A Yin & Yang Customer Experience

My typical focus on this blog is about marketing the Storming of Thunder Ridge, a bicycling fundraiser. For today, however, I want to share an account of a recent dichotomous customer experience. Here’s the background…

When we bought our house, my wife chose a pair of sconce lights for the front door. They’re beautiful. And expensive. They’re made by Hinkley Lighting.

Last fall, one of them stopped working. My neighbor is an Electrical Engineer who likes a good challenge. He determined that the problem was not the house wiring but, rather, in the light itself. Translation: the light would need to be rewired.

Being a good Boy Scout (and Samaritan), my friend snaked a new wire through the intricate curves of the lamp housing. Four-letter words were uttered. Repeatedly.

He fixed it. And, being grateful, I gave him a gift card to Home Depot – he needed a new soldering gun anyway.

Last week, the other light fixture developed similar symptoms. I got annoyed. Did I mention the lights are expensive?

Upon reviewing the warranty information, I discovered that the electrical components were covered for twelve years. Good, I thought, let Hinkley deal with this and not my neighbor.

But Hinkley didn’t step up to the plate. The person in customer service claimed that the twelve year warranty didn’t apply for my lights because Hinkley had recently changed the warranty; it used to be one year. Tough luck. Thanks for buying our expensive lights. We’re not going to help you. Goodbye.

Luckily I had a Plan B which was to visit the local lighting store where we purchased the light fixtures. And, mercifully, we had a very different customer experience.

The employee said he’d call Hinkley to find out about the warranty. He got stonewalled, too. However, he didn’t stop there.

Instead, he’d order replacement wiring and sockets, and rewire the lights for me – both the defective one and the one by neighbor rewired. Oh, and he’d do it at no charge! (Incidentally, he’s not the owner of the store nor is he the manager.)

Earlier this week, Danny Brown rhetorically asked Why do brands continuously look to piss their customers off? in his timely and spot-on post, Stop Driving Me To Your Competitors.

I’m sure companies don’t really set out to frustrate, anger and alienate their customers. The failure, I suspect, is that front-facing personnel – the folks who actually interface with customers – have a set a rules and guidelines they’ve been told to follow. Stray from them at your own risk.

Indeed there are exceptions. Zappos is the current go-to example of exemplary customer service. And those of a certain age may recall the account where a Nordstrom clerk refunded a customer who returned a pair of snow tires even though the department store doesn’t sell tires (was that true of urban legend?).

I’m a proponent of doing the right thing. I suspect Danny Brown is too.

Hinkley – for its own reasons – missed an opportunity to do the right thing by helping its customer. My local lighting store, in contrast, was exemplary. Our future buying decisions will be influenced by both experiences.

By the way, my wife baked brownies for the store which we will drop off when we pick up the lights later today. We’ll also write a thank-you letter. Plus, we’ll tell everyone we know about our good experience and recommend the store.


Next time, I’ll share our progress and marketing observations on the Storming of Thunder Ridge project.

Meanwhile, why do you think there is often a disconnect between a company’s good intentions and the customer experience? Is Danny Brown right – is it too hard for companies to think like their customers?

(Image: assbach)


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