Unhappy Shoppers Are Unexpectedly Useful Unless… Ignored*

I need red pens.

(I may have escaped being an English teacher as originally planned, but your intrepid Experience Designer still uses a lot of red ink to mark up the main issues I want to focus on in new projects.)

Living in The Land of Tax-Free Shopping, otherwise known as Mall-opolis, I have two office superstores to choose from to get my beloved Uniball Micros, only a mile and a half from me, and across the street from each other.

I “like” one of them more, but knowing that they’re really six-of-one-half-a-dozen-of-the-other, I go to the one that’s on the same side of the street as I am. Turnaround traffic can be a pain here.

After some searching, I’m a bit confused. I’m used to buying the pens that leave new projects looking like neat bloodbaths in bulk, but they aren’t here.

“Uniball Micros in color come only in multicolor packs now,” says the employee who stares at the shelves with me when I inquire.

“Oh. Okay, I guess.” I fork over $10.99.

I open the box when I get out to the car. Three red pens and a bunch of colors I won’t use. Suddenly these pens don’t look so beloved.

The traffic to turn around doesn’t look so daunting, either—not when three-dollar red pens are sitting on the seat next to me. I brave the crush of humanity and head for the other store.

Where I find that each color pen can, of course, still be bought in its own 12-pack.

For a buck less, too.

It doesn’t bother me (much) that the employee who was so persuasive at Store #1 was only full of hot air and an authoritative manner. The authoritative part, at least, is probably a good quality in a retail situation, and I’m sure I’d hire for that quality, too. I’ll go back, less than ten minutes later, make the return, and the customer service people will hear that the place across the street carries better variety for less. They can decide what to do about that—or at least, they’ll be made aware. I have no need to mention Mr. Misleading to them.

I enter with the box I’d just exited with so recently and I get the expected funny look from my cashier—who is now at the customer service desk. Great! She’ll be even more curious.

When it’s my turn I hand her the box and the receipt. It’s time-stamped, in case she’s having a hard time remembering why I look so familiar.

“I need to return these,” I say.

She looks at the receipt for a moment. She doesn’t even glance at the slightly mauled box (it’s re-closeable, but it does get dogeared when it’s opened the first time). She processes the return, hands me my cash, and I leave without another word.

1. I could have replaced those pens with Pixie Stix and walked back in for my money and she wouldn’t know.

2. She couldn’t care less why my purchase was useless to me, eight and a half minutes after I just *had* to have them. Even simple curiosity, if not interest in serving the customer (at the customer service desk), should have gotten me a ??? from her.

Number one is troubling, but you’re not doing that at your place of business, right? Of course you’re not.

Watch out for the second one.

How many times does a sale go sour and you don’t ask why?

There’s a lot of data you’re not collecting there. What a waste! You’d be surprised how many dissatisfied customers are eager to help you improve.

Treat fractured sales as seriously as you treat sales that go well. This was a minor issue, but frequently you can uncover invaluable insights that you’ll find out in no other way. As often ask you ask, How did you enjoy us, remember to ask in sales that go sour, Where did we go wrong?

With the information you gather you’ll be able to start cutting those lost sales immediately.


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson


*Sorry, alliteration fans. I couldn’t think of a word for “ignored” that begins with a U.