I am often asked how I find so much to write about on the subject of Customer Experience. Happily and sadly too many organisations make it very easy. So many of us experience great things (less so) and awful things (too often) on a regular basis, that I am inundated with stories that bring to life the effect (good, bad or indifferent) that Customer Experiences really do have. In this post I am going to share another of my own experiences that is ongoing – as always, I do so in the hope that the story not only brings to life the true meaning of Customer Experience, but that it will also help the company concerned and others understand how to prevent situations like this occurring in the future.
This is my beautiful twelve year old daughter Ciara. You may be wondering how a young lady could possibly look so sad and disappointed during the school holidays. Ciara is standing in her bedroom – in front of half constructed ‘built in wardrobes’. For the last two years we have been promising to renovate her bedroom. Now a young lady, Ciara wanted and needed a space that was suitable for a growing clothing collection and for her growing school workload!
Naomi and I spent a long time looking at a variety of options to fulfill Ciara’s requirements. Finding something that both appeals to a ‘nearly teenage’ girl and that is in sympathy with a Victorian house is not actually that easy. We have always been interested in the possibility of investing in built in wardrobes, but the cost has always made us think twice.
However, at the beginning of this year, we decided to ‘bite the bullet’ and visit the company that has the biggest and best reputation for designing and installing fitted furniture – Hammonds. A quick review of their website fills the prospective customer with a semblance of confidence. They state the following:
At Hammonds, we know how to make the most of every square inch of your room. Everything we do is made to measure, so problems such as tricky alcoves, sloping cellings or awkward corners simply aren’t an issue.
We’ve been infusing homes with WOW for almost 90 years, so we’ve learnt a thing or two about what works, what doesn’t and what really knocks people’s socks off.
Having your dream room has never been so affordable or stress free.
As far as I am concerned, any business that has existed for 90 years is a business that is very likely to be doing a lot of things right. The question is (as always), would they be able to live up to a publicly stated claim of being ‘affordable and stress free’?
The experience started very well. The showroom is good and Hammonds people extremely nice. I am always warmed by the way employees of organisations respond to adults AND children – the lady that we interacted with and every person since has been very engaging with all of the Goldings. In fact, from the minute we started our ‘customer journey’ with Hammonds, we have been met with consistently friendly, helpful and knowledgeable people – things were looking good.
On the value front, I have to say that investing in Hammonds fitted furniture is not a low cost decision. Hammonds may be more affordable than they ever have been before, but purchasing their products is still a very significant decision – it is not quite as significant as buying a car or even a house, but it is right up there with the biggest purchases that consumers tend to make. When a consumer spends a ‘lot’ of money, their expectations tend to reflect the size of the investment they are making. Failure to meet these expectations can have dire consequences.
Our customer journey continued very positively. From the showroom to the design to the order to the survey – it is difficult to find fault with the experience. As we finally signed on the dotted line, we had one very excited young lady who was eagerly looking forward to her bedroom being transformed into a palace. As Hammonds publicly state on their website – the wardrobes were the integral component in delivering Ciara’s ‘dream room’.
We were advised that we would have to wait six weeks from placing our order for the fitting to take place – this was made very clear and as a result, our expectations on how long it would take were perfectly managed. The 20th August was confirmed as the date and we were advised that it would take two days. To us, this constituted a promise – a commitment from Hammonds that this is when they would fulfill their order – there was nothing to suggest that this would not be seen through.
As a result of being given the firm dates, Naomi (as the ‘commander in chief of planning’ in the Golding household), put plans into action to coordinate a series of complimentary events that would need to align to the wardrobe fitting. For a start, we needed to decorate the room. New carpet would be required as well as new curtains. In fact, Naomi planned everything so well, that I was able to arrange my workload to enable us to prepare the room on the 18th and 19th August so we could decorate on the 22nd and 23rd of August and then move Ciara back in before enjoying a late summer holiday from the 27th August.
At 8:30 am on Thursday 20th August, as promised, Hammonds arrived to fit Ciara’s wardrobes. The experienced craftsman who was to complete the installation was as nice as everyone else who we had met from Hammonds so far. As soon as he arrived, it was clear that he would go about his work quietly, efficiently and unobtrusively. We were all very impressed. At the end of day one, Naomi and I were very happy with the way things were going – the whole customer experience had been GREAT so far and we were confident it would continue that way.
The only thing that slightly concerned me was that the ‘fitter’ suggested that the time allocated to the fitting of the wardrobes ‘would not be long enough’ – he was told it was a one and half day job. Prior to leaving at 5:30 pm on Thursday, he confirmed that it would be more like two very long days. However, there was still no suggestion that he would not complete the job prior to the weekend.
By lunchtime on Friday, the situation was looking very different. It was looking likely that the job would NOT be finished. At 5:00 pm we were told that he would have to come back on Monday to finish the job off. We completely acknowledge that things will go wrong – it is a fact of life that perfection is difficult to achieve – however, the fact that the job was not completed in the time we were promised meant that our plans were suddenly thrown out of kilter.
We could no longer decorate over the weekend – due to my work commitments, we would have no choice but to change our holiday plans for the 27th and 28th August so would paint the room then instead – not something we wanted to do and something that caused considerable disruption and disappointment. However, as long as the job would be completed on Monday 24th, we would be happy. Our fitter left at 6:00 pm saying he would be back at 8:30 am on Monday morning.
On Sunday night Naomi received a text message from our fitter advising that he would not be coming in the morning – he would now be with us by lunchtime. Not great, but at least he was still coming. On Monday morning, instead of seeing him in the flesh, Naomi received a phone call – he would not be coming at all!! All he could say was that Hammonds would be in touch to arrange a new time for him to finish the job!!
Everything that Hammonds had done up to this point to generate great memories of the experience were unceremoniously thrown out of the window. Later that morning, Naomi received a phone call from Hammonds in Chester. Although the lady was very nice, she said that the workload had now ‘backed up’ and that our fitter would not be able to come back and finish the job until Wednesday 2nd September!!!!! A whole week and a half later!!! The great experience was steadily turning into a terrible one.
Naomi expressed her dissatisfaction on the call – all her well laid plans were in tatters. Hammonds claim that getting your dream room with them is ‘stress free’ – in our case I could not disagree more. Ciara’s dream had in fact been shattered. She would now have to start back at school without her dream room being ready to move in to. All her furniture and clothes are on our landing. The mattress for her bed is taking up most of her brother’s bedroom. Hammonds phoned back later that day to confirm that there was NOTHING they could do.
So what is the learning here? I spend a substantial amount of my time teaching people all over the world about the importance of understanding how customer experiences make customers FEEL. The emotional component of any customer experience is perhaps the most important, as it is the part of the experience that customers REMEMBER. Hammonds had transformed us from feeling great about the experience to feeling terrible about it. The entire customer journey had been so open and transparent up to the point things started going wrong. As soon as they did, we were left to create our own perception of what they were doing to us.
We felt as though we were de-prioritised by Hammonds. Now the work had started, we were unable to STOP them from completing it. We were at their whim to complete it when THEY wanted – without any consideration to our situation or circumstances. We assumed that they were MORE interested in starting new jobs in order to not disappoint others – but surely they should finish what they have started first!! To be told that there was NOTHING that they could do felt like a kick in the teeth. That was the icing on the cake in turning a great experience into a terrible one.
At the end of the day, we now have no choice but to wait. Our plans will have to be changed – we will just have to get on with it. However, the consequences for Hammonds are multiple. We are unlikely to ever purchase something from them again. If anyone asks us about fitted wardrobes, we are very likely to tell them to stay well away from Hammonds. The fact that I am having to write this post at all is a consequence they will have to bear.
In 2013, I conducted independent research of my own to understand the ‘most important things’ to customers when interacting with organisations. The third most important thing was ‘keeping promises; reliability’. As consumers, ‘doing what you say you will’ is so important when it comes to Customer Experience. Breaking promises and reacting to those events inappropriately is a sure fire way to detrimentally affect the future ongoing sustainability of your business. You can read more about that research here.
Just prior to writing this post, Hammonds customer service team got in contact with me. They did so in response to my tweets advising that I would be writing about our experience. They were phoning to advise that a new fitter would now be coming on the 28th August to finish the job. Well the 28th is better than the 2nd September, but it should not have been as a result of my social media intervention that they were suddenly able to do something they said they could not. It is also not great that a different person will be completing the job – we just hope that the expert work done so far will continue.
So there it is – how to turn a great experience into a terrible one. The greatest shame is that the bad now completely overshadows the VERY VERY GOOD things that they have done in the customer journey. Their customer journey failure has completely let down their excellent people. I only hope that they can learn from this story and prevent other customers from feeling the way we have done in the future.
Update – 3rd September 2015
I am very pleased to report that Hammonds successfully completed the wardrobe installation one week late on the 28th August. Two lovely men, both called Paul, finished the job in another very long day. Ciara is VERY happy with her new room!!
Today, unexpectedly, I received a letter in the post. It is a nice touch to close off the story. You can read it for yourself and draw your own conclusions, but I personally feel as though our experience has served to help Hammonds – and I hope that it will prevent other customers from experiencing the same as us in the future. Things will go wrong – they always do, but it is vital that any organisation is able to respond appropriately when it does!