The other day I was on a business trip with four other people. They all work for the same company and we were visiting one of their suppliers. As we were traveling down the highway we passed one of the company manufacturing sites. Anxious to show me one of their factories they made a decision to stop in since we had an hour to kill before our appointment.
We walked into the building passing through a series of security check points and found ourselves in a lobby. Betty the receptionist signed us in and instructed us to wait for Anne the site Human Resources person. After twenty minutes Betty informed us that Anne could not find anyone to give us a tour and had asked us if we could come back another time. My colleagues reasoned that we could stop back at three o’clock after our supplier visit. The receptionist relayed the message and Anne replied with an affirmative.
At three o’clock we returned again full of enthusiasm. We again navigated the security checkpoints and landed in the lobby as before. We were given a pair of sleeves, a set of gloves, foot booties, hair nets and a pair of safety glasses which were required of people on the floor.
After donning this regalia we settled into the lobby to wait for Anne. After four or five minutes Anne emerged through an employee only door. She was a heavy set woman in her late fifties with bleach blonde hair wearing a nylon pantsuit. One of my colleagues noted that she was not dressed for the tour.
Anne wasted no time. She quickly proceeded to berate my traveling companions stating that it is most irregular for people to show up at a division unannounced and that she could not accommodate our request for a tour. Anne was direct, harsh and obviously offended at being inconvenienced.
My hosts replied that we were not unannounced as we had been instructed earlier that morning to return at three for the tour. Anne would have none of it and abruptly dismissed us with a sneer and an eye roll as she stomped off through the employee only door.
My now dejected friends and I removed our safety equipment, retrieved our coats and other personal belongings and exited. As we walked to the car they made several statements about this incident. Two of them struck me as relevant to the Purchase Experience.
The first was “I bet if I was the CEO and I showed up unannounced I would have been given a first rate tour”.
This is a common reference experience reaction. People who are involved in a purchase always have some other reference point that they use as a comparison mechanism. It isn’t always realistic but humans believe that someone else always gets treated better than they do. People believe that others get VIP privileges and this feeling is amplified when they have a negative experience. It is also amplified when there is a process or protocol that is “stringently” observed but frequently violated such as waiting in a cue line to enter a club. We have all seen or heard stories of waiting in line only to have celebrities escorted to the front and allowed access. Customers love to be treated like VIPs and know when others are using the system or protocol to enable them to provide poor service.
The second comment was “I will never work at that division!” This was a much more telling statement.
When a negative experience is delivered the results are catastrophic. Instead of being converted to loyal advocate people are imprinted with a strong negative bias towards the entity. This negative “experiential imprint” is forever etched into long-term memory and is extremely difficult to erase or overcome.
Although this incident involved “internal customers” the points are still applicable as treatment of internal customers is typically projected to outside customers as well. It reveals the soul of the company and reflects deeper cultural issues (interestingly enough this division has the second highest difficulty rate in acquiring talent of the twenty two company locations). In this day and age of viral internet media, word of a negative experience like this travels like wildfire with disastrous results.
At the end of the day the lesson here is pretty straight forward. Always provide first rate customer service to EVERYONE!
Last modified: February 5, 2014