With the Gartner Applications and Solutions Summit under way in Las Vegas this week, my colleagues attending the summit will be delivering some important insight on customer experience strategies and how to deliver on that vision.
I have decided to take the time to write a personal tale of two very different recent customer experiences of my own at a J.Crew store, now whether you’re B2C or B2B , the moral of the story is the same “a customer’s experience is essential to delivering value and driving a continuous buying cycle, there should be no inconsistency with your brand’s customer experience message, this needs to be heard from the top of the company, all the way to the bottom”.
The context of the story is as follows, we all know Black Friday drives one of the busiest buying seasons of the year, e-commerce websites are overloaded with orders, cancellations, abandoned shopping carts,etc. In addition, returns and exchanges are common. I had an online order placed during that period in which the store had a 40-50% off sale for Black Friday. I received the purchase and tried the clothes on, on the fence about the fit, I decided to still take the sticker tags off and discard them. It was not until two days later my mind had leaned towards buyer’s remorse. I was in a J. Crew store further away from my house (about 20 miles) today for a separate reason without the item to return but decided to go in to ask if it was possible to do the return and exchange for another item if I came back later. Same apparel just a different fit which I already know would be more comfortable. In speaking to the manager it would be accepted and the 40-50% off sale would still be honored since it was purchased at that time. I was “WOWED” because that was the biggest reason why I stopped in to ask. I did not want to pay more for an exchange because I could not control the timing of the sale and waiting for the purchase to be delivered, to try on, and to find out I did not like the fit. I was delighted! Great Experience!
Once I had my item for return in hand, I would decide to do this at a J.Crew store closer to my house (less than 10 miles away) since I felt it’s the same brand and it shouldn’t be a problem right ? What could be the difference ? Wrong! I not only got the complete opposite but a completely disgusting attitude to go along with it, almost as if I had committed a crime. The reason primarily being that it is “no longer Black Friday and the online item is a different item number so we cannot apply that Black Friday sale to this one” (Duh ! I know that already Captain Obvious but it is the principal that my purchase timing is not my fault, now to miss out on a Black Friday deal because of improper fit?) I went home and I handled the situation by phoning in to their customer service department to complain about my experience with the specific store closer to my house. It just did not sit well with me that I am being inconvenienced to drive 20 miles out to be able to exchange the item and get the Black Friday deal. The agent made it right and did the price adjustment over the phone, and had my NEW order expedited for the SAME Black Friday deal price ! Wow ! Again a great experience! I asked the agent if I can just return my order to the nearby store (the one less than 10 miles away) since it becomes an inconvenience for me to drive 20 miles out of my way to get the experience I initially had, thinking this would just be a return and I received the affirmation that it would be fine to do that and my account was notated.
I went into the store where I had the bad experience to just do a return this time NOT an exchange, a different store associate started looking at the stitched tagging to make sure the item number matched. Now again, this is already making me uncomfortable because I already received an unpleasant reason why I could not do an exchange, only NOW to be told by the store associate that this item looked like “last year’s” item number? What ? What does that mean? Is she labeling me a liar? I clearly could not keep my cool, and asked for a manager and asked that they “stop giving me a hard time”. This store became a nightmare to deal with. Why would anyone shop here? I had so many thoughts running through my head. Was it my unshaven appearance? Was it wearing sweat pants in more of an upscale store in a well-off community? Should I feel a certain way because of someone’s perception? No matter what, customer’s big or small, purple or green, should be treated the SAME and CONSISTENTLY is the bottom line. In this case, I wanted my item returned and to never deal with the store again was the first thought. I wanted to exit this cycle specifically.
I phoned in two more complaints to the customer service department thereafter, specifically against the associate who made me feel like I am lying about my return item and proceeded to get in a verbal confrontation (Do not get confrontational with PAYING customers, that is the rule of thumb! It made me think, is this a CX approach from leadership? If not, the message is not being heard, that is clear!). I left my phone number and asked that I be called back by someone higher up. Let’s see if they deliver on this ask, after-all, it is about what the customer wants. I want to see if they LISTEN to their customers and take FEEDBACK which is what I did when I phoned in complaints. I want to highlight my experience to someone in leadership and to see if this type of negative experience is indeed coming from the top down. will they be empathetic? Will they hold accountable the store and those employees, to stay engaged and provide a great customer experience?
However, here are some questions that I started thinking about as I went through this:
- How could such a big brand have such an inconsistent customer experience approach? Why the disconnect?
- Is it really left to individual employees to dictate their OWN customer experience approach under such a big brand? This needs to come from leadership.
- Is it okay for sales associates to get confrontational with paying customers? Will they hold the employees accountable for providing such an experience?
- What message is this specific store closer to my house getting wrong that the other’s are getting right? Clearly leadership is trying to communicate this message but it apparently is not getting to everyone or is not being emphasized enough.
- Despite 2 or 3 positive experiences on this issue, should I stop shopping here COMPLETELY because of this 1 experience?
This is the problem, the message from the company’s vision at the top likely got lost in translation somewhere down the pipeline. Either the right communication effort is not being made from the top down, or some employees choose to ignore it. I shopped plenty of times at J. Crew online or at other physical stores, have usually received a great experience over the phone or in person and have always thought of them as having a good approach to CX. If anything, for this issue, I thought I would get a better experience in person than over the phone since that is usually what tends to happen with retail companies. This one experience has certainly soured my view, I definitely do not want to go back to THAT store again. Regardless, the Customer Experience strategy has to be continuously emphasized or otherwise it will fall on deaf ears.
I have never had an inconsistent experience in dealing with Amazon, for example, whenever I phoned in I would also get a similar answer and experience to some pretty basic questions. It is because brands like this are built with customer experience as a foundation. It was not until several years ago that companies started to shift to a more strategic customer experience approach to doing business. Usually, it does little for a company unless the company changes its roots, which usually means a leadership and complete culture change. This is not a rant against J.Crew but I should not have to drive out 20 miles to have a good customer experience, when there is a store less than 10 miles away who should execute on the same principles as the one further away. Why should we as consumers be inconvenienced to shop somewhere where we will feel happy for the same brand? As a big brand, this should be consistent across ALL of the stores and ALL of the channels. Those who do not adhere or execute on the company CX strategy need to be retrained or replaced.
Think about your own brand and company, as you develop your CX vision, ensure that your vision is heard from the top down and across all of your channels. This has to be ingrained in your company’s DNA, there should be a consistent CX experience on every channel! Try to Wow and delight your customer’s not 2 or 3 times, but EVERY TIME! Do not have them second guess your brand because you have employees who do not adhere to the principles of giving great customer service! Re-train them if need be and ensure the message from leadership is heard. Ensure your employees are positively engaged with your customers and ensure they are motivated! If customers provide feedback, provide continuous feedback back to the customer, it is a two-way dialogue! It is not just about the SALE, it is about the post-sale experience that many organizations CHOOSE to ignore. Focus on your customer at all times, pre and post sale with the same experience as when you had initially, before you had them buying from you.
NOTE: My personal experience has nothing to do with Gartner and should not be misconstrued, but instead it is highlighting the CX principles every organization should follow which will be discussed at the Summit.
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