Experience is everything: stand clear of the gap

Businesses today live or die by the experiences they offer to their customers.

It's that simple. It's even relatively easy to calculate how much those poor experiences are costing you. But what many businesses don't do is to measure the gap.

Great customer experiences pay their weight in gold - just read these 10 unforgettable customer experience stories. In today's socially connected digital world these stories spread quickly and bring huge benefits. Whereas the opposite is also true, hardly a day goes by without some customer experience fail story appearing in the news somewhere.

It almost doesn't matter what you do, it's how you do it that counts. And the best example of this is to ask your sulky teenager to do the washing up. If your experience is anything like mine it'll probably go like this:

Asking a teenager to do the washing up - my 10 step guide:

  1. Ask them nicely to do the washing up.
  2. Ask them again.
  3. Then again.
  4. Now order, point, gesticulate, rant a little; some spit coming out generally helps. Ensure your face goes a nice shade of purple, if you want them to pay attention.
  5. Wait 15 minutes whilst they shuffle and moan towards the kitchen, mouth going at ten times the speed of their feet as they tell you how they already did the washing up last week, so it shouldn't be their turn. Congratulations, you're at the half-way mark!
  6. Watch from the sidelines as they overfill the sink, forget to put in dishwashing liquid and then gently waft a dish cloth at some dirty plates before placing the (still dirty) plates in the rack.
  7. Point out that they've missed all the pots.
  8. Point out that they've missed all the glass cups, and now they're going to have to replace the greasy water before washing them up.
  9. Nod politely as they walk past you, glaring and mumbling about enforced labour camps and Stalinist dictatorships.
  10. Spend 30 minutes cleaning up the sink area, getting bubbles off the roof and re-washing everything since it's still dirty.

So you got the job done - but how was the experience? The service provider did provide the service, and they have completed the tasks. How likely are you to return?


The problem is the gap. Ask that teenager and they'll probably tell you that their parent must be happy - after all, they did the washing up, right? Ask the parent and they're much more likely to be grinding teeth. The issue here is the gap between what the provider thought would be a good experience, and what the end customer wanted it to be.

Mind the gap: doors closing...

This week I had a great example of this. My car broke down and I've had to return it for repairs. And there are two ways to look at how it all went.

From a purely factual perspective the event went something like this: a failure occurred in the computing system somewhere and the doors and windows (apart from driver door) went into deadlock. The car could be driven but couldn't carry anyone safely, and then locked whilst the keys were inside. A break-in was needed to retrieve the keys, the car was returned to the dealer, the part(s) were replaced and the vehicle was returned. 

From the dealer's perspective they no doubt see this as a win; the customer reported the fault, they offered a replacement vehicle (albeit a trade-in older car), they checked the vehicle and found the problem, they fixed the problem, and they returned it in working order with no charge. From an organisational perspective this wasn't a cheap exercise for them either - they've had to make numerous phone calls, they've had to order rush parts from overseas, and it's all covered by warranty so it's all cost. They've also had to hand over a vehicle they could have on-sold for a number of days.

Technically they've done a good job. Organisationally they've supported their customer in the field. The washing up was done, yes? Happy customer?

And now, for the parent

From a customer perspective, this was far from a win. I bought that vehicle less than 8 weeks ago and had an expectation of a relatively speedy and supportive response from the dealer. 

I'm not going to list everything I went through, but some of the emotional highlights of this event for me were:

  1. Driving my car with my son in the back (since we were out when then fault occurred) and thinking what would happen if we had a crash (since his doors and windows were deadlocked shut)
  2. Worrying about the fact that I'd only just dropped off two older people who could never have clambered out over the driver door if this fault had gone wrong just a little sooner
  3. Finding out that the break-down cover I thought I had, had actually elapsed.
  4. Watching with horror as the car decided to lock the drivers side door - whilst the car was switched on and the keys were sat in the console.
  5. Paying hundreds of dollars for the NRMA guy to come out and help me retrieve said keys.
  6. Paying for a cab to take my family home whilst I waiting on the road-side in shame.
  7. Waiting hours for the NRMA guy to come - in the pitch black, on a scary street, listening to a lovely couple argue about who was the bigger a-hole and scream at each other just across the road.
  8. Finding out he'd gone to the wrong suburb, and having to wait more.
  9. Watching as he drove off - only to realise with a sinking heart that the head lights had also failed and that I couldn't drive the car anyway.
  10. Paying for yet another cab to get me home.
  11. Paying for a third cab to take me back in the morning and then drive the car - again worrying what would happen if we got side-swiped - to the dealers the next day.
  12. Picking up my replacement vehicle, a tank of a Commodore with sheep-skin seat covers and a lovely lived-in aroma.

The gap between the dealer's expectations of satisfaction and mine are large enough to drive that Commodore through. Whilst they did respond and fix the car the staff I spoke with had no emotional connection to what had gone wrong - and completely failed to ask or care. At no point did they seem to realise how the fault had impacted on my day or life, and brushed off any comments I made about taxi and NRMA costs. Their estimates of how long the problem might take to fix ran from an initial 'few days' to 'a week or more' to 'three or four weeks' and back to 'tomorrow', to my utter confusion.

Whilst they did all the right things, they did many of them in a way that offered a poor customer experience. Despite having purchased three vehicles from them in the past four years, and despite having recently planned to trade in another in the next year, we're now very unlikely to ever return. Poor customer experience over one incident has likely cost them tens of thousands of dollars in sales, and could so easily have been avoided.

The shame is that it's all down to not being aware that the gap is even there. A little focus on the expectation and their shortfall could easily have fixed that.

Poor customer experience costs business. And getting it right really isn't that hard, if you place Customer Experience Strategy at the centre of what you do. When will they learn. 

Now excuse me, I'm off to clean up the kitchen...