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How to avoid un-wow moments with customers

Customer service pitfalls that un-wow and de-amaze

Customer loyalty can do a 180 in the blink of the eye. Avoid these brand pitfalls, and keep your loyalists coming back for more.

Brian Ladyman | August 6, 2015

Earlier this year, I wrote an article on two surprisingly obvious ways to wow your customers. This article is its antithesis. Like last time, I shot a note out to a distribution list. Unlike last time, I asked for un-wow moments. Like before, a few themes emerged.

But first, an observation.

People can turn from lovers to haters fast. Like really fast. In fact, make one wrong move with a loyal customer and their negative social sentiment can take much more of a toll than somebody who was more ambivalent in the first place. Take this recent Facebook post from a friend of mine who has 1,100+ FB friends.

“Wow @AIRLINENAME FLIGHT#. My wife needed water for medication before takeoff and 3 crew members said no? Soon to be ex-LOYALTYPROGRAMNAME.”

Whatever the reason, FAA rule or otherwise, this one wrong move has my friend ready to leave the brand—a brand that he has flown week after week for years. One I've also flown, and think is awesome. This was a particularly vivid example for me, but it’s not unique to the airline industry: I see the same willingness to easily leave a brand for just one wrong move in other instances, too.

So be careful out there, brands. Make sure that your front-liners are prepared to live and breathe the brand—in all interactions—and that they are really putting themselves in your customers' shoes.

Now, back to those two themes that emerged on why people leave a brand.

Lack of political or social alignment

It was interesting to see how many examples came back related to political and/or social stances. Here are a few highlights:

  • Fast food company: I don’t want my money contributing to a lobby that is working against my personal beliefs and what I think is progress in this country.
  • Workout clothing retailer: A number of reasons, but mostly the guy who owns the company is a jerk, and also a bit racist and ignorant and nothing about their brand is zen like they’d make you believe.
  • Retailer: I abandoned this brand (which started out awesome and ethical) because the owner has been accused of sexual misconduct toward his employees, and I believe it!
  • Retailer: I won’t shop there. It’s a combination of how they treat their people and the horrible in-store experience. If it was more like Target, I’d probably go.

Poor product quality or customer service experience

These aren’t unexpected reasons to leave a brand, but I find it interesting that people remember such detail and how strong their anti-brand sentiment remains over time.

  • Car rental company: Get to Hawaii, paid extra to skip the line, yet no one is staffed at the VIP counter, so have to wait in line for 45 minutes with people who do not have reservations. Finally get rental car, which is dented and scratched and dirty. Request another rental car, but employee refuses my request. During the first day, the brakes start squealing and don’t stop for the rest of the two-week trip, annoying my friends and girlfriend. Company is unwilling to do anything, and lost my business for life.
  • Cable company: My parents put their cable service on hold when they moved, yet the cable company continued charging them. A call to the company ended in frustration and anger, because it took three people to remove the charges. My parents switched to Dish, even though it doesn’t have the same programming, just so they didn’t have to deal with the cable company anymore.
  • Retailer: I bought patio furniture from this retailer four years ago, and I'll never shop there again. The cushions started to disintegrate, and the sun umbrella cover was destroyed—by sun. The retailer wouldn't stand behind anything. They said that it wasn’t their product and I could take it up with the manufacturer. They betrayed their core value as a brand that makes good on its merchandise when quality or defects emerge.
  • Airline: I received a text message with rebooking info … more than 24 hours after my flight cancellation. I’ve had other issues with them too, and I’m now convinced they’re the worst. I would book with anyone else unless I had no alternative.
  • Cable company: If I have a choice in the future, I'll avoid this cable company. Not because the product is bad, but because if/when there is any issue, their customer service folks are such a horrible combination of uninformed and unempowered that they genuinely waste my time.
  • Insurance company: I enrolled in online bill pay for my multiple policies, but didn’t pay attention to the bills. My account was flagged as non-compliant by my mortgage company, and I was charged for PMI. The insurance company never alerted me that I was grossly over-paying on one policy and not paying at all on the other. When I asked them to reinstate and fix the situation, they did nothing. I had been a customer for over ten years prior to pulling my home, auto, and personal policies. They called six months later trying to make it right—six months. I will never recommend them—in fact, I make a point to tell people never to use them.

So, what's it all mean?

Be careful out there—especially with your most loyal customers. Like in love, those with the most passion for you can quickly become your worst nightmare. (Think: Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction.)

Brian Ladyman

Brian Ladyman is the managing director of Slalom’s Customer Engagement and Experience Design teams in Seattle. He has over 20 years of marketing and sales experience, including leadership roles at PeopleSoft, Oracle, A.T. Kearney, and McCann Worldgroup. Ladyman is all about trying to help Slalom’s clients really understand their customers (what’s going to wow them?), determine the right strategies based on that understanding, and figure out how to practically make it happen. Follow Ladyman on LinkedIn.


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