How not to manage the customer experience

Manage the customer experience. It’s crucial to all businesses, regularly talked about, yet some companies still seem to struggle with the concept. For those that consistently get things wrong the impact must be massive. So how is it that some appear unaware, unwilling or unable to do anything about it, when others clearly do?

Seldom has the difference between good and bad customer service been highlighted more starkly to me than when I tried to find storage space last weekend. Two companies, offering a more or less identical service in a competitive marketplace, offered a wildly different customer experience, with all too predictable results.

Needing to ‘declutter’ my loft, I decided to look at local storage options. After a quick online search I reserved an 80sqft unit at my local branch of Shurgard. Even though I’d used competitors before the Shurgard branch was a couple of miles closer to me. All looked good when I received an email, providing my reservation number and stating the manager would call to confirm. Keen to get things started I started clearing the loft. I waited until the store was open and decided to call the manager, whose number had been supplied in the email, just to check all was ok before driving down. Alas the number didn’t connect me to the manager or anyone in the local office, instead it took me to (I assume) a central call centre.

On speaking to the customer service advisor things rapidly headed south. Apparently my reservation wasn’t on the system! “Not to worry”, he said, “I’ll take you through the booking now”. After repeating the same process I’d just been through half an hour before we finally got to the price, which I naively assumed would be the same. The quote however was £30 more than my confirmed online price! “So is that ok?” he chirped. “Why is that more than I have in my email and what about the £1 for the first 4 weeks offer” I asked? “I’ll come to the offer but are you ok with the price”? “No, it’s more than my reservation says.”

After a few rounds of getting nowhere fast I found out that he couldn’t (or wouldn’t) match my price, because my original quote had a 10% online discount applied. Apparently I’d have to go back online to get that price, despite having a reservation number. Eventually my inner Victor Meldrew took over, telling him not to bother and I’d go elsewhere.

So I went back to the internet and found storage rivals Big Yellow. I’d used them once before, but the store was about 3 miles further away. I entered my details and requested a quote for a 75sqft room and received a price. I checked a few details but almost immediately the manager at Big Yellow called. “Hello Mr Kavanagh I see you’ve requested a quote online but I wanted to call as I may be able to do you a better deal, as you’re a returning customer”.

To cut a very long story short he got me a unit at the right price. The returning customer discount he offered me was nice to have, but that wasn’t the clincher. I would have gone with them simply because they were interested, had called me immediately, and amazingly had a record of my online request. The experience was positive, helpful, easy, and the price was competitive. I booked there and then.

By early Saturday afternoon all my stuff from the loft was safely in storage. Hallelujah! Fast forward to late Sunday morning and I got a call from the Manager of the local Shurgard store asking if I still wanted my room reservation? I was dumbfounded. The reservation I made the day before, which subsequently couldn’t be found was now apparently on his system. “Too late. Rubbish service. Thanks. Goodbye” was the gist of the conversation.

So in 24 hours two totally contrasting customer experiences. Shurgard, who were a ‘shoe-in’, lost a sale and Big Yellow gained one. Was it the process, the systems, the different offers available online or the phone, or was the call centre guy trying to make the sale work for him? I’ve no idea, and nor, I suspect, do Shurgard. Either way, they messed up and if they want to compete they need to make changes. If you’re selling something as simple as storage space, your differentiation is location, security, access, price and customer experience. And if you fail on any of these there’s a problem! So when you have a sale and actively push a purchasing customer away, that’s ludicrous.

The experience confirmed my belief that understanding the customer journey at each touchpoint, and appreciating the customer experience is critical to any business. Having conflicting messages at different touchpoints is crazy. It’s all about understanding and measuring the experience and then acting on the evidence. How else can you improve and manage the customer experience?

And, as if to back it  up, guess which company asked me about my experience? That’s right, the one that showed interest!

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