I’ve had a theory for a long time that the majority of people want quality products and great customer service more so than a good cheap deal. Don’t get me wrong, people like value for money, but not at the cost of a shoddy experience.
I think you can take Ryanair as a good case-in-point, whereby some people still want great customer service after paying peanuts. For people who are more realistic, it’s worth paying that little bit more for a better experience. After all, our time and how we feel, are the most important things for many people.
Even in the 'olden days' at Kelkoo, I always saw that nearly 70% of people used to click on the retailer that had the best price but was from a well known brand they trusted and had heard of before, rather than purely the one with the cheapest offer.
Even now I imagine this is still the case, with one exception: being a known name is not enough on its own, and the experiences that customer has had with that brand in terms of customer service and delivery times are a big factor.
The good experiences...
Take an experience I had with John Lewis (high street), after I bought a Weber BBQ from them one day and had it delivered a few days later. While assembling it, I found that a few of the holes were missing when trying to fit the lid and decided to call John Lewis to ask about it. A little while later I was speaking to their home and garden specialist who identified the issue as being a mistake in the Weber factory, offered to liaise with them on my behalf, and ended up sending Weber’s own roving repair guy round to my house personally to replace it. Now that’s service.
My wife also wanted me to mention how good an experience she had at the Kingston branch of John Lewis over the weekend when she was with my five month old son and her friend plus her six month old daughter. While waiting in the canteen, a member of staff offered to bring their food over to them on a tray and helped them find a table where they could safely park the pushchairs. It’s little touches like that which endear people to a brand.
We had similar experiences with Air Portugal, surprisingly enough, when flying back from Porto Airport was a pleasant experience as the staff ushered us to the front of queues with our pushchair and helped expedite the process of security clearance with our little one, and help make sure we were comfortable on the plane itself. Their customer service on the phone is shockingly bad, but I can forgive them that now.
Online, of course, there is no reason for this experience to be any different. In fact, you can argue that it should be even better as you’re missing the face to face contact. It goes without saying that Amazon really still continue to excel even as they have grown, although they haven’t done themselves any favours by using a different courier service during the Royal Mail strikes. Kiddicare has also been great when ordering things online, with a fairly decent website, and very prompt delivery times from my initial order.
Now onto the bad ones..
I like my sporty cars, nothing stupidly fast and impractical mind you, but cars with plenty of power and gadgetry. I had a SLK 55 AMG for many years until the alloys started to rust from the inside and develop a worrying bubbling effect on each wheel. I’d seen this happen to other Mercedes cars before and I asked the garage to fix it as it was obviously a fault with the manufacturing side of things.
Needless to say, Mercedes HQ officially refused to recognise the issue and pay for the £500 needed to sort it out, even with the garage pushing for a resolution. The outcome was that I told them where to go, promptly sold my car and bought an Audi RS4 instead, and I'm now an avid Audi fan. Mercedes has lost my lifetime custom over something so small.
I’ve also had issues with Mothercare when our pushchair base developed a fault with the brakes after three months. Now for some reason they are not very up-front with their returns policy when it comes to this. The 12 month warranty implies that any faults that develop would result in them being instantly fixed or you getting a replacement.
Not so, after many frustrating calls with their online support number, it turns out that they will send it away for three to four weeks for repairs, as well as to assess whether it is your fault, before deciding to charge you or not. In the meantime you get a grubby second hand pushchair that has been used many times before as a 'courtesy'.
Now, I don’t know about you, but no child of mine was going to be lumbered with that, and other parents are likely to feel the same. It took me 30 minutes of negotiation with an in-store manageress to get her to agree to replace the base unit with a brand new one.
This is a GPS tracking service which alerts you or the police by phone if any suspicious activity around the car is detected. Three months into my new annual contract I had to change car and asked them to cancel it and refund me the pro-rata difference.
They replied by saying it was an annual agreement and I’d have to live with it, even after I pointed out that their T’s and C’s didn’t specifically state that no refunds would be possible and by also failing to mention that they had a secret monthly plan which you had to ask about before being given that option.
To cut a long story short, they eventually refunded my money after speaking to their MD on the phone, their customer services director, and their PR company numerous times over a 4 week period. Finally, they stated that it was my post on Twitter that finally spurred them into action!
With these last two examples, my opinion of the brands remains neutral. Purely because they didn’t solve the problem right away and made me waste time and energy fighting them for a resolution. It’s almost like saying that if you’re not going to bother doing customer service properly then don’t do it at all.
In our real-time social world on Twitter, Facebook, and the Blogosphere, brands can’t afford to alienate even a few people, yet time and time again some continue to do so. As the old saying goes, 'it takes a lifetime to build a reputation and a second to destroy it'. If customers have a bad experience, they will share it online where other customers can read it.
Companies make mistakes because they are human and that’s understandable. What it really boils down to is how they go about fixing these mistakes and solving the customers problem. This makes the difference between retaining and losing customers.
It’s about how they make you feel and whether you feel like you will trust them again to sort out issues if and when they arise. After all, the company that does this will win my custom time and time again. The company that fails badly even once, will lose me forever!
If you want to compete in the retail world in any channel, then you better get this right, as I predict a future where everyone will be as fussy as I am.