Faulty products and $450 fees have become the norm

Getting the basics right shouldn’t surprise and delight your customers, it should he at the very core of every marketing strategy

When was the last time a brand genuinely surprised and delighted you? Despite so many professing to be customer-centric, investing in technology and beavering away on elaborate customer experience strategies, sadly, this is an infrequent occurrence.

Every once in a very long while, a unicorn-like ‘kind’ gesture materialises and it’s as powerful as any advertising. But is it a case of a brand going the extra mile, or are we so used to average experiences, it merely seems like it is?

I recently came into contact with three brands that made me ask this very question. One of the brands surprised me in a way that made me devoutly loyal to them, another made me wince at their inefficiency and one made me so angry, I am boycotting them forever.

First to the brand that made me angry. I made an online purchase from a clothing retailer in the UK that took two weeks to arrive. When it finally did, it was faulty. This was an expensive item and I had major post-delivery dissonance. I emailed the company and was told I could go to the post office, buy a stamp out of my own pocket and send it back to them. Then they would assess whether it actually was faulty.

Angry and frustrated, I gave up and instead sewed up the garment. I have been wearing it, in fear of a major wardrobe malfunction, ever since. And now, when the brand in question springs to mind, I muse that the person sending those customer service emails was smirking all the way to the tea room. I will never make a purchase from them again and, as the urban myth states, I have warned many of my friends.

Next came the inefficient brand. A friend recently sold her apartment and after doing so, called the bank to see if she would have to pay a fee on the credit card, which came as part of her mortgage package.

A house sale is one of the highest churn points in the banking customer journey, with a large percentage of folks deciding to move on to new and shinier financial stables when they sell up. Regardless, the lady blithely told my friend she could expect a $450 fee. So, my friend skipped merrily off and changed banks.

This human contact was a gift to the brand. All the customer service person had to do to cement ongoing dollars was let the fee slide. This example shows human intervention and the ability to flex and adapt to a situation is crucial when it comes to interacting with your customers.

Despite these two tales of woe, some brands do get it right. I was shopping for a harness for my young and rather exuberant puppy when a US brand, Walk Your Dog With Love, came up on my Facebook feed. I made the purchase, but foolishly bought one for a 20lb dog, not a 20kg dog – upon arrival, I quickly realised my mistake.

Following the UK retailer experience, I prepared for a frustrating ordeal. To my surprise, the unimaginable happened. The customer service rep told me not to bother with a trip to the post office.

I was given a code to purchase the correct size, free of charge. And to further melt my softy, dog loving heart, she added that I should give the smaller harness to a friend or a local animal shelter.

This is an example of a brand with a genuine purpose. The people behind the business feel so strongly about dogs wearing the right collars and leads, they are ready to lose money and give product away to serve that purpose.

What’s most frustrating about comparing these experiences is not only did the first two brands fail to surprise and delight, they managed to fail at delivering the most basic requirements of decent customer service.

Should the brand that actually showed some care for its customer be held up as a shining example of customer experience best practice, or should that be the norm? I reckon it’s the latter. But to get us to that point, there are a lot of brands with a whole lot of work to do.

For starters, if you deliver an imperfect product, admit and rectify the mistake immediately without expecting the customer to go to great effort to sort it out. Calculate the “return on effort” for your customers and weigh up whether the damage it’s likely to do to your brand is worth it. Be cognizant of what you are asking customers to do. Removing friction points is a simple way to help restore brand love.

Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. When a customer gives you the opportunity to do good, take it; the smallest gestures often matter the most. To make the most of these moments, you need to empower staff to make choices.

Surprise and delight is a powerful tool if you’re looking to build genuine brand advocacy but the surprise shouldn’t be that you provided the most basic of customer service.

Lucy Acheson is the head of data strategy and customer experience at LIDA, part of the M&C Saatchi Group.