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‘It takes 12 positive experiences to make up for one unresolved negative experience.’ 

So writes Ruby Newell-Legner in ‘Understanding Customers’.

Well, I had a negative customer experience today.

There were two particularly frustrating things about it, which I want to examine later in this post:

  • The negative experience could so easily have been avoided, without any significant expense.
  • The service representative probably didn’t even know my experience was negative.

Here’s what happened:

I took my car in to be serviced.  There was space to park it.  I was greeted politely by a representative in neat shirt and tie – let’s call him Fred.  Fred checked what time I wanted the car ready, discussed politely that it would probably take half an hour longer – I thought that was fair since I’d shown up late for my booked time.  I could have had a courtesy lift to the nearest town centre, but I wanted to get some work done so I was shown to the onsite waiting room with coffee and WIFI access.  My car was serviced and available for me in the timeframe expected.  I paid, Fred walked me out to my car, gave me the key and said goodbye.  The car had also been washed and vacuumed.

So why was this a negative customer experience?

Let’s recap with a little more detail, starting from with my options for while the car was being serviced.  The conversation went something like:

Me – ‘What I’d like is the nearest place I can get a cup of tea and sit and work on my laptop.

Fred: ‘That would be right here,  We’ve got a coffee machine,  you can use one of the booths to set up your laptop, AND we’ve got WIFI.’

Me: ‘Great, thanks.’

So I picked a booth, plugged in my laptop and went off to get my cuppa while it fired up.  I found the coffee machine.  I found the cups.  I found milk in a fridge.  I found sugar and stirrers.  I couldn’t find any tea bags.  Eventually I went to the service desk:

‘I’m sorry, it’s really dumb, but I can’t find the teabags.’

‘Oh, we don’t have tea.  We have coffee, but no tea.’

Now this is not good.  I’m British.  I’ve spent significant parts of my life in Bangladesh, China and Japan.  I don’t do coffee.  I do tea.

I made the best of a bad job (and a cappuccino with lots of sugar to tone down the coffee!) and settled back into my booth to work.  I found the network and entered the user name and password printed on a paper in the booth.  Login error.  I tried a couple more times – when I’m running late and I haven’t had my customary tea my typing can be a bit erratic – but still no luck.  Login error.

There was another customer a couple of booths away using a laptop.  I leaned over.

‘Excuse me, are you using their WIFI?’

‘No, I’m on my Telstra connection.  I didn’t know they had WIFI.’

I went back to the service desk.  There was a line three deep of people handing their cars in for service.  I figured it wasn’t worth the wait to ask about WIFI.  I went back to my cubicle and got out my Optus dongle and connected using that.

Sometime later, the other customer asked, ‘Did you get the WIFI working?’

‘No, I’m using my Optus connection, but it keeps dropping out.’  (Let’s not discuss telecoms and service!  Not today!)

I decided on another trip to the service desk.  This time there was no queue.  I told Fred about my problems with the WIFI and he came back to the cubicle with me and watched me go through the logon process again.

‘No space,’ he said, as I typed the user name ‘service guest’.  I must have looked confused, because he repeated, ‘No space’ and pointed to a piece of paper on the TV table.  It was a duplicate of the one from my booth with details of user name and password – except that on his piece of paper someone had handwritten ‘no space’ with an arrow pointing to the gap between the words ‘service’ and ‘guest’.

I picked up the paper I had found in my booth and angled it so that we could both see it.  Fred didn’t say anything.  I input the user name without a space and logged in successfully.  I took my pen and wrote on the offending piece of paper ‘no space!’ with an arrow.  Fred went back to the service desk.  I worked until my car was ready.

* * *

So there you have it.  My bad customer experience.  Nothing compared to some of the terrible things that are happening around the world today, of course, but it had an impact on me.  Enough to drive a blog post.

So let’s look at those two points I raised at the beginning:

The negative customer experience could so easily have been avoided, without any significant expense.

Firstly, how difficult is it to offer a choice of tea or coffee when you’re providing complimentary drinks to waiting customers?

Secondly, even if the company can’t afford a kettle and some teabags, couldn’t Fred have handled this better?  If only he had listened carefully when I told him what I wanted!

‘What I’d like is the nearest place I can get a cup of tea and sit and work on my laptop.

If only he hadn’t raised my expectations and then dashed them.

If only he’d said something like, ‘I can do you coffee and WIFI here, but I don’t have any tea.  The café across the road has tea, but no WIFI.  Or you could get a takeaway from them and bring it back here.’  Then I’d have had a good customer experience.

Or he could have said, ‘I’m really sorry, the machine only does coffee, not tea.  If you can wait till I’ve looked after these people in line I can rustle some tea up from the staff kitchen though.’  That would have turned me into a raving fan!

Thirdly, how difficult is it to provide accurate information to customers?

Look at the WIFI failure points in this story:

  • the username was incorrectly printed in the first place
  • even though one piece of paper had been corrected, the other one hadn’t
  • even when I pointed out that my paper was incorrect, Fred made no move to amend it – instead it was left to me to note ‘no space’ on it
  • the other customer wasn’t even aware there was WIFI available.  What’s the point of having a service if your customers don’t know about it?

Finally, how difficult is it simple to say ‘sorry’?

Fred didn’t.  Not once.  He simply stated the facts of how things were.  Yes, he was polite.  Yes, he was attentive – except when with other customers, which is fine.  But he wasn’t empathetic.  Or proactive.

The service representative probably didn’t even know my experience was negative.

I didn’t tell him.  But you know what?  I’m not alone in that.  According to Harris Interactive’s 2011 Customer Experience Impact Report:,

only about 4% of dissatisfied customers complain.  96% just go away. 

Fred didn’t ask how I was feeling.  Even though I went up to the service desk at least twice with problems, even though he was polite, nothing he said or did suggested any empathy with me.

My overwhelming impression is that he worked through a process, to a formula.  That he addressed ‘a customer’, not ‘me, this particular customer standing here right now’.  He ticked boxes for proper dress standard, politeness, checking timelines, walking me to my car – but he never really engaged with me.

* * *

Why does customer experience matter?

Marketing Metrics calculate that the probability of selling to an existing customer is 60-70%, far higher than the 5-20% chance you have of selling to a new one.

Research by Bain and Company shows a 5% increase in customer retention can increase profitability by up to 125%.

Looking after your existing customers is key.  Every positive customer experience is a stepping stone towards profitability.

And totally separate from all those good practical business reasons, isn’t it a great feeling when you make someone happy?  That’s what a good customer experience does, after all!

* * *
If you still wonder why customer experience matters, check here.