Yaneek Page | Lessons from my worst customer experience of 2017
The Jamaican saying, 'Fire deh a muss muss tail, him think a cool breeze', aptly describes many local businesses that continue to mete out shoddy service to their customers, oblivious to the whirlwind of change nipping at their heels.
Globally, smart companies have recognised that the digital revolution, especially the rapid acceleration of online sales, requires that they counter with unprecedented customer-experience strategies and service excellence.
Regrettably, that realisation has yet to permeate our shores.
Jamaican consumers are still grappling with a business landscape characterised by mediocre service, unfair business practices, and wanton disregard for consumer rights, even among some of the largest and most visible companies.
On a weekly basis, I receive emails, social-media messages and posts from aggrieved customers imploring me to share their outrageous customer experiences and forewarn the unsuspecting public. Unfortunately, I, too, have had enough negative experiences to produce at least a year's worth of articles for this column. One standout case, which is by far my worst customer experience of 2017, can provide several insights and lessons for businesses:
Recently, I purchased several items at a small but popular beauty supply store in Kingston, which I have patronised for more than 10 years. When I got home, I realised I had the wrong bag of products. The following day, I returned to the store with my receipt and the bag of goods.
The cashier who billed me and packed the bag recognised me immediately, apologised and took the bag to her manager in a back office. As I stood outside the slightly ajar door of the office, I could hear the annoyance in the manager's voice as she yelled: "No, no, no, it can't work like that. Where is she?!"
The cashier then opened the door revealing the manager, a mature woman who sat in her chair angrily glaring at me as I stood a few steps away. She insisted that she didn't know how we were going to 'work this out' and rejected my suggestion that they either give me the products for which I paid, or refund the full amount.
It was only after I threatened to report the company to the Consumer Affairs Commission that the manager leapt from her chair and told the cashier - "Give her a refund and let her get out of here. Hurry and get out. Out!"
When I asked if that's the way she treats a customer who has been patronising her business for more than 10 years, she shouted: "I don't care how long you've been coming here, I don't need customers like you."
BAD NEWS TRAVELS FAST
A key lesson for businesses is that bad news travels fast even as good news needs a push. Aggrieved customers are more motivated to tell their stories than satisfied customers, and 70 per cent of people believe reviews they see online from strangers. In fact, over 95 per cent of people believe reviews they hear from friends or trusted influencers.
Within minutes of the ordeal, I shared my experience on social media. Shortly thereafter, I received messages from former customers, employees and even suppliers who had similar complaints about the store manager.
A key point, therefore, is that a single bad experience shared online can also propel an avalanche of responses that will not only validate the initial complaint, but cause it to go viral.
The digital age has significantly narrowed the window of opportunity to address customer complaints. Businesses must respond immediately and quickly escalate complaints up the organisational hierarchy where necessary, to recover an angry customer, or, at the very least, mitigate the risk of bad word of mouth, which can spread like wildfire online.
Another lesson is that the digital age has empowered consumers with information on their rights and easier, faster channels for redress. Within minutes, consumers can visit the website of the regulator, the Consumer Affairs Commission, where they will find a comprehensive list of their rights and at least 14 statutes protecting them from unsavoury business practices.
Finally, e-commerce is providing fierce competition to traditional stores. Retailers who rely on traditional sales will need to provide a unique and exceptional experience to compete with the convenience and ease of online shopping, particularly with the added value of product suggestions, descriptions, and objective reviews that aren't found in stores. In fact, the younger generation of consumers such as millennials and Generation Z have a strong affinity and preference for online shopping.
For 2018 and beyond, businesses should consider these trends, particularly within the context of our small, open economy in which very few firms are innovative and even fewer enjoy any distinct competitive advantage vis-a-vis global competitors.
- Yaneek Page is an entrepreneur and trainer, and creator/executive producer of The Innovators TV series. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Twitter: @yaneekpage. Website: www.yaneekpage.com