Overcoming Poor Customer Experiences

Posted by Allan Steinmetz on 12 August 2021

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Is it just me? Or are others experiencing poor customer experiences with their retailers and service providers? I find that many employees at retail and service enterprises are not performing their jobs with the same excitement and enthusiasm that they have had in the past, before the pandemic. I get it. Many employees have been burdened with furloughs, pay cuts, and even loss of jobs. Simultaneously consumers are frustrated at being shut up in their homes without being able to be "free", unable to live their lives the way they would like. I understand and realize there is a shortage of workers, in the United States, and companies are finding it difficult to get people to return to their jobs when they are collecting unemployment benefits.

Still, I am finding my customer interactions challenging. I hear stories from friends and colleagues every day about a negative customer experience that they have had. These circumstances and experiences could and should have been avoided through proper onboarding, better communications, and training, so that the customer receives exceptional treatment and service as opposed to converting customers into negative mouthpieces of poor image and reputation.

Before Covid, customers knew which companies provided exceptional service and those that didn't. They gravitated towards the brands that they trusted. The companies that didn't provide exceptional service were often managed by low cost and low prices. Spirit Airlines would be a perfect example of that in today's world: spotty services, flight outages, cancellations, low cost, and charge-as-you-go mentality. Bad customer experience has cost companies their reputations, efficiencies, and loyalty, increasing  costs and duplicating efforts. Just imagine how much money could be directed to shareholder value in the bottom line if this problem was rectified.

Here are the facts and research insights regarding employee engagement and customer experiences.

  • Gallup, in one of their recent studies calculated that the current state of poor employee engagement, which is presently around 73%, translates into a loss of $143 billion in productivity and shareholder value. That number is outrageous!
  • Globally, 54% of all consumers say that they have higher customer service expectations than they did just one year ago, according to Microsoft
  • 75% of brands report that they are measuring customer engagement, but cannot define what it is according to research by Kolsky
  • When asking consumers what impacts their level of trust with a company, offering excellent customer service ranked number one.- Dimensional Research
  • 89% of consumers have switched to doing business with a competitor following a poor customer experience. - Harris Interactive

HERE IS MY EXPERIENCE - In the last six weeks, I have had four customer experiences that frustrated me to no end.

COMCAST: In one of my recent blog posts, I shared a customer experience with Comcast when their third-party technician came to my house for a repair. He misdiagnosed the problem, installed the wrong equipment, and told me that the Internet and phone lines were working “well enough”. He left for his next appointment, leaving me high and dry. Fortunately, I was able to contact Comcast senior leadership who rectified the problem immediately the next day and restored my confidence in the Comcast brand. What happens to all the folks who don't know what to do and are left hanging with equipment that doesn't work and poor connections and services? These customers tell their friends and relatives and end up destroying the reputation of the company through gossip and the sharing of negative experiences. Poor Training, Poor Customer Experience.

CVS - Here was another negative experience. I needed to get some information regarding different Medicare part D costs for prescriptions. I have learned that CVS provides a list of insurance companies with their fees for prescriptions in a comparison table. I started with a phone call to my local pharmacist, who didn't have the information and suggested I call the corporate office through an 800 number: 866-332-1332. I was immediately put on hold for 15 minutes before an operator came on to tell me that I was calling the wrong number and was given their Caremark member number 800-237-2767. Once again, I was put on hold for 20 minutes waiting to speak to someone so that I could ask a simple question for a comparison table of insurance information. Finally, I spoke to an individual but she told me that they couldn't help me. Finally, they gave me a third 800-number, 1-800-746-7287, and again I was put on hold and asked to wait for 10 minutes. An attendant finally came on and apologetically told me they could not help. Then they gave me a new 800 number to call 1-800-SHOPCVS. I have now called five 800 numbers with no positive results, with a wait time of 20-30 minutes.  Finally, the person who answered gave me another 800 number to call, but this time I was directed to a call center in India. (Obviously, a joke by someone at CVS just to get me off the line and their back.) The attendant told me that they would be able to provide me with the information I had requested but to do so I had to order a FREE $100.00 Walmart gift card.   Now, I know a scam when I see one. They said they could not send me the information without redeeming the gift card and providing my credit card account number. I hung up. After an hour of wasting my time on the phone, I was extremely FRUSTRATED with CVS! Lack of knowledge, poor customer service.

Lowes - I was researching the possibility of renting a carpet cleaning machine at Lowe's and other retailers. I had a few questions I wanted to ask about making a reservation for the equipment before I took a drive down to the store that was 40 minutes away. I called three times a day for three days and did not get anyone in their Dedham Massachusetts store (the nearest one to my house) to answer the phone. Three freaking days! On one occasion I let the phone ring for over an hour. Now I realize that this situation could have been an anomaly and that the telephone service might have been out of order, but I didn’t think so. As a follow-up, I contacted Lowe's corporate customer service representatives and asked them for assistance. They too tried to call and experienced the same situation. A little embarrassed, they apologized and said they would look into the matter and opened up a case file.

I decided to take a 40-minute drive to the Lowes store on Sunday morning and inquire about the Bissell carpet cleaner rental in person.  What I saw and heard was shocking. When I approached the service desk and inquired about the carpet cleaner rental and asked how it worked, the associate at the service desk (mind you - SERVICE DESK)  snapped at me and said, "How should I know,  go read the damn brochure on the display". This was at 9:30 on a Sunday morning, the store was nearly empty, and no one was waiting in line. It was as if I was disturbing her "quiet time". I explained that I had already printed out a rental form online which your online customer support operator had suggested I do.  The in-store customer service associate snorted at me again, telling me how that form isn't going to help "her". After she completed the forms and the transaction was over, I told her (in a nice fashion) that I was trying to get a hold of a real person at the store for over 3 days and that no one answered the phone. Then I asked how come no one answers the phone? Her response was shocking. She said, "We have more pressing priorities than answering the phone!". She was dead serious. No smiles, no thank you, no eye contact.

I walked over to another area, and  I asked for the store manager, and found out she was on maternity. This is not information I would want a store associate sharing with the customer, wouldn't you agree?

I asked, "Well, who's in charge if there is no store manager?" She explained that the assistant store manager, Jack, was in the store and he was managing things. I asked where he would be and no one seemed to know. Finally, someone told me he was in the first aisle stocking shelves, so I went over to see him and share my story. As I approached him, I explained that I was not simply complaining but trying to be constructive by pointing out that 1) no one was answering the phone and 2) the customer service representative was not representing the brand very well with her statements or attitude. He was quite honestly shocked and surprised by what I shared with him and said he was going to address it right away. I don't know if he did. But just as a test I called later in the day and once again the phone rang over, and over and over again with no answers.  Bad management, poor customer service.

Starbucks - A close friend of mine is a creature of habit. Every day for the last several years he would go to the gym in Westwood, MA for an hour-long, early-morning workout. Afterward, on his way home he would always stop at the Starbucks nearby for two very hot coffees, one for himself and one for his wife waiting at home. Each time, he would make a point of acknowledging and appreciating the Barista, whom he knew by name. Over the years they have come to recognize him and know what types of coffee he orders.  This little gesture of knowing his name, welcoming him, providing very hot coffee, completed his morning. He would say, that it is something he looked forward to every day. Until last week.  Last week, he came into the Westwood Starbucks and, as usual, placed his order at the counter, and stood aside for it to be fulfilled. Two minutes passed; five minutes passed; 10 minutes passed. During this time people were whipping in picking up their online orders while others who were in the store were waiting on the side. After 10 minutes, he finally went over to the Barista, to inquire about his two coffees, and she acted as if she never saw him or heard of him before, even though he came in every single morning for years. After scurrying around, she finally found his two coffees over by the online order counter. She brought them over and unfortunately, they were no longer hot and she didn't offer to provide refills. Now he has a new attitude about Starbucks. He is hesitant about going back to Starbucks. He doesn't feel like he was taken seriously or afforded the loyalty of being a regular customer any longer.  Losing touch, poor customer service.

A letter to Starbucks resulted in an apology letter and a $25 gift certificate to make up for the poor customer experience. Also, they authentically asked to speak with him to understand the circumstances and the situation regarding the store experience so that they could improve/rectify the situation in the future. Now that is a good example of a company acting on a poor customer experience.

Reaping the Rewards of Good Customer Service: Key Research Insights and Benefits

  • Increasing customer retention rates by 5% increase profits by 25% to 95%. - Harvard Business Review
  • 70% of consumers say they have already made a choice to support a company that delivers great customer service. - AE
  • Friendly employees or customer service representatives are what makes a memorable experience that causes consumers to stick with a brand, for 73% of customers. - Harris Interactive
  • Americans will pay 17% more to do business with firms with great reputations when it comes to customer service. - AE
  • 52% of consumers say they have made an additional purchase from a company after a positive customer service experience. - Dimensional Research
  • About one in three people (30%) say the most important aspect of customer service is speaking with a knowledgeable and friendly agent. - Microsoft


Having been the associate brand marketing agency for Walmart for many years from 2012 to 2017, I know firsthand the impact associate engagement can have on delivering the brand promise to your customers. At Walmart, associates live their brand value of "Save money, Live better" every day by impressing on every single associate, whether in corporate or at the individual store level, to treat the customer with absolute respect and with good service attitude. Associates are reminded that they are there to serve the customer ALWAYS!

Wlamart Cheer 

Associates do everything in their power to ensure "Everyday Low Prices" and understand that it all starts with each associate so that customers can save money and live better. Our firm helped create the internal brand programming for associates that cascaded throughout their system. I would be happy to share some examples. We've done the same for McDonald's, HP, and others.

When companies take the time to explain the business strategy and objectives of the company to their employees, they will become more prone to change their behavior to improve customer experiences. It is a simple proposition. Employees must understand "what's in it for them" and why they need to change their behavior to support the corporate strategy. Then, companies must explain what new behavior and actions are necessary and how they are different from the past.

Those are repairable with cascade training, onboarding, and effective communications. The customer must be king.  Companies who teach this, enforce this and manage this, prosper.  Companies that do not, lose customers and suffer declining sales.

Allan Steinmetz CEO