Every day, every week, every month, every year, I learn something new. It is one of the reasons I obsess with calling myself a ‘specialist’, not an ‘expert’. Specialists never stop learning and I am regularly reminded that there nuggets of knowledge waiting around every corner. A few weeks ago, a fellow Customer Experience Specialist – an amazing lady called Jan Richards – passed on one such nugget. On this occasion, Jan did so unintentionally. Despite that, it is a nugget that has refused to leave my memory banks ever since – which has led to me deciding to write about it today.

I cannot remember the exact context of the conversation. Whether we were talking about a customer, colleague, peer or friend is almost irrelevant. What I remember distinctly is Jan saying something along the lines of:

They will have a CONNIPTION if they see that!

I am no language scholar – yet I believe I am pretty well versed in the English Language. However, CONNIPTION is one word that seems to have completely passed me by over the last 45 years. So much so, I was convinced that Jan had made it up! I was not doubting Jan’s intellectual capability – in fact she said it with such gusto, I had to think twice about questioning it. Having reassured me that CONNIPTION was indeed a real, genuine word, I looked it up in the dictionary – this is what I found:

What a brilliant word! Not that I have many of my clients having a conniption in telephone conversations with me, I might add! It is a brilliant word (in my opinion), as it very effectively acts as the perfect descriptor for a customer (or colleague for that matter) who has been pushed to the very edge of a precipice. For any organisation to be sustainably successful, it is vital to be able to identify the MOMENTS where the outcome of the experiences customers have are essentially the ‘final straw’. These are the moments that leave customers feeling so emotionally distressed by the experience they have had, that they quite literally have a CONNIPTION! ‘The customer conniption’ is the perfect indicator, if you had not guessed already, that not only is a customer extremely dissatisfied with the experience, the likelihood of them returning is minimal. Additionally, the customer conniption is very likely to lead to more significant consequences.

I do not often have a conniption as a customer. It takes a lot to really push me to the point where a conniption is the result. I have many, many experiences that fail to meet my expectations. Yet often, even when experiences fall below even my most basic of expectations, they do not have an overriding emotional effect that would lead me to the point of rage!

We regularly obsess with identifying ‘the moments that matter’ in customer experiences. Identifying known pain points in customer journeys is definitely not a new concept. Increasingly, organisations are also excelling at determining where moments in the customer journey could become ‘magical’ or ‘memorable’. Yet in any organisation, being consciously aware of the likelihood of the customer conniption rearing its head, could mean the difference between keeping a customer or not.

Let me bring this to life with a story. Those who know me well, know that when I am in the UK (which is not as often as I would like), I hire a car if I need one. Some of my articles have been inspired by experiences with various car hire companies – and not because they have left me with positive memories! The company I have been using for the last two years is Enterprise Rent a Car. My experiences with them have been anything but smooth. There are a number of occasions where they have ‘pushed me’ emotionally… almost to the point of the customer conniption… but not quite – read this article as a case in point.

In 2017, Enterprise secured over 80 days of car rental from Ian Golding – I would guess that makes me a significant customer. Sometimes I feel that way, sometimes I don’t. Last week I hired a car as I normally would. Despite renting as often as I do, every single time I rent a car, I am asked for the same information. How long have I lived at my current address? What company do I work for? What position do I hold in the company? It is rather annoying to repeat it over and over again. I am also asked every time for two emergency contact names and phone numbers – every time! Things like this are annoying, but, not significant enough for me to have a conniption.

In my experience, Enterprise are still the best option for me (compared to the competition) – I have therefore come to accept the annoyances in the experience – yet they always leave me feeling that I can see the edge of the precipice in the distance, but it is a little too far away for me to fall off. If you can see the edge of the precipice, it does not take a lot to move you closer to it.

The car I was given last week did nudge me in that direction. To cut a long story short, the car was not great. Having clocked up over 36,000 miles, it was not as new as you might expect from a car hire company. It did not have cruise control – something I now see as a basic requirement – especially with the category of car I hired. I have also told more than one person at the Enterprise branch in Chester over the last couple of years that cruise control is important to me. Driving down to London, I realised that the USB connection did not work. As I was relying on my phone for driving directions, I ended up having to stop at a service station to buy an adaptor for the cigarette lighter.

What made things worse is that the radio in the car kept failing. That meant that the hands free phone facility would not work either. The only way I could get it to work again was by stopping the car, waiting five minutes, before starting re-starting it. It was the most infuriating couple of days of car hire I have endured. When I took the car back to Manchester Airport, I was actually delighted to get rid of it.

The Enterprise staff member at Manchester Airport was very understanding. However, with Enterprise, when you are renting a car from one branch and dropping it off at the other, it is the original branch who have to respond to any issues. The lady assured me she would pass my feedback on to the Chester branch. However, having checked the car, the lady then pointed out to me that the indicator on one of the door mirrors was cracked. At this point, the edge of the precipice was looming ever closer. It was not something I had spotted when picking up the car in Chester – it had nothing to do with me. I was asked to fill out a form.

As I walked away, in my mind, I decided that if Enterprise were going to penalise me for the cracked indicator, that would be ‘THE FINAL STRAW’. I did not realise it at the time, but it would most certainly have led to me having an almighty conniption. A couple of days later, I received a message on phone – from Enterprise in Chester, asking me to call them. I could feel my blood pressure rising. I was certain that the final straw would be breaking pretty soon. I called back the following day – the person I spoke to had no idea why I had been asked to phone!! I was told that they would call me back – they never did.

So when I approached the Enterprise branch in Chester on Tuesday morning this week, I was bracing myself to finally fall over the edge of the precipice. I can confirm that I did not – I am still standing. I did not have a conniption. In fact, nothing happened. No-one said anything – either about the feedback I had given, or about the broken indicator. What did happen, is that I was given a better car than I had paid for. Whether this was done intentionally, I will never know – but it prevented the final straw from being broken.

This story works as a great reminder that many customers are constantly standing on the edge – they are receiving and accepting experiences that are regularly failing to meet their expectations. However, due to circumstances or lack of reasonable choice, they are still handing you their hard earned cash. The key is, with this being the case, we must always remind ourselves that the customer conniption is never far away – customer relationships are very likely to be very fragile. One little thing, could be the final straw. One little thing, could lead to the customer having a conniption. Spotting that and preventing it from happening may just keep your customer and sustain the future of your business.

My book, Customer What – the honest and practical guide to Customer Experience – will be published early in 2018. You can find out more here…