One of the most important things a company can do for current and potential customers is set great expectations and then deliver on them. Expectation levels are driven in a couple of ways. Word-of-mouth from other customers (bad and good), social media (blogs, podcasts, reviews, ratings) and prior personal interactions.
I want to tell you a couple of stories about two notable companies who I recently dealt with and how they, in one case exceeded and in another disappointed my expectations.
Whole Foods is a nationally known, high-end, organic grocery store. In Cleveland, where I live, we have a shortage of great grocers. We have some good ones, but I've seen the greats. Wegman's is phenomenal and Central Market in Texas is also outstanding. Both of those chains have personal attention, awesome store setups, great prepared foods and everything else you need to get in and go home.
I was really stoked a year or so ago when Whole Foods started building a new store a couple of miles away from my house. I'd heard tons of praise heaped on them. Great stores, best revenue per foot of shelf space, yada yada yada. Well, let me tell you that my expectations were through the freaking roof. When that store opened I half expected Jesus himself to be pushing a cart down the aisle (I'm only half kidding). I had already prepared a model of the store based on my past experiences at great grocers.
Opening day came and my wife and I fought the HUGE crowd. We started in produce. Produce looked great, lots of selection, nice colors and just a little more pricey than my local options. As me moved on, however, I became at first irritated and then enraged. Not only do they mostly stock mostly "indi" products that cost 2-3 times what they should, but they don't stock everything you need. The store here is very small, the aisles are crowded, there is nobody around to help you out and the prepared foods area was a disaster.
I thought, ok...this is opening day, I'll wait a month. I waited a month and went on a weekday. Same issues. Poor selection, lots of things out of stock, messy displays, lack of help, prepared foods a mess. Then once I left I had to go to another place to finish my list. *sigh*
So, when people ask me about Whole Foods now, I tell them about my experience and send them to a, in my opinion, better grocer that still carries the indi stuff as well as the organic, but who has everything else too. Where are the expectations now? In the basement, possibly even below that. I may never give them a chance for my business again.
My other experience was quite the opposite. A couple of weeks ago friends of ours got married in a small town outside Columbus, Ohio. As we were driving to Columbus on Thursday night my wife turned and asked me, "So what are you wearing to the rehearsal dinner tomorrow?". I said, "The usual, nice jeans, buttondown shirt and a jacket." Well...you would have thought I said I was going naked. "You can't wear that, people will be in suits!" she said (mind you there was somebody in shorts and my outfit would have looked very nice).
Needless to say on Friday morning I was driving to Columbus to try to get a nice dress outfit for that night's dinner. If you were in the same situation where would you go? Immediately Nordstrom came to mind. I've heard the stories about gift wrapping, taking returns that people bought other places and I've had good personal interactions there before.
I walked into the men's section and was greeted by three sales clerks. I told them my problem and they leapt into action. One started pulling pants for me to try and the others began pulling shirts. I told them my timeframe and my concern that everything they sell needs to be hemmed. "No problem, I'll call the tailor now" he said. I found the pants I liked and the tailor was there before I left the dressing room. She measured me and told me "I'll have this back in half-an-hour." I was amazed. Usually places make you come back DAYS later and here she said 30 minutes.
I went back to the floor and picked the shirt I wanted and he told me to check back in about 20 minutes. I walked around the mall for 20 and when I returned the shirt and pants were in a garment bag, both pressed out and ready to go. That's what I call service. I got a lot of compliments that night on my ensemble and I owe it to the Nordies. There is even a book about Norstrom's customer service.
Here are a couple of takeaways. Setting high expectations is great, but you better be able to back them up. One single bad experience can lead to a single lost sale. Multiple bad experiences can lead to exponential lost sales. The power of social media, like this blog, is being able to publish opinion quickly. So quickly, in fact, that companies who are not constantly monitoring the space can be done in. Here is what is already being said about each company in blogs, Nordstrom | Whole Foods.
How do you as a company make sure that your experience is at or above your customer's expectations? This applies to the web as well. Is your web experience in line with your offline?
marketing, interactive marketing, user generated content, Techno//Marketer, Matt Dickman, experience design, Nordstrom, Whole Foods