Embarrassment

The Pitfalls of Generic Customer Service

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When designing a customer service experience we’re often seeking to ensure consistency, reducing the risk that someone will leave dissatisfied.  This strategy can be sound, however when ‘generic’ turns into ‘automatic’, and we ignore the nuances of each individual interaction we run the risk of dis-engaging our customers… or in this case at Apple, embarrassing them!

I’m a fairly new convert to Apple and am delighted by the intuitive attention to detail that their products offer. Whoever would have thought that my phone would be so smart as to take photographs, record messages, enable me to ‘face time’ my friends interstate as well as receive and make the odd phone call?  The experience makes me smile every time I use the phone, validates the extraordinary amount of money I spent for the privilege and of course reinforces their brand.

Last week I was talking to a sales consultant in the Apple store when I heard loud spontaneous applause.  I turned to see 38 blue-shirt-attired consultants had stopped work and were clapping and cheering loudly and raucously.

I’d never seen or experienced this before and must have had a quizzical look upon my face. With a wide grin on his face, my sales consultant explained that they always ‘reward’ a first time customer by celebrating their purchase with a warm welcome to the Apple family.

I turned to find the customer who was being ‘awarded’ this attention. Far from being a celebratory and welcoming experience for her, she had turned a scarlet colour and couldn’t move out of the store fast enough. Her body language too reflected the unwanted attention; with her head down she was clearly very embarrassed by the fuss.  So, what was intended to be a positive and appreciative gesture became a humiliating and embarrassing experience for this customer. How unfortunate.

If we review this customer service experience surely there would be an opportunity in the transaction to give the customer a choice. Horses for courses – ask the customer whether they would like to be publicly humiliated congratulated or to quietly and peacefully leave the store without a spectacle.

Surely by considering each customer’s sensitivity to being welcomed, the retailer would then truly ‘reward’ each customer’s first purchase with the most appropriate response thus creating the most appropriate goodwill for repeat purchases.

Whilst products produced for mass markets need to be generic, a generic customer service strategy is fraught with danger. I ask myself the simple question why put at risk the customer goodwill in purchasing an iconic product only to have the experience diminished by a generic customer approach? Imagine the outcome if a great product experience was supported by an outstanding customer experience?

Is your experience consistent, or has ‘generic’ turned to ‘automatic’?

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On May 21, 2013
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