Customer Experience – It’s All in the Details

Little things add up to a big impression for customers

When it comes to creating a brand building customer experience, the art is truly in the details. If you haven’t shopped your own business lately you might be surprised discover the subtle, unintentional messages you’re sending customers.

When these are positive, reinforcing your brand promise, adding value and creating equity, you’re in good shape. This is a sign your culture clearly aligns with strategy and operationally, your employees are  living your brand.

In other circumstances, these informal messages have negative consequences. They tell customers that there’s a disconnect between what you say and what you do. When this happens, what your business does will always leave the stronger impression on customers.

Here’s an example from the arts and crafts store, Hobby Lobby:

I was there a few weeks ago to purchase a picture frame for piece of art that I bought in Honduras. I wanted a rustic frame to match the folk art feel of my painting, so I chose a frame made of rough-hewn wood. As I was comparing  frames to select the one with the natural characteristics I preferred, I noticed that there were two different prices for the exact same frame.

The frame that I wanted to buy was marked $21.99. Another just like it was priced $16.99. Having worked in retail myself, I knew this was simply an error.  Clearly at some point in the recent past they had increased the price for the frames and failed to reprice the older merchandise.

Hobby-Lobby-customer-experience-frameI took both frames to the register and showed the cashier the distinction. My assumption was that Hobby Lobby would honor the lower price. I was wrong.

Given that Hobby Lobby positions itself as a faith-based business, I didn’t think there would be any issue with them doing the right thing. They post their biblical values right on their website. Like Chick-fil-A, they close on Sundays to allow employees and their families to time together to worship. And they carry a lot of religious  merchandise to appeal to their target customers.

In spite of this, I was in for a surprise. When I asked about the different prices on the frame, the cashier turned to a supervisor and asked what to do. The response was that the price that was higher was the price they were charging.

Rather than acknowledging that there was a mistake and doing the right thing (honoring the lower price), the cashier tried to justify the error. She tried to point out issues with the lower price frame, “Oh, there’s a little nick here, and scratch there…that’s why the price is lower.”

Of course, this was irrelevant because the wood was raw and unfinished. By design, its natural characteristics varied considerably from piece to piece. It was plain to see the lower priced frame was not a markdown for damaged goods, but that didn’t stop the staff from trying to convince me that I, the customer, was wrong.

I really loved the frame, so I went ahead and paid for the higher-priced one that I had selected. But as I left the store I couldn’t help feeling like I had been taking advantage of. It colored my perception of the brand, and will certainly influence me decisions about whether to shop there in the future.

In this case, the simple operational error of someone not properly checking the prices of merchandise when they stocked the floor turned into a branding and relationship problem because of the way it was handled.

Was it worth the extra $5 in revenue for Hobby Lobby to potentially lose a long-term customer? Would it be worth it to you? Let’s look at the math:

Hobby Lobby has 573 stores. If just one customer a day unhappily spends an extra $5 in each store, they’ll make nearly $900K a year in incremental revenue from about 175,000 customers.  How much would those same people spend as loyal, repeat customers? If they shop just 4 times a year and make an average purchase of $25, that’s $17,500,000 in revenue lost by burning bridges!

Hobby Lobby won’t likely go out of business because they charged me an extra five bucks for a picture frame. They’re missing growth opportunities, for sure, but this is not really about Hobby Lobby. They’re just a convenient example.

Events like this happen every day in businesses across the country. They erode customer relationships and subtly chip away at the hard work and huge financial investments firms make in building their business. No matter how much money you invest to get your brand message into the marketplace, if you undermine these efforts with customer facing issues, you’re losing ROI.

This is why it is so important to listen carefully and observe customer interactions on a regular basis. Simple surveys won’t tell you what you really need to know. Whether you’re in retail, a local service business, or even a large B2B company, you need to shop your own business looking for detours in the customer journey.

Take the time to understand what happens at the moments of truth where relationships are made or broken, and fix what needs to be fixed. Addressing seemingly simply issues like I’ve described here can have a dramatic impact on your bottom line. Try it and you’ll see.

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