Have you disappointed your Customer?

My husband and I attended three holiday events this weekend that featured lots of lights.  One was sponsored by my former employer, the Denver Botanic Gardens.  Usually, Blossoms of Light is more spectacular than the year before–employing artistry and creativity, and has at least one or two “Wow!” displays along the Gardens’ magical trail. 

This year, the strings of lights were draped like we as homeowners would drape garlands, rather than the artistic and meticulously-placed lights outlining trees and bushes, creating a botanical wonderland.  Having been in charge of this event a decade ago, I know how laborious the display is and how many volunteers, staff and vendors it takes to create something new each year.  Yet I, along with many others, have come to expect the annual ratcheting up of “Wow!” moments, because the Botanic Gardens usually delivers magic each year.   Not this year.

Have you done the same to your customers?  Have you inadvertently let down your customers’ expectations of increasingly better products and experiences?  Companies like Apple and Nike are successful because they rarely disappoint their loyalists with mediocre experiences–regardless of how good the excuses are.

Here are a few suggestions on what you might do to keep your winning streak going:

1) First, you have to know if your customers are dis-satisfied   Are you surveying your customers after their purchase or service experience?  Every time I get my Toyota serviced at a dealer, I’m barraged with follow-up phone and email surveys.  A simple survey or call can let you know that things aren’t going well.  Similarly, tracking Facebook and twitter comments or in-house customer service comments can tell you what reaction you’re getting from your customers. 

2. Damage Control   There are always unexpected reactions or mitigating factors in any brand experience.  If you can pinpoint these quickly and reach out to your consumers, it’s likely they’ll understand and not spread negative word-of-mouth.  The platinum case study on this was the Tylenol recall as a result of a still unsolved series of poisonings in Chicago.  Johnson & Johnson acted quickly and withdrew their product from all shelves nationally; not knowing if the cause was their own manufacturing, tampering or just a hoax.  Hopefully, you don’t have such a dramatic incident, but we can all learn that quick actions, honest explanations and apologies go a long way in keeping your loyalists as true brand advocates.

3. Engagement  If no one is talking online or you’re not getting feedback from your surveys, engage your customers.  Posting a volunteer at the exit of the light display, asking some key questions, would have determined if visitors were pleased or not with the experience.  Do you have an email list?  How about engaging a few (or all) of your brand advocates to measure their reaction? 

4. Gauge your customer’s reaction before you launch  This is always the ideal situation, but doesn’t always happen.  If “throwing something against the wall to see if it sticks” will damage your brand, then be preemptive and do a poll internally or with selected customers.  If the reaction is lukewarm, you’re not going to delight the audience and any marketing relying on word-of-mouth will sink your efforts.

Your competition has already abandoned the old, conventional wisdom of waiting for the sales numbers.  If you’re not continuously delighting your customers, they’ll go elsewhere–and tell their friends how disappointed they are in your product, too. 

Photo from a previous Blossoms of Light–when all was magical.


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    1. Anne Henderson
      Posted December 10, 2010 at 10:27 am | Permalink

      Do you remember the year (or maybe it was a few years) when Conoco did a promotion with the Botanic Gardens & Zoo Lights? I think it was something along the lines of buy your tickets at Conoco and get “snowflake glasses” that made all of the lights look like snowflakes. It turned a tour that was only slightly different from the year before into something completely new and fun. I was raving about that experience to some of my coworkers in Oregon earlier this week. That’s such a good example of being really creative with new technology & a sponsor tie-in. Surely there’s something new and fabulous to consider for next year.

    2. Posted December 13, 2010 at 9:00 am | Permalink

      Anne, Thanks so much for reminding me of the great innovation that elevated Blossoms of Light a few years ago. Yes, it’s not always possible to make improvements in design or operational issues, so we should look to technology or other areas to improve a customer’s experience. There are many ways to delight a returning patron.

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