Laura Petrolino

Customer Experience is an Investment

By: Laura Petrolino | March 4, 2015 | 

customer experience is an investmentBy Laura Petrolino

Customer experience is something many organizations continue to struggle with.

They struggle to find ways to help team members at every level understand and execute upon the customer experience standards they wish to uphold.

Consistency is spotty, at best.

And translating the importance of building “relationships” with customers to team members who don’t have a vested interest in the company is challenging.

In many cases the source of this problem is a mighty case of short-term thinking.

But it can be resolved, or at least improved upon, by a change in perspective.

The Keys to a Customer’s Heart

The other day I was telling a friend about an amazing experience I had several months ago with a locksmith.

I had lost my keys at the gym (someone had actually picked mine up by mistake–for once my keys were not lost as a result of my absent-mindedness, woohoo!)

So there I was, stuck. No house keys, no car keys, no one in town with spares. NOTHING!

I desperately called around to locksmith after locksmith to find one who could help.

Finally, referred to a company that could do both car and house keys, I found my savior.

This particular locksmith, while servicing my area, was based about an hour a way. Being it was rather early in the morning, he hadn’t started his day yet, so he needed to drive the full hour to reach me.

I waited—patience not being a virtue—making small talk with the friendly gym staff (who obviously felt badly for my pathetic locked out self) and trying to do some work on my phone.

Finally my locksmith arrived. I ran out to tell him where to park and when I ran back in to grab my hat and, lo and behold, my keys had been returned!

So there I was, with a locksmith who had just driven an hour for a job that would potentially make him a lot of money, who I no longer needed.

Ok, I thought to myself…how can I talk my way out of this one so I don’t have to pay a fee for him coming (or at least I could keep it to a minimum)?

So I pulled out all the Petrolino charm and marched out there to explain the situation.

What happened next will surprise you…. (I just had to say that so I could feel like a headline to an Upworthy column.)

He didn’t charge me. He didn’t moan and groan.

Instead he told me how lucky I was and warned me that “you never need a spare key, until you need a spare key,” and that I really should have several made and distributed.

Customer Experience is a Long-Term Investment

Seeing my opportunity to at least pay this super amazing locksmith angel something, I asked if he could make me some spares.

Sure, I’d love to. How many would you like?

Five minutes later he hands me my spares. I pull out my credit card and he looked at me perplexed.

Oh no ma’am, we don’t charge for spare keys. Here you go, I hope I never have to help you again, but if I do, you have my number.

And he pointed to the little branded keychain my now new spare keys were attached to.

So let’s recap, shall we?

This man drove an hour to make me free spare keys.

Sure, he could have (very understandably) charged me. But he didn’t. Instead of focusing on the short-term reward, he focused on the long-term investment.

He didn’t make any money on this transaction, but when I needed a locksmith again last week, who do you think was the first person I called (and once again they provided exceptional service).

I am a customer for life.

I also posted positive reviews of him EVERYWHERE I could and have recommended him to at least a dozen people by now.

He thought in the long-term, and that’s not just crucial for an amazing customer experiences, it’s the only way to effectively grow a business.

Short-term Gain vs. Long-term Investment

To help your team understand how to best provide a valuable customer experience, you must help them understand the value of the long-term.

A long-term investment in customer experience is worth much more than the short-term gain of a quick sell or increased transaction rates.

Study after study backs this up and reinforces the fact a quality customer experience is in most cases the biggest differentiator between successful and unsuccessful organizations.

According to the authors of Leading on the Edge of Chaos: The 10 Critical Elements for Success in Volatile Times, a two percent increase in customer retention has the same effect as decreasing costs by 10 percent, and reducing your customer defection rate by five percent can increase your profitability by 25 to 125 percent.

For your team to understand the value of the long-term, both their goals, and your company goals, must reflect it.

In fact, the first place to look if you are having a customer experience problem is at the goals your are and your team are trying to reach.

Often a company will talk big about the importance of providing the best customer experience possible, while having goals that focus only on the short-term, such as call handle time for call centers or number of tickets served or completed in a certain time frame.

While looking at these metrics can be helpful to understand efficiency and how overall operations are going, they do not align with prioritizing customer experience.

By looking internally, realigning expectations and goals accordingly, and continuing to help your entire team understand both how and why to provide the best customer interactions possible, you can change your growth strategy to one of long term investment instead of short term gain.

About Laura Petrolino

Laura Petrolino is the chief client officer at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She also is a weekly contributor to the award-winning PR blog, Spin Sucks. Join the Spin Sucks   community.

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  • I’d like to add my two cents to this blog post. Last week, Laura and I were working together in Chicago. Her cat sitter couldn’t get into her house and Laura was thousands of miles away. She called the locksmith mentioned in this blog post and told them the story. The locksmith never asked for Laura’s name. They didn’t even ask for a credit card number to insure the visit. Nope. They went over to Laura’s house, let the friend in, and then called Laura to say it was done and collect the credit card number. First of all, that would never happen in Chicago. Secondly, the way they handled the entire experience—from what I could tell by eavesdropping—was incredible. Lots of gigantic business can learn a thing or two from Pop-a-Lock.

  • Love, love, love this story!  That guy totally understands customer service!  Once upon a time the rules used to be – Rule #1 – The customer is always right; Rule #2 – If the customer is wrong, see Rule #1!! 
    Yeah, I know this is very Pollyanna, but if companies approached their customer service with this attitude they’d have a much easier time getting & keeping satisfied customers!

  • First of all, bravo on this: “What happened next will surprise you…. (I just had to say that so I could feel like a headline to an” I never, ever click on anything that promises I won’t believe what happens next.
    Second, a couple of weeks ago I lost my keys and thought of you. (But that was the first time I’d lost my keys in a several decades.)
    Third, I find so many small business people doing these little “extras” for no charge. It makes such a huge difference in what you’ll do for them (recommendations, referrals, reviews, etc.). 
    In contrast, a few years ago I bought some very expensive glasses (all my glasses are expensive because my vision is so bad) from a boutiquey place. I scratched the lenses and came in one week after my one-year warranty ran out. The manager said there was nothing they could do. Guess where I DIDN’T go the next time I bought expensive glasses?

  • Diana Combs

    I love that you went into this, as companies continually seem to provide nominal service with under-trained personnel.  In some cases, the quality of service varies greatly which is almost as frustrating.  Something like this would be great to send to Chambers of Commerce and other organizations for business with a broad reach.

  • Michelle Hals

    I love this story. This locksmith clearly cares about his customers. It reminds me of a saying my grandfather had: If you take care of the customer, the customer will take care of you. Far too few businesses seem to understand that these days.

  • ginidietrich So true. They turned into what have been a disaster (and a very angry cat,) into an easy and painless exercise. The entire thing took, what? All of 10 minutes to orchestrate?

  • lizreusswig Exactly! Pollyanna away my friend! I agree completely. Customer retention is huge for business growth, from a mere bottomline perspective it makes sense.

  • RobBiesenbach Hahaha! Those titles drive me nuts! I don’t click simply out of mere spite. Like I’m taking a one woman stand against click bait! 

    And the fact you thought of me when you lost your keys actually makes me rather proud….I’m like the “Lost Key Ambassador.” It’s a big responsibility, but I feel like I’m up for it!

    It always blows me away when businesses are so short-sighted (like your glass boutique.) You think about the amount of potential revenue they lost in terms of return business and referred business and any smart business owner would realize the return on investment of such a transaction was well worth it. It’s crazy!

  • Diana Combs Thanks so much Diana. You know I’ve thought about it a lot– why service continues to decline. And I do really think it’s because we live in a society increasingly focused on NOW, NOW, NOW. Everyone wants short-term turn around, and often customer relationships don’t provide that. It’s sad.

  • AlinaKelly

    This is a wonderful story Laura. I love hearing these kinds of stories because it’s how I feel all people should behave. In law, a corporation is a person. Yet many corporations forget to behave as a decent person would. What you experienced with Pop-A-Lock is human decency (what we used to call common decency). It’s a shame that it’s become so rare that we are all amazed by it. Thanks for sharing it so others can be encouraged and see how (un)common decency can be rewarded.

  • LauraPetrolino Even though it was several years ago, I still entertain thoughts about posting a nasty yelp review. At the time I didn’t make a stink because I was more amused than anything else, thinking immediately, “There goes my business, dummies!”

  • RobBiesenbach LauraPetrolino You totally should post a Yelp review still. If it was me, I’d figure out how much money I’ve spent on glasses plus how many potential referrals I might have sent elsewhere and go all “Pretty Woman” on them (“Remember that time you turned me away…big mistake. BIG. HUGE!”) 

    But I’m rather vengeful like that.

  • Michelle Hals Your grandfather was a smart man Michelle. Such a great and simple concept. And it doesn’t take much effort or strategy, just caring about a customer like a human….yet that seems challenging for some.

  • AlinaKelly Wow, you know I had never thought about that (the human decency vs. common decency swtich.) You are totally right Alina…how sad is that? Sometimes you can really tell how a society has changed in linguistic tendencies like that. Very interesting.

  • Did you have to get a restraining order? I mean, after he got a copy of your key he could come visit anytime, right? 

    I helped change someone’s tire the other day…in my  work clothes; did that get me a customer service attaboy? Of course, she was good looking…..I think I frightened her when I locked the brakes trying to stop before anybody else did. 

    I’m in the insurance business and we have more than ample opportunities to be really, really good; or not so good. Usually the not so good has a dollar figure attached to it and out of our control but one thing I have learned is to face it head on and early; don’t let it fester. 

    Retention is a big deal to us too and I like the way you quantified it; it really drives the point home. I’m not sure if we have drilled down that much, but as an ESOP (employee owned agency) maybe the service team would pay more attention if it new it was costing them money.

  • LauraPetrolino Ha ha, I like your style! Maybe next time I’m feeling annoyed and need to lash out I’ll take it out on them!

  • bdorman264 Yes, definitely, especially as an ESOP. It’s always amazing to me how many organizations complain about the difficulty they have with their lower level employees providing the same type of service vision the company holds up in “theory,”  but they don’t take a look at the goals they’ve set for them. Goals that clearly tell the employee service is not a priority. Translating from theory to action is all about goals.

    Insurance is probably one of the trickiest fields when it comes to service, for exactly the reason you stated above. You should right a post for us on some of your learnings (hint, hint…)

  • lkpetrolino

    KC_Kreative Pretty amazing service! I was a bit worried writing this no one would believe me..such a rarity to find now.

  • lkpetrolino

    billquiseng Thanks Bill!

  • iAsmaJalal

    billquiseng lkpetrolino thanks Bill for sharing amazing customer service experience, much appreciated.

  • Ambercarl

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    title “Sun flakes” itself felt apt for the poem. I had a great time reading
    the poem. Thanks a lot for such a nice post. Please keep sharing

  • Nice Post, Thanks for sharing it