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Shep Hyken: A Tale of Two Stores

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”  These are the opening words from the classic Charles Dickens novel A Tale of Two Cities.  Substitute the words times for the word stores and you have the beginning of a customer service nightmare.  One that loses customers, causes bad word-of-mouth comments from dissatisfied customers, and can ultimately kill a business.

Cathie, my sister-in-law who lives in Miami, FL, was sent a gift from Essie, her mother-in-law, who was vacationing in Palm Springs, CA.  Essie bought the gift from a national retail chain that has stores in just about every major city.  If Cathie didn’t like the gift, she could simply exchange it for something she liked, or so she thought.

Cathie went to return the gift, which happened to be a scarf, to the store in Miami.  She likes the merchandise and was sure to find something she would enjoy.  She was quite disappointed to find out that the store refused to exchange the item.  According to the manager, they didn’t accept any returns or exchanges on accessories, and this scarf was an accessory.  This was the company’s policy.  (There’s that word: policy.  I hate that word!)

Cathie pleaded with the manager to no avail.  She even offered to buy something of greater value, and the manager still wouldn’t exchange the item.  Not one to easily give up, Cathie went home and called the Palm Springs store where the manager gave her the opposite experience.  The manager did confirm that this was the company’s policy, but she also told Cathie that managers had the ability to be flexible in the right situations.  Obviously this was one of those “right situations.”

The manager apologized and asked Cathie to send the scarf back to her store.  A few days later she received a gift card and an extra “bonus” as a way of saying sorry for the inconvenience and to thank Cathie for her business.  And a few days after that the manager called Cathie, just to make sure she received the package.

Isn’t it amazing that the store in California was so helpful, and the store in Miami was the exact opposite?  This inconsistency does a tremendous amount of damage in various ways.

First, there is now a lack of confidence.  Cathie had shopped at that store before and liked it.  She might chalk this one up to a “one-off” bad experience, hopefully to never happen again.  However, if and when she does return to the store, there’s a pretty good chance that the sour taste of this most recent experience will linger for at least a few visits, if not more.  How many times will she go back to the store before the bad experience is a distant memory? – and that’s assuming there are no other bad customer service failures.

Second, if this was Cathie’s first time doing business with this store, do you think she would ever give the store a second chance and return?  Doubtful, unless she is a glutton for punishment.

So, here are a few thoughts about inconsistency.

1.      Inconsistency brings up this question: What’s normal?  A good experience or a bad one?

2.      Inconsistency, if it results in a bad experience, will lose customers.

3.      Inconsistency, if it’s a good experience, can create an unrealistic expectation for the next time.

4.      Inconsistency is corrosive. It erodes the brand.

5.      Inconsistency destroys customer confidence.

Be it multiple locations or numerous employees, the customer deserves a consistent customer service experience.  Anything less is unacceptable.  Give your customers confidence and they may reciprocate with repeat business.

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