When you think about customer service and the retail experience, what are your memories? I would venture to guess that in ninety percent of all of your retail interactions the customer service you received didn’t make an impression on you. Think about it, when you are outside the house you may participate in several, if not dozens, of retail interactions each day – everything from paying for a meal at a nice restaurant to buying a can of soda from your local convenience store.
The reason that these events don’t make an impact is that the transaction, itself, fell within the range of expectations that you established prior to the interaction. And those expectations are relative based upon context. Your expectations of customer service will be different at a fine dining establishment (higher) than buying a hot dog from a corner vendor (lower). Part of it has to do with the price/value equation of the transaction and part has to do with the environment. The bottom line, though, is that the majority of transactions that fit within your range of expectations have a less long term impact.
Contrast this to those customer service experiences that fall outside your range of expectations. Whether the service is better or worse than you expected, it has a much more significant impact on your immediate consciousness and on how you remember the event. Bad service at the high end restaurant will jar you (and possibly ruin the occasion for you) while exceptionally good service will delight you and leave you feeling that you received even more value for your purchase than you originally expected.
But which of these is most important to the retailer? I would argue that the bad experience has much more impact and can cause more damage than an exceptionally good experience.
If you go to your local coffee shop and receive customer service that is in line with what you expected you will probably return to that shop on another trip. This is because you feel that you got what you paid for which ends up being a neutral experience. As long as you return, the retailer is happy because business will stay stable and consistent.
If you go into the coffee shop and the barista remembers your name, knows what you want, and gives you a free cookie you will feel very happy because you have received a value greater than what you originally perceived. You will definitely return to this shop and when talking to your friends, will tell them how wonderful the place is and that they should try it. Here, the retailer is very happy because not only will he retain your business but it might also grow (We’ll put aside the result where the friend goes into the shop hoping for a free cookie, doesn’t get one, and is disappointed. This still counts as an additional sale.).
However, if you go into the coffee shop and have to deal with a rude sales clerk who gets your order wrong, serves you a poorly made drink, and unsmilingly takes your money you will walk away with a negative feeling about the experience and the store because you feel that you didn’t receive the value you paid for. Now when you talk to your friend you’ll tell her how bad your experience was and that you won’t go back again. Whether it is explicitly said or not, your friend won’t venture into the shop because she doesn’t want to run the risk of having a bad experience. Now the retailer is in big trouble. He has lost your business (declining sales) and has damaged his opportunity to grow his business (the friend who won’t show up). This is the beginning of a death spiral.
A bad customer service experience will have the most impact, both short term and long term, on a retail business. We need to always be encouraging and coaching our team members to deliver the best customer service we possibly can so that the strongest memory that our customers have about our store are good ones.