Time for Some (Customer) Relationship Counseling

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Time for Some (Customer) Relationship Counseling

by David Ham August 1, 2022

Five years ago, I wrote a blog that asked, Is This a ‘Hook-Up’ or a Long-Term Relationship? The post was inspired by a customer experience so bad that it became a deal-breaker. And I never even had the closure of being able to inform the organization exactly why I was leaving them because they only collected transactional feedback. My final encounter with their services was so frustrating that it didn’t end with an actual purchase. They had no mechanism to gauge the overall customer experience. So, when they let me down, they just ghosted me. As far as they knew, they’d only ever provided me with 5-star service because my previous transactions had been fine. Even after all these years, I still haven’t returned to that company.

This seeming lack of interest in fostering effective, open communication leaves the consumer very unsatisfied and businesses confused as to why apparently satisfied customers abandon them. And the disconnect is only getting worse, it seems. The American Customer Satisfaction Index recently reported that satisfaction is at its lowest level in 17 years.

A conversation with a family member of mine made me feel like I needed to address customer relationship issues once again. It is another example of how companies are focused only on the immediate transaction without thinking about the long term.

This relative told me that she’s been in the market for a certain household product. She’d also brought this up with a friend, who later found the item on sale at a well-known national retailer. The friend sent along a photo of the signage promising $30 savings.

My relative tried to order the item online, but the website offered no such discount. That was fine, she knew that what you see online doesn’t always reflect what you get in-store. She visited the nearest brick-and-mortar location of the store. Still no match for what her friend had shown her. She brought the item and the photographic evidence of the discount to the customer service desk. As a card-carrying member of the loyalty program, she felt that she and the retailer had a nice, long-term thing going. She thought they could talk through the issue to resolve it. She was wrong.

At the desk, the employee explained that they’d price match competitor and online prices, but not against other locations of their own stores. The employee helpfully suggested that my relative either make the 50-mile round trip to buy the item from the other location (how does that fit with their corporate communications trumpeting their commitment to the environment?) or just buy it then for the full price. She came home emptyhanded and frustrated by a policy that is clearly not customer focused.

I wanted to make sense of this story, so I went to the retailer’s website and read through their price match policy rules and FAQs. There were about 1,500 words, and that is way too many. And even after wading through all of that, I couldn’t find anything that really described my relative’s situation. Just reading it felt like a bad customer experience, and I wasn’t even the one trying to buy something. The retailer’s overly convoluted customer policies are just another instance of poor corporate communication skills. When policies are hard to understand, it signals to the customer that they’re not cared for, which doesn’t encourage a long-term relationship.

As a CX practitioner, I’m tired of commitment-phobic organizations. It’s frustrating to see retailers have no process in place to capture feedback about the overall relationship. They miss not only the loss of the individual sales opportunity, but also the likely loss of future sales from the individual customer and all the friends they tell. This retailer’s loyalty program will show that a customer is spending less money with them, but it will never tell them how and why treating their customer like a no-strings-attached hookup drove them away.

I found a comparable product to the one my relative wanted from an online competitor to this retailer for about $10 more than the sale price the friend had found. Factoring in the value of gas and time that would be sacrificed in getting the item from the other brick-and-mortar location, she was more than willing to settle.

Customer experience measurement is trapped in the hookup mentality. Individual transactions are evaluated as if they exist entirely independently of one another. The customer and the business come together for a bit and then go their separate ways. Hopefully, the customer keeps coming back. But individual experiences don’t exist in a vacuum. They coalesce into an overall relationship… and sometimes an enduring aversion. When it does turn out to be a one-off, or a short-lived fling, the business might never know what they did wrong. They’re left wondering what they might have done differently to hold on to the customer that got away.

CFI Group uses the ACSI methodology because it’s not like the other CX measurement programs. We don’t just ask about the most recent transaction; we take the sum of all the customers’ experiences into account and drill down into their feelings. No matter the nature of the relationship, people like to know that their feelings matter. CFI Group is here to help the retailers and organizations who want to stop messing around so they can keep their customers satisfied for a long time.

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