• November 30, 2018
  • By Ian Jacobs, vice president and research director, Forrester Research

With Customer Experience, ‘Good’ and ‘Consistent’ Aren’t Always the Same Thing

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‘You even got me trippin’, you got me lookin’ in the mirror different/ Thinkin’ I’m flawed because you inconsistent’

—Cardi B (‘Be Careful’)

When I'm not busy analyst-ing, I like to run. Not “get up at Zero Dark Thirty and run a half-marathon at a seven-minute pace” run, mind you. So maybe it’s more accurate to say that I like to recreationally jog. Whatever one calls it, over the past seven or eight years, this exercise routine has become part of my identity. In that time, I’ve experimented with a lot of running-related gear: zero drop running shoes (uncomfortable and dorkily unfashionable), bamboo running pants (comfortable, but destroyed in just a few months), and blister-free running socks (still using those). But the one piece of equipment I am most attached to: my Bluetooth wireless earbuds. Like, I totally love these things beyond all measure.

My love, however, seems to be destructive—there’s a life lesson for you. After a little more than a year of heavy use, the rubber casings on the outside of the earbud with the charging jack and the power button began to part company with the underlying electronics. The separation became so acute that closing the flap covering the charging port became problematic. Because the earbud manufacturer has a brick-and-mortar retail location nearby, I popped over to the store to see if it had replacement casings.

What transpired next and in a follow-up visit demonstrates how customer experiences that lead to happy outcomes are not always great for a company.

When I got to the store, it took me a while to get the attention of a sales clerk. Once I did, the clerk quickly told me that the company did not sell the components separately, but that it had a warranty program to replace the earbuds. “Great. Let’s do this!” I enthused. But, of course, the warranty was only good for a year, and I had been using my beloved earbuds for about 14 months at that point. The clerk offered me a $25 discount on a new pair; given that even with the discount, I’d be out $125, I decided I could live with some inconvenience. I left with my ragged headset and pledged to myself to be more careful with them.

Until I wasn’t. A few months later, the rubber was hanging off the earbuds and the power button had broken off. I figured I’d bite the bullet and buy a new pair, although I was determined to ask for the $25 discount that I had previously been offered. Again I went to the retail outlet. This time, I had four different clerks all perk up at my entrance and offer to help me in unison. It was like something out of a demented a cappella competition!

The clerk who helped me this time repeated the spiel about the warranty. I told him that I knew I was out of warranty. He said, “Well, let’s just check the system anyway.” He took my information and quickly determined that I’d now had the earbuds for 18 months. At that point, I was amped up to get into a debate over a discount. But instead of telling me to buy a new pair, the clerk said, “Hey, I can make an exception.” He then just gave me a brand-new pair of earbuds, completely gratis.

So was this a good customer experience? From my point of view, I got a free item that I love, so I’m happy. But I also received wholly inconsistent experiences and different answers from the brand depending on the vagaries of who happened to be working the days I went to the store. From the retailer’s point of view, a customer who was perfectly willing to buy an item was given it for free.

Would I have preferred consistency over a freebie? Well, I’d be lying if I said that. But if I were the company, I’d be pretty concerned about the lack of a unified experience, and about clerks (almost literally) giving away the store.  

Ian Jacobs is a principal analyst at Forrester Research.

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