the poor associates that have to endure a customer who refers to himself as a customer experience connoisseur? I, too, feel for some of the customer experience associates that have to deal with me but I promise that my intentions are good and that I am single handedly trying to raise the level of customer experience for everyone, everywhere! In this blog I left out the names of people and places to protect the brands and individuals I encountered in some recent and ill-fated retail encounters. There are some big opportunities to deliver a better customer experience by organizations that want your loyalty. My loyalty needs to be earned and yours should, too!

A few weeks back I was aimlessly wandering through an outdoor mall with my wife on a beautiful day in Southwest Florida when I remembered I needed a new navy blue sport coat and some dress shirts. I have grown too big for my current blazer and not yet big enough for the old one hanging in my closet.  I needed a new “between sizes” sport coat for work.  Anyway, my wife decided to go shoe shopping so I figured I had 15 to 20 minutes, tops, to get a new jacket.  I quickly went into a mid-level men’s clothing store that operates as part of a national chain.  I was immediately greeted by an associate asking how she could help.  She mentioned she was new and might need to ask her manager a few questions along the way.  I let her know that I had about 15 minutes to shop and together, the manager and new associate made the experience personal, simple and truly pleasurable.  They made recommendations on designers that would fit me well and offered to have the necessary alterations done quickly. While I did not have time to pick out shirts during that visit, when I went back to pick-up the jacket, the manager remembered me by name, remembered that I still needed shirts and offered his help. Again, I did not have time to shirt shop so he quickly had me on my way with my new merchandise. Within a week of the transaction, I received a phone call from the same manager making sure I was happy with my purchase and he invited me to come back any time to pick out the much-needed shirts.  The friendly service and knowledgeable staff gained them a new, happy, would-be loyal customer.

Prompted by the manager’s follow-up phone call, I stopped into a different location of the same store to pick up some shirts as I had some spare time but was not anywhere near the location where I purchased my new sport coat. A young woman quickly offered help, but no sooner had turned her back and left to chitchat with a coworker in another part of the store.  While I browsed on my own, another sales associate came by and offered help, as I explained to her what I was looking for she excused herself and said she would be right back. Have you seen her? Because I never did again. Sales associate #3 made an appearance to ask what I was looking for, I think he was the manager.  “A white French cuff 15 ½/32,” I said.  He lazily pointed in the direction of where I might find my size amongst a pile of 100 shirts as he said “if we have any they’d be over there.” I did spend a minute of two rifling through the pile but left without buying anything. The aloof service and unhelpful staff was dramatically different from the other store location and completely eroded the loyalty that the first store had started to build with me just a week before. The inconsistency of the store experience had changed my perception of the entire company. I am still debating if I will go back or not, but it is possible that one bad apple can indeed spoil the whole bunch.

I was a little more optimistic when a catalogue from a high-end clothing store that my wife loves came in the mail. I have fallen into a pattern of buying their dresses for my wife for special occasions and I wanted to get her one for her upcoming birthday. I grabbed the catalog out of the mail and put sticky notes on the dresses I was interested in. On that Saturday morning I made my way to the store near me in Naples, Florida.  I showed the store manager the four items that had caught my eye in the catalogue. They had none of the items in stock and she explained to me that “Naples is not a flagship store so we don’t get the good stuff here.” Of course, she offered to order the items into the store so my wife could come in to try them on. While I thought her explanation for the lack of inventory was poorly stated, I appreciated the offer to bring in the merchandise, right?  Wrong. She went on to explain that I would have to pay in advance for the four dresses they were ordering to the store! “Wait a minute”, I said, “Let me get this right, you sent me, a loyal customer, a catalog advertising your new spring line. I liked what I saw and I came in to purchase a piece for my wife. You have none of the inventory that you are advertising and now you want me to pay for you to have four pieces of your merchandise shipped to your store?” Her reply was a quick and frankly curt “that’s our policy.” “Really?” I asked, I had purchased from their store in Michigan when we lived there and that was not their policy at that store, the store manager ordered whatever they didn’t have and my wife selected what she wanted, if anything. It wasn’t like the merchandise was coming to my home, like I might hide it or steal it! It was going to their store.  Again she stated that was their policy and I left empty handed as there was no way that I was paying this company to have their own inventory in stock.  I located and called the regional manager. She said that, indeed, it was their policy but for loyal customers or when none of a customer’s selections were in stock, that the manager has the flexibility to bend the rules and that she would talk to the manager in Naples. It appears the Naples, Florida managers either didn’t know that or didn’t choose to be flexible. In any event, that was the end of that. My wife had a wonderful time opening my gift, which was purchased from one of that brand’s competitors.

A few months later while traveling with my wife, we came across another location of this (now infamous in my mind) dress store while spending the weekend in Charleston, SC and decided to give them one more chance.  This time, at this location, the sales associate made us feel at home right away. I’m talking champagne and chocolate style. She asked my wife all the right questions, “what is the occasion you want the dress for? What other dresses from the brand do you own? What do you like about the fit? What are your preferences in color and length?” She returned with a few pieces that were perfect in style, but they did not have the right size. My wife selected one of the dresses and the sales associate had the correct size shipped to our house a few days later. This associate provided a customer experience that reflected the brand and made us feel like we were valued customers. She was fantastic in every way, my loyalty meter was once again running high for this classic brand.

The problem arose back at the original location in Naples on a visit to have alterations made to the zipper, which was not lying flat on the dress. Well, it took three separate visits to get the alterations right. I was with my wife on her second visit. When she tried on the dress after the second round of alterations the zipper once again stuck out dramatically. At this point the associate explained to my wife that all the zippers on their dresses poke out of the bottom, “look, my dress does it too.”  Seriously? Did she really just try and tell us that the zippers in all of their dresses were that way? I did not remain quiet as I know a thing or two about the construction of garments. I actually grew up in the garment business, my father and mother were clothing designers and manufacturers so you can’t tell me that a designer dress by an iconic brand that I have shopped for years is supposed to have a zipper that pokes out from the bottom like a monkey tail. I let the associate know that the zipper is not meant to stick out and that the dress was not acceptable in this condition.  The associate would not even respond to me. I explained to her that while I would not be wearing the dress I am actually her customer, I buy their dresses as gifts for my wife on special occasions. In fact, my wife has never bought anything from them.  She was rude and dismissive but know that dress was not leaving the store in that condition. On the 3rd attempt, the zipper lay flat and the dress looked great. However, the manager and team members in this location were so unfriendly and unaccommodating during our combined four visits to that location that they ruined the experience of that entire brand for me and my wife. That brand has not only lost our loyalty but our business, we’re done for real, this time!

The fact is, multi-unit stores carry the same products. The difference is in the service, the personnel, the experience they’re able to deliver. Managers are the key here.  They should embody the character the brand wants to exhibit and coach their employees to do the same.  They are the link between the vision of how the brand should be perceived and what actually happens at the front line (on the store floor). You can find nice dresses and dress shirts just about anywhere, the world has no shortage of retailers, it is the experience that keeps people coming back.

There are opportunities every day, with every touch, to win and lose customers. Which one are you doing?  Have you had a really great or really awful experience lately?

June 23, 2015


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