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The Dark Side of Customer Experience
Jul, 11,2013
Author, Speaker, Founder of MarketSmarter

I’ll begin with a story that illustrates the points of this article perfectly…

Once upon a time there was a man who passed away after living a long, fulfilling life. He was greeted at the gates of heaven by St. Peter who asked him to step inside an elevator. “You have two options,” he said. “You can take a look at heaven and hell, and then choose which one you want.” The man thought this would be an obvious choice and stepped in the elevator. When the doors opened, the man gazed out of the elevator into heaven, and it was exactly as he envisioned: beautiful, tranquil, and unbelievably magical. St. Peter pushed the button again and said, “Now let’s go down and you can see what hell looks like.”

When the doors opened again the man looked out and gazed around with astonishment. He saw a lively place filled with people laughing, drinking, and having fun. Music played and it looked like a scene from a fun night in New Orleans. “Wow,” the man said. “This looks like a blast!” The doors closed again and as the elevator began moving St. Peter looked at the man and asked, “Well, what is your final choice?”  The man thought he hadn’t experienced quite enough fun in his lifetime so he said, “I never thought I would say this but I’ll choose hell—it looks like fun!”  

“Very well,” said St. Peter and pushed the button labeled “HELL” again. When the doors opened, the man stepped out and the scene was quite different. Fire and brimstone were everywhere and it looked worse than anything the man had ever imagined. “Where’s all the fun—what happened?” asked the man. “Well,” said St. Peter as the doors closed. “The first time you came to visit you were a prospect. Now you’re a customer.”

Have you ever done business with a company that initially offered great customer service, but it quickly faded? Or have you done business with a company for years and discover you are paying a higher price than what is offered to new customers? If so, you’re not alone.

Companies invest a great deal of time, money and resources to find and get new customers. When they aren’t completely transparent with customers, or lose sight of delivering great customer experience after a sale, they risk losing customers to their competitors. And this misses the entire point of acquiring new customers in the first place. The investment of acquiring new customers begins to pay off when a customer is loyal and continues to do business with a company. But too often, businesses, even entire industries, lose sight of this goal or worse, take advantage of customers.

Customer Service Gone Bad

The dark side of customer experience is the way in which some companies take advantage of their most loyal customers. For example, if you are a loyal cable subscriber, you may very well be paying more for your service than a new customer who just got a deal for switching carriers. Or if you are a magazine subscriber, you might asked to renew your subscription at a much higher price than if you just let the subscription lapse and subscribed as a new customer. Why are some companies penalizing their best customers?

When companies charge for services in what seems an arbitrary fashion, or “nickel and dime” consumers for services that were once included with the price of a service, consumers feel taken advantage of and become skeptical. The airline industry provides a classic example.

When booking a flight, you never know what the best fare is. You can easily pay hundreds of dollars more for your ticket than the guy sitting in the seat next to you. What if you make last-minute travel plans? Airlines find this a good excuse to charge you even more for a ticket. If you think about how this scenario plays out in other industries, most companies would gladly offer a discount for potentially unused inventory. What if your travel plans change? The majority of airlines charge their customers $100–$150 to make a ticket change. Do you want your luggage to accompany you on a trip and need to check a bag? That will be another $50. As Jay Leno quipped during a monologue, it won’t be long before airlines start to charge their customer for basics, like arriving at their destination safely. Want a smooth landing? That will be another $50.00.

It’s not just airlines; other industries are also guilty of poor customer experience. Car rental companies charge their customers two or three times above normal gas rates if they bring back a car without a full tank of gas. Imagine a car rental firm that filled up the tank for you when you returned it, charging you the market rate? Surely people would want to do business with this company instead of its competitors. And it may not be because the company offers better service as much it is the thrill of just being treated fairly. This is one industry that has opportunity written all over it. 

Treating people fairly is a pretty simple concept. So is the idea of giving your most loyal customers the best customer service. As more companies win business by doing the right thing, maybe more companies on the dark side of customer service will begin ti see the light.