Blog post

The Customer Experience Expectation Gap

By Jay Wilson | May 15, 2016 | 4 Comments


Last Monday afternoon, as I rode to JFK Airport en route to a conference, I realized that I’d left my travel credit card on my dresser.  My gut instinct was to have the driver turn around so I could get it – we’d probably still get to the airport on time.

But then, a thought occurred to me.  The credit card company has a fantastic reputation for customer service. Their advertising focuses on the high level of support they provide, especially for business travelers. And I’d had great experiences with them in the past.  Surely they’d issue a new card and FedEx it to my hotel.  With a pang of guilt – I mean, it was my mistake – I decided that was the best option.

At the gate at JFK, I called the credit card issuer.  Here’s where things started to go wrong – where my high expectations began to go unmet.  The IVR system demanded my account number, which of course was sitting at home on my dresser.  Multiple attempts to say “I don’t know” or press zero went unrecognized by the system.  When I finally got to an agent, I was in the wrong department.  I was transferred to the travel department, who then transferred me to the card replacement department.

I eventually got to an agent, clearly at an offshore call center, who was courteous, helpful, and efficient.  She assured me a new card would be issued and would arrive at my hotel by 8:30am the next morning.  I would receive an email with the tracking number, she told me.  I boarded my flight confident that my expectations would be met.

The next day – no FedEx.  No tracking number. I checked in multiple times with the hotel front desk, and then checked my card account online – surely there would be information about the replacement card there.  No dice.  So I started an online chat, and had to explain the entire situation again.  The agent finally informed me that the card had been issued that day – a day after my initial call, but that she had no tracking information available.

“My advice is to wait a few days to see if it arrives,” she typed.

“But I’m checking out of the hotel in less than two days,” I responded.

“OK,” she replied, “Then wait 1-2 days to see if it arrives.”

“If it arrives in two days,” I said, “I won’t be here, and I’ll need to call again and have you reissue another card, and send it to yet another hotel.”

“OK, so wait for one day.”

At this point, I was kicking myself for even taking the card reissue route.  Now the card sitting on my dresser was cancelled, and if this replacement card didn’t arrive in 36 hours, I’d have to have another one sent, probably to our Gartner Digital Marketing Conference in San Diego.  And I dreaded going through the same rigmarole all over again.  But there was nothing they could do, so we ended the call.

I decided to tweet the company – surely their Twitter #custserv team would help – after all, we’ve all been conditioned to expect a higher level of service on social media.  I tweeted and was directed to a private “social” chat link.   Here, finally, was help.  Surely this tweeted link would lead me to a crack social customer service team.

Not so much.  The chat link led to the same chat window I had used in vain earlier.  I gave up and crossed my fingers.

The card did, finally arrive the next day, and I’m disappointed to say that I was surprised.

The point here is not just about customer service.  We’ve all had nightmare stories of a similar experiences. But this is a company that has established its high level of service as a differentiator, and they didn’t deliver.  They were victims of the high expectations they’ve created in the market.

If I had left a no-frills credit card on my dresser, I wouldn’t have even attempted to go the card replacement route, because my expectations of that customer experience would have stopped me from taking the leap of faith.  I wouldn’t have expected help.

When you decide to engage with a low cost airline or budget hotel, you know you’re getting.  They’ve set your expectations appropriately, and anything above beyond the most rudimentary of experiences is a positive and will get you to buy again.  There are lots of opportunities for these brands to exceed customer expectations with relatively minor flourishes.

But when you pay a premium for service or experience, as Augie Ray discussed recently, or if your marketing sets those expectations, the bar rises dramatically, and so does the potential for disappointing customers.

Marketing leaders who want to differentiate on customer experience need to ensure that the operational structure is in place before putting those messages into market.  My poor customer experience was the result of failures in technology (the IVR), people (the poor listening skills of the agents) and process (the inability to provide a tracking number).

A brand promise is only as good as the ability to deliver on it.

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  • Mark Morris says:

    I’ve run into a similar situation when dealing with cloud products. The marketing sets a high standard of engagement. Signing on, creating an account, and adding users is a snap via self-service. But then, once you want to remove users or cancel your account, they make it impossible and it often requires multiple phone calls and/or emails. GoToMeeting, Adobe, Dropbox, and LinkedIn are some examples (although, to be fair, they might have changed by now). GoToMeeting even has a separate admin and billing portal. It drives me crazy.

    Google, on the other hand, is awesome throughout the entire life-cycle. Thank goodness for Google. They set a high standard and seem to meet it at every turn.

  • Shanelyn says:

    Sometimes the low budgeting services is actually better then the premiums because the premium companies are so huge that information snafus can easily occur and the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand does in the other end.
    Also, if one should view this in a more philosophical way: This sound like a typical Mercury retrograde-communication-snafu-incident to me 🙂
    Mercury is retrograde from April 28 to May 22.

  • Such customer experience are not rare these days, mobility has improved the overall customer experience in a large way. So I feel, Mr. Wilson has aptly quoted the ideas the way our contact centers are changing these days. IVRs definitely gice a hard time if not curated properly. Some of my insights on mobility..