How to Upset Your Customers for 2 Cents or Less

As I walked away stunned. I remember feeling frustrated by what I had just experienced.

We had been looking forward to this day for a while. For our birthdays, my Mom gave my son Jacob and I tickets to today’s baseball game between The Toronto Blue Jays (our favorite team) and the Seattle Mariners at the Rogers Centre Toronto.

What frustrated me was not the 90 minute drive to the park or the $6.00 hot dogs or $4.25 that I spent for a bottle of diet coke. No what upset me was what happened after the game.

A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of working on a major nationwide research study of customer retention and rejection behaviours for one of the big three automotive manufactures. And after studying the mountains of data (65 pages in 8 point font) that we collected from our mystery shoppers our #1 conclusion was that it takes a lot of little things to produce a satisfied customer, but only one thing (which we informally called piss-off factors) to frustrate that customer and prevent them from making a purchase.

Our experience at the ball park was for the most part a positive one.

For instance: we were treated to a pretty entertaining game (although our Jays lost 5-1) and we had fun doing the wave, almost catching a foul ball.

And my son watched in amazement as he handed his money (O.K. it was my money) over to a complete stranger and watch as it was passed from one stranger to another down our row and then our pop and the exact change came back through to us. (This only happens at ball parks)

So for the most part the day was a big hit. We had fun, we enjoyed each others company and spent a wonderful day in the sunshine.

That was until we stopped at a souvenir stand on the way out.

My son pulled looked in the display case and decided that he wanted to spend some of his birthday money on a mini wooden baseball bat. We got the clerks attention, she got his bat out of the display case and rang up his purchase. She then told him how much it was and he dug into his little black leather change pouch to get her the money. He paid her and he was to receive 22 cents back in change. However, the clerk said to him, “Your change is 22 cents, however I am all out of pennies so I can only give you 20 cents back.”

Jacob, who was so focused on getting his new bat, took the money and then waited for me to complete my purchase. I watched this and thought, “That was strange, usually when someone can’t make the right change they would err in the favour of the customer by giving more change (ie. 25 cents back instead of 20).”

But instead of saying anything, I thought I would give her one more chance to make it right, by deliberately giving exact change for my purchase (including 4 pennies). This way she would have the opportunity to take two of those pennies and give them back to their rightful owner (my son).

Now what do you think she did?

What would you do?

Would you do what I hoped she would do and give him the 2 cents back (he was standing right there with me and it was obvious that we were together), or would you do as she did, which was to do nothing.

And I know what you may be thinking. It was only 2 cents. But that is not the point.

The point is that we all have a service expectation (receiving the right change) when we make a purchase and when that expectation is not met, we become frustrated.

So in the words of my pastor Dave Ralph

“Frustration happens when expectations don’t meet reality.”

A couple other examples of this principle could be:

  • when the waiter asks you if you want change when you go to pay the bill (which in my book automatically cancels any tip they were going to receive), or
  • when an automotive sales consultant doesn’t set the expectation in your mind of how long it will take to pick up your new vehicle.

Remember every point of contact with a customer serves as a moment of truth.

Every point of contact is an opportunity to delight, serve or frustrate your customer.

And that is why every point of contact should be taken seriously.

Because 2 cents (or less) is not worth (pissing off) and losing a customer over.

Hey, I wonder what the folks in Marketing, who spend many hours (and thousands of dollars) trying to figure our how to get me into the ball park would think of this experience.

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