A Bad Customer Experience

As a member of the executive team at a company where I once worked, I was encouraged to periodically visit our stores and those of retailers that sold our products, as well as stores of our competitors. The purpose of these visits was to learn how good or bad the customer experience was for people who walked in wanting to browse or make a purchase.

At first, I thought these visits were outside the scope of corporate communications and were not the best use of the senior PR person’s time. Isn’t it the job of the sales VP and his hundreds of managers and agents to make sure the customer is treated right in our stores?

Yes, it is.

But it’s not their job exclusively. We in corporate communications and PR also have a role to play: letting the VP and his staff know what we learned on our visits and offering assistance where it might be needed in solving a problem. These visits are, for example, a good way to learn if the corporate culture has sunk deeply into the organization (or has been imbedded only at headquarters) and to make sure the sales people are getting the tools (whether social media or others) they need to do their work as well as possible.

I thought about this recently when my wife and I visited a Toyota dealer, looking to buy a new car.

Since we were not greeted at the door (or anywhere close to it), we walked up to the nearest salesman, a salesman, we quickly learned, who was about as unfriendly and unhelpful as he could be. The experience got worse when we asked to see the person who had sold our daughter a Prius two years ago. His response, before looking on the computer, which he sat behind on a tall stool—hiding and almost hidden from us—was, “Oh, I doubt that he’s still here. There’s really nobody working here from two years ago, except me. Everybody’s gone.”

What does it say about a company that lets its entire sales force turn over in only two years? Nothing good.

The salesman should have known that sharing this kind of information would fall negatively on customers’ ears. It certainly didn’t leave us feeling good. This company couldn’t hang on to its key employees for a short amount of time; yet, there was our salesman, a person seemingly with no skills and no interest in selling.

Every time we asked him a question about the new Prius or how it compared to the model our daughter had bought, he looked it up on the Web. We could have—in fact, we had—done that at home, but we wanted an interpretation of the online data from someone who should have insight from years of selling cars. Although he had been there for 12 years, I think I know more about the Prius than he does.

He finally got up off his stool and brought a car around for us to test drive, but not before he listed all the different colors and package options he didn’t have available—and hinted that he had no intention of trying to get what we wanted from a dealership nearby.

We left there fully aware that we would not buy a car from that salesman or even from that dealership.

Customer experience should be a focus of every company that makes or sells products that other people want to buy. And that means that everyone within the company—from the CEO to the corporate communications staff to the men and women on the sales floor—has a role to play in making sure that experience is rewarding for every customer.