Experience Design

The Customer Experience Conundrum

If you’ve been reading the Maximum Customer Experience blog for a while, you’ve probably come across at least a few posts here that had you nodding your head in understanding and agreement.

If I’m really doing my job as your guide to Experience Design, maybe you’ve even read some posts that have given you an Aha! moment— “Aha! I’ve had that happen to me as a customer,” and/or “Aha! I’ll bet that’s going on with my customers.”

I’m delighted if you’ve left a comment on one of those posts to let me know how it clarified things or made you want to take action to shake your business out of its slump.

And I’m thrilled if I’ve occasionally encouraged you to dig deeper into the hundreds of archived articles here, looking for further ideas for growing your business.

But did you take the action?

Did you put Radically Improving in-person or online Customer Experience at the top of your to-do list? Well, why not?

  • Worried that something might go wrong

Might you change the Customer Experience for the worse? Sure, it’s possible, but with a little bit of research in advance and plenty of open communication/ customer feedback along the way, it’s not very likely—and if you’re actively listening, you’ll be able to make adjustments as you go, even if a bit of backtracking is in order. Just ask Gap.

  • Worried that it will be too difficult to do

Is there backbreaking labor and months and months of crazy schemes you can’t possibly commit to, looming when you decide to improve your customers’ Experience? If you’ve been reading here for a while you know that every week I suggest small steps that add up to big changes over time. In our small- to mid-sized-businesses, we have no need for massive CE projects that seem to stretch on forever. You can make big improvements happen fast (I’d be glad to help/) or begin with little shifts—both will change customers’ attitudes about buying from you.

  • Hasn’t become an emergency yet

The most likely reason why you haven’t given fabulous Customer Experience a top place on your priority list is that it’s not on fire.

Or so you think.

In small business, folks tend to think in terms of emergencies… way too often. Pay the bill, renew the ad, stop the leak, fix the cracked tile, answer the email. Oh, yeah, and take care of the customer in front of us. Just like when you were in school and the homework due tomorrow looked mighty important, but the project you had three weeks for looked soooo far off.

The problem with a Customer Experience “fire” is that it looks very far off, while under the surface, it’s causing many of the problems that are going on right now (fewer emails to answer, more returns than sales, old customers drawn away by your competition in ways they never were before…).

So while your business is dealing with the smoke of decreasing sales, increasing complaints, tough competition, and conflicting priorities—or if you’re hoping to stay ahead of those issues and even make some headway while other companies continue to “wait things out” —it’s time to look a lot more closely at your Customer Experience. Yes, there’s already a fire, and waiting to put it out could prove deadly.

If you’re holding back on making a concrete plan to improve your Customer Experience, I don’t think it’s because you can’t see the reward. More satisfied customers = larger sales, more frequent sales, more word-of-mouth, and of course, more sales. You know that!

If worries about doing it wrong or becoming overwhelmed are getting to you, remember to do your research and make improving Customer Experience a small (but daily) part of your company’s procedures.

And if CE just doesn’t look like Job #1, remember…

No customers, no Job #2. It’s that urgent.

What’s holding you back?


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Getting your firm, fit—for 2011 and beyond

Warm Up…

your stiff January muscles and your staff’s with a few brisk morning cleaning sessions.

Just a half an hour a day, three times this week, and you can give a deep cleaning to fixtures, glass, and floors, and make a big difference with small efforts that you never seem to get ‘round to the rest of the year. (Warm up bonus: after things are spiffy, give your entry a fresh coat of paint. Doing just the entry will save you time and money over a huge revamp but studies show it gives almost as much impact to the customer.)


the stakes on that product you love having in your line, even though it never makes any money.

Everybody’s got one. A sentimental favorite. It takes too long to create, or it costs more than it brings in, or it’s never worth the hassle, even though you had dreams of its taking the business to new heights once the customers “get it.” If they don’t get it now, they’re not going to. (This exercise is one of the tough ones. Hate me now, love me later. It’s worth it.)


a glass with your customers now and then.

Whether you’re literally asking them out for coffee or just cracking open a can of soda with them and inviting them to sit for a few minutes, be sure to take time this year (at least once a month) to listen to both regular buyers and occasional browsers or new visitors in free-form discussions. Ask good questions about how your business/product/service fits into their lives, and listen to their answers fully. Then look for ways you can put their ideas into action right away.


up with some of the best small business and Customer Experience books to come out in the last year:

Jim Joseph’s The Experience Effect
Hot off the presses, Eduardo Porter’s The Price of Everything: Solving the Mystery of Why We Pay What We Do
Adrian Ott’s The 24-Hour Customer
Zappo’s CEO Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness
Craig Elias and Tibor Shanto’s Shift: Harness the Trigger Events That Turn Prospects Into Customers
Robbin Phillips (with others)’s Brains on Fire: Igniting Powerful, Sustainable Word-of-Mouth Movements


some numbers and look for ways to add to your marketing efforts online or off, either in dollars or in time spent on marketing.

If you aren’t spending at least 15% of both hours and money looking for new clients, all it takes is a little downturn to show the holes in your “loyal” old customer base… (well, I guess we all know that now). This is the best time to renew your commitment to spreading the word—especially if things are once again looking up for your company in 2011.


employee morale with unexpected “bonuses.”

Sure, you’re probably already generous with praise when it’s warranted, because it’s the right thing to do and because you know that happy, frequently-recognized employees create better Experiences for your customers. This is a great time to think about ways you can go beyond simple pats on the back. What about a dinner gift certificate in your back pocket, ready to notice someone going beyond expectations and surprise them with your thanks, maybe once a month? A wall of praise where you encourage customers to say something wonderful about employees for everyone to see? A bagel breakfast for staff and management to relax… and come up with off-the-wall ideas for enhancing your Customer Experience? A bonus doesn’t have to be cash-in-hand to make working with your company something extra-special.


your definition of the business

Coming off a rough patch… like pretty much everyone is right now? Take the input you’re gaining with today’s exercises (from staff, from customers), and expand in a way you’ve never considered. Don’t break the bank and add on a wing, but find a way to go in a new direction on a small scale. Remember when you were a startup and everything was “put our toes in the water and only jump if we see a profit”? Think like a startup, and stretch your business in a new way, watching and tweaking as you see how it affects your sales.

Congratulations! After that workout, you’re on your way to the best shape of your business life. Stick with MCE, and you’ll see Maximum results fast—and you (probably) won’t even have to break a sweat.


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Ripped from our top secret Customer Experience files


You’d rather sleep in than open up shop

It’s not that you don’t see the clutter/ grime/ burnt-out bulbs/ peeling paint, it’s that you don’t feel like dealing with those little details that mean a lot

You lose an hour in chat with a customer who loves you and don’t make it up later on that day… or that week…

You can’t remember what ads you have going right now

& you don’t know whether your ads are effective for your business

You have a channel for customer feedback online or in-shop, but no one is in charge of reading and responding to the feedback

& no one stops to thank folks who leave positive comments

You can’t remember the last time you asked, “How did you find us?”

or the last time you asked a satisfied customer for a referral

You’ve forgotten how to: dress up at night; tempt; take cues from the birds and the bees; express your passion; make “same as it ever was,” sexy again; and how to tickle

Your last website redesign was during Web 1.0

or you (still!) don’t have a website

Your last logo redesign was during the Reagan administration

You’re doing a semi-annual sale for the 20th time this year, discounting for dollars and saying goodbye to growth

You’re winging it—hoping for better results, but without a plan that explains “better results from what?”

You’ve stopped talking other businesses up (no time! no time! no ROI!), yet you wonder why they’ve stopped talking you up

You know there are dozens of little things you could do to help your company grow, starting today, but instead of picking a few and going for it…

Hey! What are you doing instead of picking a few and going for it?

Feel free to leave a comment—what are you going to work on? Then get out and start!


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

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Sure-Fire Ways To Turn Off Your Customers

1. Sure-fire? I won’t keep you in suspense. My #1 way to turn off your customer is to advertise anything you offer as “sure-fire.” Few phrases can set off the b.s. detectors faster than a “sure-fire” guarantee. So if you’re doing any promotional work and you’re thinking about hyping it up as sure-fire in this skeptical and oversold world, consider injecting a little humility instead. It’s a sure-fire way to get a better response.

What other subtle and often-overlooked sins might you be committing without realizing it, right now?

2. Talk down. Whether it’s a mechanic who can’t be bothered to explain your car repair well, after he’s sized you up, or a waiter who raises an eyebrow and speaks slooowly after you mispronounce Petit Syrah, those are the moments that kill the joy, guarantee that we won’t learn, and make the likelihood of referral business evaporate.

3. Refuse to commit. You may think you’re being accommodating. Is that it? It’s nice when new buyers like you, isn’t it? I don’t know, but when you use too many qualifiers, some people might think that you don’t have a point of view. Please consider committing to a point of view if you’re fond of making sales. When you ask questions that are pretty much fillers, or that you ought to know the answers to yourself, maybe some people will decide you sound inexperienced or insecure, don’t you think?

Ugh. Yes, indeed. Wishy-washy is the silent business killer, because your being overly polite means customers will in turn be too polite to tell you that you’re getting on their nerves with your apologetic words and tone.

So don’t do that. You’re the expert; admit it. (Okay?)

4. Dirt is murder. Filthy. Sloppy. Cluttered and claustrophobic, in your online or offline place of business. Maybe you don’t notice; maybe clean and streamlined just isn’t high on your list of to-dos. Customers’ reactions to your happy mess range from discomfort, to inability to focus on making a purchase, to abject horror! Believe it: Your happy mess is messing up your bottom line.

5. Perfect is scary. If dirt is murder, its opposite is pretty darned close. Ever been in a store where you felt like touching the merchandise you’re trying to buy might bring on a swarm of salespeople to save their precious goods from you? When customers feel like a bull in a china shop because of your perfectionist displays, only the most stubborn (or oblivious) will stick around to make a purchase. Leave things just a little un-done so it feels okay to look.

6. Acoustic torture. Go ahead, create a mood. Bach, Beatles, Beastie Boys, Beyoncé. Sound should be a part of defining your Experience, and attracting and keeping your Ideal Customer. Go too loud, though, and the music becomes the message—or worse, an endurance test. Loud enough to demonstrate that you’re in tune with your customers, yes. Loud enough to drive away sales—big sin.

7. Go overboard. Sexy, not pornographic. Pink, not Pepto-Bismol factory. Grunge, not condemned building. Even classy can be overdone if it comes across as snooty. Any design motif can be pushed too far, and end up turning off more customers than it pulls in. Make sure the folks you’re aiming for feel welcomed, not manipulated, by your design theme.

8. Make us guess. No way to figure our how the store (online or off) is organized? No sales help/ customer service visible? (My fave— ) No price tags? Forget what Prince said about If you have to ask you can’t afford it. For most of us, if we have to ask… Goodbye.

9. Keep us in the dark. Who turned off the lights? If we can’t see it, we can’t buy it. ‘Nuff said.

10. Waste our time. Hey, as customers we’ve all learned to put up with plenty of smaller sins from businesses we deal with. We accept that we are the beta-testers for our buggy software. We know that we have to wait for online purchases to arrive. There will be a line at the drive-though and a wait at the dentist, and we expect it. But we don’t accept endless telephone trees, unreturned emails, or waiting for your sales clerk to stop texting and ring up our purchase. We put up with a lot these days. Make buying from you the smooth and easy part of our day, and we’ll find plenty of friends to recommend you to.

Because smooth and easy is one sure-fire way to make buying from you memorable.

I’d love to hear about the sins that turn you off the most (and the ones you still need to conquer in your own workplace) in the comment section!


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Ten ways, of course*

Ah, summer. It’s got us by the neck here in the greater Philadelphia region, literally—when you step outside in weather this hot you can just about choke on the chewy, steamy air. Seems like folks don’t want to think too hard until the mercury comes down a bit—and even if it’s not quite 100°F where you are, I’ll bet it’s getting to you, too. But ten minutes? Everybody’s got the tail end of a coffee break or those last minutes before powering down the laptop for the day, waiting to be put to better use. Here, a few starters for the next time you can steal 10 minutes:

1. Go through recent emails, or sit and reminisce for a minute (just the right speed for summer “work”!). Write down the last three compliments you got from satisfied customers. Ask your web-person to put ‘em up on your website.

2. Early in the morning or late in the day, take a photo of your building in the gorgeous summer sun. Get that up on the website as well, with a map, so folks can find you more easily—and start to feel like they “know” the place before they even arrive.

3. While you’re taking photos, have a staffer or a friend take yours outside. Better yet, have your friend make it a group shot of you and the whole staff. If you haven’t updated your photo in a while (remember to smile for the birdie regularly), the warm tones of the summer sun will do wonders for any willing helper’s photography skills.

4. Read a magazine. Some folks might recommend you keep headlines and concepts from articles in your swipe files, and that’s great, but I’d like you to look at the advertisements. Take ten minutes and learn what folks with budgets way bigger than yours are emphasizing right now—fears? hopes? escapism? realism? Write down a few tips you can take from the mood of the moment—and will you go their way or make your own way?

5. Meet a neighbor. I know, I’m forever recommending that you extend your reach, and find out what your customers are thinking, but this idea’s more casual. In ten minutes you’re not going to make a sales pitch or pick anyone’s brain. Say hi to the owner of the business next door, ask a question you’ve always wondered about what they do, and say you were just taking a minute to stand up and look around you. Don’t get anxious about it, it’s not the introduction that’ll launch the next Tesla Motors … or maybe it is. You never know what a little “hello” can start.

6. Pick up the cigarette butts outside your building. Won’t take more than ten minutes, makes a world of difference.

7. Finish something you dropped the ball on. I don’t know what it is, but you do. Whatever that thing you dread is, take ten minutes and get it over with. (I had to take my own advice on this today, and it didn’t hurt a bit. Mostly.)

8. Read this blog. Start to finish, if you have more than ten minutes. Start now, if not. This is a guy I adore for his ability to turn ten minutes… into lemonade. Great reading in summer or anytime.

9. Read this book. So good I read it twice… and I keep coming back to it. Okay, it’ll take you a little longer than ten minutes, but it’s such a zippy read you can go through it in 10-minute chunks over several days, or devote a night to it and say to your neglected spouse, “Wow, tonight went by like it was only a coffee break!”

10. Stay hungry. (Do click through—Mark Stevens said it so well last week.) This is one of my most deeply held beliefs—that hunger is critical to maximizing potential—yet one I’m conflicted on, too. So much of the great creative, scientific, and business genius in history has come from hungry young men and women. There’s a spark to the early work of so many people that isn’t there in later years. Does this mean younger people have some advantage in cranking out the awesomeness?

(This won’t surprise you…) I don’t think so, if we’re willing to dream big, work hard, create big, bold, Maximum experiences, and stay hungry. If Renoir could do it until he was in his late 70s, why not us?

Got a ten-minute tip that’ll put a little summer zing into someone else’s business? Take one minute and share it in the comments!


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

*Yes, folks, I’m on a tens-kick, leading up to the 500th post (coming soon!) here at MCE. Why? Because being on a 500s-kick would be too loooooong!

It packs a wallop!

Imagine yourself the owner of a pink-and-white dog grooming boutique.

Puppy Pampering by Paulette, let’s say. (Must we? Bear with me. To create Maximum Customer Experience, sometimes we must imagine such things.)

I meet you at the every-other-month Chamber of Commerce luncheon, and I mention my new Wolfhound puppy. We get to talking about shampoos and puppy brushing, and you and I hit it off, so you hand me your card. You know, the one with the blue-cloud background and the cartoon dogs with the kid typeface that was oh-so-cute at the U-design-em business card website. It’s not much of a card, but you seem like the kind of person I’d love to drop my dog off with. So what about the cheapo card?

Well, I’m kinda busy, so I forget for a while about treating my dog like the itty-bitty princess that she is, even though I drive by a shop with big sunny windows and a no-nonsense sign out front every morning on my way to work: no name, just Dog grooming, reasonable rates.

Every week I see an ad in the paper for half off doggy manicures. There’s a blurry picture of a frolicking dog, and a fun distressed font telling me to mention this ad. But I’m kinda busy (well, okay, I’m doing the crossword when I see it—I count that as busy), and whenever I do think of dealing with her unruly fur and that itch she seems to have developed, I wonder where your card went. You seemed so nice. The kind of person I want to give my money to.

The Chamber of Commerce luncheon rolls around two months later, but I’ve got a client meeting. The next one, there’s a speaker I don’t want to miss, so there I am—and hey, there you are! I forgot that this is where I met you!

I remember your face but I can’t remember why. Then you come up and ask me about that Wolfhound of mine, wow, she must be growing, and it all comes back to me.

“Can I get your card again? I’ve lost it and I must have thought of getting in touch with you a hundred times, but you know how things are….”

“Absolutely. If you ever lose the card again, it’s easy. I’m right on the main drag—”

“Jeez, I’ve only seen one groomer there. That one with what they call ‘reasonable rates.’”

“Yes! That’s us. And you can always get our number out of the paper. We’re in there every week with a coupon.”

“I don’t think I’ve seen that.”

“Next to the crossword, every Saturday. We figure people stare at that section for a long time.”

Sure, I’ll probably do business with you now. When I get to the place I’ll see that the big picture window brings light into your pretty pink-and-white boutique. While I’m in the place, talking with you again, I’ll be sure my dog’s going to get the care she deserves.

But you took four months to hook me. And a lot of other folks aren’t going to have those personal interactions outside of your working hours.

Those folks, you’ll never get.

Well, Paulette, now imagine you’d handed me a card as cherry-blossom pink as the store that first time we talked. With a fanciful typeface, far from my workaday life, that just begs for busy mommies to bring in their doggies and show them a little extra lovin’. An illustration that reinforces the message again.

Imagine the outside of your store is as welcoming and full of personality as you are when I meet you at the mixer. Imagine your signage dovetails perfectly with the card I’ve got in my pocket. Name. Typeface. Upscale image. Colors.

Imagine that newspaper ad fits into the plan as well—right on message for those dog-mommies who can’t resist spoiling their critters, and integrated, once again, with everything else I’ve seen and what I know about you.

I’m going to mess with your dainty image now, Paulette, because here’s what you’re doing to your Ideal Customer when you send one message to me at every point of interaction:


Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Left cross, right jab, and before I demonstrate that I know as little about boxing as I do about dog grooming—

Knockout brand punch!

How to deliver a brand punch that shortens your sales cycle:

1. Look (visuals, image)—Be consistent across all platforms. We could have gotten more complex and thrown in your website, for instance, and plenty of other points of interaction as well (packaging, uniforms…).

2. Message—Speak to the Ideal Customer. As a small business, you don’t have the time or the money to do complex campaigns targeting fifteen segments. Speak only to that person, and folks who can relate to that person will also be drawn in. Speak to 15 people and no one’s drawn in. Don’t miss an opportunity to describe how you’ve got the Ideal Solution to her pressing problem.

3. Voice—Related to both of the above. The distressed grunge typeface might be fun, but it “speaks” to the wrong people, so voice can sometimes be a visual. Should the signage out front sound insecure, mentioning “reasonable rates”? The coupon in the newspaper may also speak in the wrong voice… should upscale boutiques be offering a coupon every week?

But it was cheaper not to do the exterior. The ad was done up by the newspaper people. And I got those business cards for free just for letting them send me some spam!

Paulette, It took me four months to do business with you. And I wanted to. (When I thought of it.) Integrated Experience isn’t a frilly get-around-to-it-someday expense. It’s your critical business tool to get customers saying:

“Oh! I’ve seen them before.”

“I remember them. Wonder if they’re good?”

“Well, they’re everywhere. That counts for something.”

“It gives me a smile every time I see that pink-and-white building… Fifi could use a shampoo and a trim.”

BAM! Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Knockout brand punch!

In the comments: Got any crazy stories of a company like Paulette’s that took forever to hook you because you couldn’t see how their look, message, and voice were supposed to work together? I’d love to hear from you!


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson


P.S. No Wolfhounds were left itchy in the making of this story.

P.P.S. You’re invited to get some brand punch into your company website today choosing VisionPoints’ Website Audit or Web Experience Solution. We’ll work on your left cross, your right jab, and the sweetest upper cut you ever saw. Or we could just skip the boxing stuff and help you make more sales.

Working hard…

Big project. Biiiiig project. Papers from the newest section of the project keep flying all over the place when I pull them out of the project folder. Makes me look sloppy, plus it’s driving me crazy. Heading over to a meeting, I pass my favorite office superstore and decide to pop in to use a stapler. People make copies there all the time, they’re bound to have a heavy-duty stapler, right?

Sure they do, but unlike their regular staplers, it’s behind the counter. I hand over the 50-page chunk and thank the customer service person profusely for his help.

He comes back and hands over the neatly stapled papers, and asks me to wait a second.

He rings it up.

“Sorry,” he says, clearly embarrassed. “That’ll be 2¢.”

I was more surprised than annoyed (after all, I did get a staple out of the deal). I handed over the two cents.

My advice to you, should you ever find yourself with such a pitiable task as to charge a customer for what amounts, essentially, to nothing: let them walk with a smile. Stick your own two cents in the till when they’ve gone. It would have been worth the goodwill.

Hardly working…

New restaurant. The Kid’s been dying to try it out. I decide it’ll make a nice weekend splurge, so we go.

“I’ll have the XYZ,” I say.

“Would you like that in our dinner combo that comes with bunches of other stuff?”

“Oh, yes. I wanted two of those three items but I didn’t see them. I’ll take the combo, but don’t put the third thing on.”

“Want double of the other stuff instead?”

“Sure! I’ll share it with The Kid. Thanks!”

A few minutes pass.

“Sorry, Miss. We can’t do double of the other thing.”

“Oh. Well, okay, then, as we said. The combo but without the third thing.”

Again, no harm. I got what I wanted, The Kid shared my side orders anyway, nobody starved.

Should you ever find yourself in this situation: two choices. Don’t promise it if you don’t know it’s possible; or if you’ve promised it, fercryingoutloud, make it happen. It wasn’t the end of the world but especially when your restaurant is new, you don’t want to give people the feeling that you have even slightly incompetent service. Leave that for when you’re more established, like…

This Experience is broken

The Kid and I have a super-favorite restaurant near our place. When a Monday has just been too darned Monday, you may find us there, watching sports on the telly and the fishies in the beautiful tank, hashing over the day, taking our time with our meal, and making sure at least one server has a reason to come in on the quietest day of the week. Like many former restaurant people, I treat our servers very well, and they love us in return.

(Mondays being what they are, I have never understood why everyone doesn’t cry Uncle and let professionals cook for them on Mondays. But I digress…)

I’m no millionaire. We don’t go weekly, but we’ve lived near the place for five years and been regulars all that time on a mighty quiet day. Let’s just say they get the drink order ready when they see us walking up, and they never forget that The Kid wants crayons and a kids’ menu to draw on.

Said restaurant provides salty munchies* when you sit down, to take the edge off as you consider the menu. Probably to pump up the drink orders, too, which is a time-tested, smart move for any restaurant where the bar may make up a good deal of the tab. That may originally have been part of why I liked the place. A single mom with a hungry little kid is thankful for anything that comes out right away and makes the evening more relaxing.

A while back we went in on a particularly Mondayish Monday, when even my racing to let professionals cook for me was hours late. We were starved and cranky and dying to head to a place where we can leave our troubles at the door.

We sat down. Our server came by with a wave, no salty munchies in hand. We ordered drinks. No salty munchies were offered. The drinks arrived; no doggone salty munchies. In my most polite, hey-we’re-all-buddies-here voice, I mentioned to the server that we’d love our little bowl of munchies whenever he got to it, no rush of course ho-ho, everybody gets busy (the place was very close to empty), just that we’re super-starving today…

“We don’t do that anymore.”

“Oh! No munchies anymore?”

“No… no munchies before you’ve put in an order anymore.”

I wasn’t quite understanding. “No munchies… before we’ve put in an order?”

“I guess people weren’t eating dinner, just the bowl of munchies. So now you have to order first.”

And true to his word, folks, though this man has served us literally dozens of times before and of course! never been stiffed by me, he waited until after we’d ordered to bring the blasted salty munchies.

Not only that, but in the three times (I say two times, but The Kid’s arguing with me so we’ll let it be her way)—in the three times we’ve been there since then, every darned server, folks who not only know what we usually order but even know what we’ll order when we’re feeling like changing it up or when we’re really going hog-wild—every server has withheld our munchies until after we’ve ordered the meal.

On a Monday, the meal comes flying out of the kitchen so fast that sometimes we don’t even take a bite before it’s time to start in on the main course. This, folks, is not relaxing. So whether it’s two times (!) or three, it’s a lot fewer visits than usual.

All over a bowl of munchies being brought out at the wrong time to a couple of their most loyal and best-tipping customers.

If you run a well-established restaurant and you decide to make customers feel like criminals by implying they’ll chow your free food and dirty your table just for the price of a couple of drinks, dear reader…

Well, don’t. But if you absolutely, positively must stop the wanton devouring of the munchies you’ve been using for years to bring in business…

Make sure your servers are allowed the discretion to criminalize only the new customers, who’ll go tell all their friends what cheapskates you are, not the lifetime-loyal customers, who’ll work hard to break their own habit of visiting you, tell all their friends what cheapskates you’ve become

and write about it on their blog.

Note, dear reader, that nobody stole anything from me, or harmed me, or was even rude to me in any of these stories. These folks were kind, pleasant, and seemed a bit embarrassed by how they were treating me. I came away thoughtful… maybe baffled… but not upset. These were not out-and-out bad customer experiences.

Customer Experience is a slippery thing, though. Diminishing it significantly is all too easy to do without much thought.

But if you’re doing it without much thought, then I reckon you weren’t trying to provide Maximum Customer Experience after all.

Something to think about.


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson


*Munchies not named to protect the not-so-innocent.

Dear Reader,

Bonjour! from marvellous, chilly Canada. The Kid and I are here for the Carnaval de Québec, or Québec Winter Carnival, which we’ve been meaning to get to for years now. Let me tell you we are both pleased as punch to be here, among friends and snow and just in time for this super-cool event.

As is usual, there are a few things one must take care of before going on a long trip… for this one, we had to gear up with new long johns (this is a winter carnival, after all), pack the car with all manner of food, drink, and goodies for the drive, and oh, yeah, buy a cheap, “throwaway” phone for the week, because my cellphone carrier doesn’t allow calls to be made from Canada. We won’t use it for much, but I’ve got to be able to call back a few times during the week for some very necessary appointments, and even more critically, if (heaven forbid) anything should happen to the car, I want to have a cell for calling for aid on the road.

No problem. Verizon (oops, did I just name them?) offers just such a phone. Right in their literature for pre-paid, outrageously expensive but very short-term phones, it outlines how much it will cost to make calls from Canada. Perfect, but last year I made this trip and my phone company assured me No Problem, only to find out too late, when I got here, that the phone did not, in fact, work from Canada, only to. So I’m still officially skeptical and before committing to the phone I call Verizon to be certain.

I got a delightful woman on the phone. I explained, when asking for third time to be sure I understood the phone, the plan, and their capabilities, that it was because I’d been hung out to dry by my cell phone company (I’m normally very happy with them but they blew it on that). I just want to be sure that we’ll be safe and covered, even though it will be costly in the short term.

Yes, she assured me repeatedly. Told me to remember to call *XYZ for customer service if anything went wrong; told me to be sure to sync the phone to the local Québécois phone towers by dialing *ABC when I got over the border.

Great. I purchased the phone, called customer service again to activate it, and made sure with another delightful person that it had been explained to me properly and there was nothing further I needed to do to be able to make calls from Canada once we got there. I got the very same helpful reassurances. You’re all set, Ms. Erickson. Anything else I can do? You have a nice day now.

Can you sense a plot twist coming?

Over the border, The Kid copiloting from the back seat. Somewhere past Montréal, I tell her it’s okay to turn the phone on and see how many “bars” we have. Full power, says the copilot, and I tell her she can make a call to let the friend we’re meeting know that we’re an hour away. She makes the call and my last worries are gone.

When we arrive at our destination I must call one of those necessary appointments. Ring ring, much French, going too fast for my limited understanding, and then in English, “if you’re trying to make a long-distance call, dial the area code first, then the number.”

I’ve just done that, but maybe I went too fast and missed a number. I dial again, more carefully.

Same message.

One more time, same message, then I remember—oh, yes, sync to the local cell phone towers. So I dial *ABC.

“The number you have dialed is not a valid number. Please check the number and dial again.”

I’m getting a bad feeling. I dial it again, and get the same message. I can’t sync to the towers! So I dial customer service at *XYZ to find out why.

“The number you have dialed is not a valid number. Please check the number and dial again.”


Now I have no choice but to locate a landline for the call I need to make, then get on the web to find a regular telephone number for Verizon customer service so I can get help getting this phone to work. (Finding that phone number wasn’t too easy, either.)

The telephone tree is the most inhumane torture I have ever been put through on a phone. Why when I wanted sales and setup was it so much easier than when I want support? It took me almost ten minutes of jumping through hoops, listening to choices that weren’t even vaguely my rather specialized problem, trying “0” to no avail, to get through it. Finally I’m put through to a very nice gentleman in Tuscon, Arizona. I guess they tell you that so you’ll feel assured that an Arizonan can fix your problem. I don’t care if he’s in Tuscon or Timbuktu if he can get me what I paid for, but maybe some folks do. It bugged me, vaguely, to think that’s why they were telling me… but that was not my focus.

The gentleman in Tuscon did a lot of “huh” and “mmm” as I described exactly what had occurred, from being assured pre-sale and during setup, to the fact that it worked to a Québec number, right down to the exact fail messages I heard on the recodings when trying to call the States. “Well I guess those star-whatever numbers won’t work in Canada,” he came up with.

You guess? Yah. Me too. Let’s fix the main thing, okay?

Puts me on hold for a while. Comes back. “Can you put the phone on speakerphone and dial that number you were trying again?”

“Well, I did tell you everything the message said…”

“Yes, would it be all right to put it on speakerphone and dial it?”

“Well, it would be embarrassing if it went through, since I already spoke to him, but I can’t imagine what would have changed, so all right.”

I put it on speakerphone and dial. The same thing happens. Ring ring, much French, and then in English, “if you’re trying to make a long-distance call, dial the area code first, then the number.”

The nice gentleman in Tuscon sneers, “Is that in French?” before listening to the full message. Maybe he’s one of the people who cares whether somebody’s in Tuscon or Timbuktu. I ignore him while the message goes through to the English portion.

“I’m going to put you on hold for just a minute more,” he says. So far it’s twenty minutes of my vacation; what else have I got to do? Sure, go ahead. He comes back. “Let me make sure I understand, before I send this up to tech help, you’re in Québec?

Yes. Still. And not holding my temper as well as I was twenty minutes ago, but I don’t mention that.

Well, at least I’m going “up to tech help.” That’s got to be good.

But the same gentleman comes back on the line a few minutes later.

“Well, that phone can’t call to the U.S. from Canada on a prepaid plan.”

“What? Can you wait just a second, since I’ve waited so long?” Sure he will. I get the book, which I brought with me in case I didn’t understand something about the phone, and I read to him the section where it explains that I can call, and exactly what my phone calls will cost from Canada.

“Oh, yeah, the phone can, but not on a prepaid plan.”

But this phone was only sold with prepaid plans. It doesn’t come any other way. And the brochure where I first made certain this would work wasn’t for the phone, it was for the prepaid plans. And the book I’m reading to you from is for the phone, describing the various levels of prepaid plans it can be used with.

“Well, yes, the phone can, but not on a prepaid plan.”

And that’s it, folks, into broken-record-mode he went. My mentioning that I had been assured by others that it would work, detailing their instructions to me, reading from their own printed materials, and explaining that this is unacceptable and unless I now go and spend vacation time and money to buy a second phone here in Canada, even leaves me feeling unsafe (since safety was a big part of why I wanted it), all fell on deaf ears. I suppose I should be grateful for the warm and fuzzy 25 minute call, mostly spent running through the telephone tree and on hold, and shut up about it.

“I’m sorry about that, Kelly, the phone won’t do what you’d like it to. Have a good night.”

He hung up on me.

So for a while, I had to shut up about it.

And then… I had to write this post.

The moral of the story:

I hope there is no Vacation Rant #2.

And I hope Rogers makes a nice, throwaway phone that can get me through the rest of my trip without any hassles. Speak French slowly and be patient with me, mes amis, I’ll be in the store first thing in the morning.

(You got the morals, right? Make sure your printed materials are correct. Make sure your customer service is competent, because if the guy tonight is right, then two previous people very nicely screwed me into a useless purchase. Your telephone tree… aaargh, your telephone tree. Please make it just as wonderful to use post-sale as it is when you still want my money. Don’t *ever* let customer service hang up on people, particularly folks who are just discovering that your company has taken money for nothing and made them feel less safe in a new environment with The Kid. A little empathy goes a long way if it’s all you’ve got left to salvage the company’s long-term image, even in a short-term customer’s mind.)


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

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.

It’s certainly not all a numbers game

It’s coming up in conversations with clients over and over again these days.

“What will your customers gladly pay for?” I ask of almost everyone as we start our discussions to fine-tune their business direction.

Guaranteed results, they say.

The talk goes straight to those results. Folks will pay you money if they’ll make money from working with you, so goes the theory.

Well, many of my clients do make money as a result of working with me. And I agree, money talks pretty loudly. I’m the first to recommend laying out results in terms of dollars and cents if you can, though other numbers are great, too:

  • Money made
  • Money saved
  • Time saved
  • Productivity gained
  • Extra widgets produced
  • Fewer widgets buggered
  • More eyeballs on site or visitors to shop
  • More clickthroughs
  • Fewer abandoned carts (real-life or online…)

All fine numbers. All ways of looking at cash, really. And those numbers do help ring the cash register—yours, and mine too. By all means, track any numbers you can to demonstrate your value. (If you can, get satisfied clients to talk about your numbers. Even better.)

But what if it’s not really the numbers?

Guaranteed results, they say.

There’s something else we want. More than we want the results, I believe. We want the guarantee.

Perhaps your business doesn’t lend itself to a literal, money-back, iron-clad guarantee. That’s all right. I don’t think, generally speaking, we want our money back. Getting our money back is a mighty large hassle. It’s a nice safety net if you can offer it but it’s not where I’d put the focus.

What will we gladly give up our dollars for?


So you don’t have to be a shop with a money-back guarantee, and you don’t have to provide a product or a service that makes your customers money, to give them what they really want.

It’ll take some deep thought and some fine wording, but whether your business puts cash back in customers’ pockets or not you have the ability to provide the guarantee we need.

How do you provide certainty?

Find that, and you’ll have a brand-new way to connect with your customer. Guaranteed.


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson