Richard Branson, Virgin Group Founder, has been in the press a lot this year because of the relatively high customer satisfaction his companies create with clients. In a recent interview, Branson stated “In business, creating a favorable impression at the first point of customer contact is an absolute imperative. But what isn’t widely understood is. . .the customer’s second impression of the brand can be even more important than his first. The second interaction a customer has with your business usually involves something that has gone wrong — they’re having trouble using the product or service. Handled correctly, this is a situation in which a company can create a very positive impression. Sadly, it’s where things often go terribly wrong.”
When Branson talks about “second impression,” he’s talking about how you handle things when something goes wrong. I was in a store this weekend picking up some lumber for a project, I went to the far end of the store of the “Lumber” section, and they said that the lumber I needed was in the Garden Center – the exact opposite end of the store. When I got to the Garden Center, I started loading up some of the beams I needed, but the quality was pretty poor. However, there was good quality on a rack just above the floor rack, but it was secured with ties.
So I went to a group of three employees working in the dirt/mulch area, and the first employee told me to talk to the manager nearby. I asked the manager to cut the ties so I could load some of the better looking lumber, and he said they had two pallets of the lumber that were outside in the Lumber section. I told him I came from there, and they told me to go to the Garden Center; I again asked if he could cut the ties. He said “well that’s where they’re supposed to be.” After pausing for several seconds to give him to the opportunity to say “Sure! I’d be happy to cut those ties for you! I’ll even help you load them!” Instead he said, “they’re outside the doors at Lumber.”
I again went to Lumber – on the other side of the store – only to have the employee tell me that they don’t keep any outside anymore. She showed me that none were available, and told me that “They should just cut the ties for you. If they don’t, let me know.”
After I returned to the Garden Center, the manager looked at me and – as I approached said – “How many do you need?” I replied “Thirteen more.”
He proceeded to walk toward the lumber without saying a word to me. When he got there, he said “Oh! It’s just those ties.” I guess he thought it was going to be more effort than just cutting three ties with a pocket knife.
I said “Thanks. I’ll go get my cart.” When I returned about 15 second later, he was gone.
My second impression of the experience? They’d rather the customer walk than they walk. They’d rather inconvenience the customer than to call a co-worker. They’d rather not smile. They’d rather not apologize when they got something wrong (this is a HUGE issue in many companies). They’d rather go back to moving mulch than helping a customer.
Instead of focusing purely on how to deliver a core service or answer a question about products/processes/policies, focus on how you’ll answer the question differently and deal with the customer differently when things have obviously gone wrong.
Make a great second impression.