We are living in a world where consumer expectation is changing as rapidly as ever before. New technology is enabling people to do what they want, when they want to do it, wherever they happen to be. We crave speed, simplicity and consistency in our interactions. All around the world, this change in consumer expectation is actually picking up pace – even in countries where there has been a cultural acceptance of ‘the way things are’ – people are no longer prepared to tolerate experiences that fail to meet expectation.

Unless they have been living in a cave, leaders of businesses all around the world will have noticed the changes in consumer expectation I am referring to. Not only should they have noticed the change in the way consumers interact with their own organisations, they should have recognised that their own personal needs and expectations have changed. That is right… leaders are consumers too…..they just conveniently seem to forget that fact sometimes. I often say that many business leaders would not dream of doing to themselves some of the things they do to their own customers – it is one of the most frustrating things about unacceptable customer experiences.

The fact that business leaders should therefore be completely aware of the things their organisations do that make life difficult for their customers makes it even more remarkable that awful experiences still occur. On an almost weekly basis I am made aware of things that make me shake my head in despair. Only last night (3rd February), I visited a restaurant in London that still delivered the Christmas menu to the table!! What is that about?!

Giving the Christmas menu to a customer on the 3rd February does not make my life as a consumer difficult – it just makes me wonder if the people running that business are actually awake! What is far worse is when companies do things that intentionally or unintentionally make my life more difficult. It makes absolutely NO SENSE to make a customer’s life more difficult – to highlight this, I want to share two case studies with you:

Case Study 1 – Marriott Hotels

Marriott Logo

At the beginning of January, a very good friend of mine brought a story to my attention that almost made me fall off my chair. A story that is almost so unbelievable, that I feel it is essential for others to learn from it. Marriott Hotels is a business that I have interacted with in the past. A well-known and respected global chain of hotels, it has always served up good experiences for me personally. So when I heard that this seemingly respectable business was trying to INTENTIONALLY block guests from using their own personal wi-fi access in their hotels, I was astounded. Yes – you read that right – Marriott Hotels wanted to prevent guests from using their personal wi-fi in Marriott Hotels. If you do not believe me, have a read of this article in Huffington Post.

In Marriott’s defence, they claim that they had a legitimate reason for taking this action. In a statement they stated the following:

“To set the record straight it has never been nor will it ever be Marriott’s policy to limit our guests’ ability to access the Internet by all available means,” Marriott said in the statement. “The question at hand is what measures a network operator can take to detect and contain rogue and imposter Wi-Fi hotspots used in our meeting and conference spaces that pose a security threat.”

Whether we believe them or not (and many will be highly dubious of their motivation), the action that Marriott was trying to take would intentionally make customers lives more difficult. Why on earth would you want to do that?! If you were faced with the choice of selecting a hotel for a meeting or a conference where wi-fi was completely free (either provided by the hotel or for you to use your own personal wi-fi), or a hotel who intentionally blocked you from using your own wi-fi so you had to pay to use theirs – which hotel would you choose?!

Fortunately, the Federal Communications Commission in the US have prevented Marriott Hotels from being able to execute their intended action. The FCC said simply that it was a ‘bad idea’ – you can read about it here. Thank goodness they did. Marriott Hotels insist they thought they were doing the right thing – can they honestly say that if they put themselves in their customers shoes that they would have wanted to be on the receiving end of an idea like that?!

Case Study 2 – Debenhams

My second case study is a story of my own – one that also will make you ‘tut’ vigorously at your computer screens. As one of the UKs largest department stores, most British citizens have visited a Debenhams over the years. In my home town of Chester, we now have two Debenhams stores within ten miles of each other – one in the city centre and one in an out-of-town retail park. A couple of weeks ago, my wife purchased a number of items at Debenhams in the centre of Chester. Like many people, she does not always try clothes on in store – she prefers to do that at home.

Having tried everything on, Naomi decided that she would take some of the items back. At the weekend, one of our three children had to be dropped off at the cinema for a party. As the cinema is on the same retail park as the other Debenhams store, Naomi decided to take the clothes back there at the same time – it would make life much EASIER as parking is free and she could ‘kill two birds with one stone’.

You can probably guess that it was not quite as easy as she expected. When Naomi approached the cash desk to hand the clothes back, she really did not expect the response she received. ‘Sorry’, said the Debenhams employee, ‘we cannot accept these items back at this store’. Before I tell you why, have a look at the receipt that Naomi handed to the sales assistant:

Debenhams Receipt

There is nothing on that receipt to suggest that Naomi would not be able to take any of the items back. The reason why the sales assistant said that she could not take one of the items back was because the item was sold by a concession – the concession in question is Warehouse. Debenhams in Cheshire Oaks does not have a Warehouse concession – the sales assistant was therefore advising that Naomi would only be able to take the item back to a Debenhams that does – in either Chester or Liverpool. Unbelievable!!!! Naomi’s transaction was with DEBENHAMS – not Warehouse. It quite clearly says DEBENHAMS at the top of the receipt. Concession or not – it is not of the customers concern. This ridiculous ‘process’ or ‘policy’ can only cause confusion and unnecessary effort for the customer. It can only make the customers life more difficult, To return an item purchased in DEBENHAMS had now become a whole lot more complicated.

It makes no sense at all. It is quite frankly madness. All of Naomi’s items were bought from concessions – she must therefore be one of many customers who have been faced with the same problem. If a Debenhams director had experienced what Naomi did, would they be happy with the outcome?

Making life difficult for your customers just does not make sense. It can only lead to anger, disappointment and resentment. It can only lead to customers not wanting to transact with you again the future. Making life more difficult for your customers will have a fundamental effect on the emotional component of their experience – it is what they will remember. Negative memories can only lead to lost business.

Thankfully, Marriott Hotels were blocked from doing something that almost defies belief – however the simple fact they thought it was a good idea has completely changed my perception of their brand – and not in a good way. What Debenhams did has made me question whether it is ever worth shopping there again – I cannot be bothered with the hassle. I want to be confident that I can trust and rely on a business to help make my life as easy as possible – I cannot rely on them to do that. I hope both companies read and learn from this post. I hope that others ensure that if they do not already know what makes their customers lives difficult, they find out pretty quick – failure to do so could be fatal!


If you have two minutes, please take the time to complete my 2 question survey to find out your personal #1 brand for delivering consistently good customer experiences. I also want to know what makes the brand your #1! The research will be used for an upcoming blog post – many thanks for your time!

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