How to Lose a Customer and Tarnish Your Brand in One Easy (Mis)Step

shutterstock_366626837Rarely do I mess with cookies, except to eat them. But an experience over the last two weeks with a furniture retailer had me clearing the cookies from my computer.

So annoyed was I by the poor customer service and the constant retargeting of ads from this particular furniture store that I resorted to cleaning my cache and unsubscribing from this retailer’s eletters and email promotions. I was just trying to buy a table -- and along the way I was reminded how a bad customer service experience can not only inconvenience you, it can change the whole way you feel about a brand. I feel like never shopping at this store again, and it’s likely my family and friends will also avoid this brand.

In the course of two weeks, not only did this major furniture brand provide me with a faulty kitchen table (this happens, sometimes), but it took one week for a customer service representative to return my calls and another week for them to come to our house and remove the table. I was way past the point of having it repaired. Even the manager at the store from which I purchased the table failed to return my call until two weeks later and when she found out that I wanted to return the item she did not ask why nor did she apologize for the inconvenience. She did wish me a good day.

In the course of those 14 days I was touched by this store brand in a variety of ways that we now take for granted in the world of targeted marketing. My Instagram and Facebook feeds were inundated with photos of the very table I wanted to return. Not only had I purchased this table already (why are you trying to sell it to me again?), but the photos reminded me that Customer Service was not Servicing Me. Targeted marketing is an imperfect science.

Google was also in on the fun, delivering search results and images begging for my click. In the meantime, my email box was filled with messages trying to get me to buy more of their stuff. All this, and I can’t get customer service to call me back.

Every image I saw of this brand and the table in particular soured me. Automated marketing tools will sometimes have the effect of tone deafness. While it would be difficult for marketers to know that I was in the middle of a bad experience with their brand and perhaps they should take a break with me in particular, I sense we are just at the beginning of this friction. We can amplify our satisfaction or dissatisfaction with a product, service or company as quickly as the company can retarget us with messaging that heightens our feelings.

Had a person contacted me within even a few days of my initial call, I am fairly certain I would have a fixed table and a more open mind about spending with this retailer. Human interaction: what a concept.

I am choosing not to disclose the name of the retailer because it was one bad experience for me and while it was unpleasant, it wasn’t life shattering. As my son would say: #firstworldproblems.

Yet for those of you who are dealing with customers and stakeholders (who isn’t?), a little customer service goes a long way. Little, as in, call someone back (text or email is also fine) within a reasonable time frame. Treat them like you don’t want to lose them.

Sometimes customer loyalty begins with one small step: returning a call.

-- Diane Schwartz