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From Heaven to Hell in a Single Week

Date Icon Dec 09, 2019
Author Icon Judi Friedman

Did you ever get so frustrated by a bad experience with a product or a service that you just had to tell everyone you know about it?

I ask because lately a lot of marketers seem to be talking about the importance of the customer journey or “buyway.” And they’re right that it’s important. But what they miss is that the journey isn’t just before or during purchase.

When a brand doesn’t pay attention to the entire journey—including every step after purchase—there can be spectacular blowback, creating one of those terrible experiences that a (former) customer just has to tell the world about. And marketers must never forget that when negative word of mouth gets going there’s no stopping it.

I call it the heaven-to-hell experience. Here’s mine.

Heaven: White Glove Treatment that Made a Jaded Consumer Take Notice

Recently, I was in the market for a stationary bike.

My husband and I looked into Peloton, but somewhere along the line I found myself interested in the NordicTrack S22i. You remember NordicTrack, right? Their resistance machines were big in the 80s and 90s, and since then they’ve actually continued to have a lot of success. Anyway, I was impressed with the bike, so I changed my mind and bought one.

I’d never actually engaged with a company via online chat before, but this time I did. The experience was amazing, so I ordered the bike online, too. Immediately, I received several “get ready” emails and white glove home delivery and set up. Everyone did what they said they were going to do when they said they would do it. I was elated.

I felt welcomed into a new brand family.

Then I jumped on to test it out.

Purgatory: Hold, Please.

So—the incline/decline didn’t work and the bike started squeaking. Remember, this is day one.

I was disappointed, but calm. I figured they’d take care of me just like they did during the sales cycle. I called NordicTrack the next day. And after sitting on hold (for 50 minutes!), a chipper and knowledgeable customer service rep finally tells me she can send me a part—but it’s on back order. For several weeks.

So. Okay.

Things aren’t going well. But for NordicTrack this is a test of their brand. Right? How they handle my complaints will reveal how they value me as a customer. Meanwhile, I’m still excited to use my NordicTrack. I’m still on board—I’m in their pocket.

But then the bike keeps deteriorating. The squeaky part gets worse and the big heavy bike itself starts making crazy noises, vibrating, and rocking so badly that I refuse to use it anymore until something dramatic changes.

I call again, and this time I’m on hold for 45 minutes. And during that three quarters of an hour, a funny thing happened. I decided that I didn’t want any more replacement parts, I didn’t want any more reassurances—what I wanted was to return the bike. But they still haven’t lost me—there’s plenty they can do to keep me. I’m just not going to keep this particular bike. And this is something that all marketers should know: a return doesn’t mean the end of a relationship, it just means it didn’t work out this time. There is still room to keep the consumer relationship going.

Hell: It’s Actually Much Worse Than You Think

That’s when it got bad. I’m transferred to the billing department where I’m told that in order to return the bike I’ll have to forfeit $500 for shipping and restocking. Can they be serious? Now I’m not just disappointed—I’m furious. But my request to speak to a manager was rebuffed. I had my credit and my return—what more did I want?

I couldn’t let it stop there. I contacted the CMO of the company. Surely, he would want to know about my customer journey experience, because if it happened to me you can be sure it’s happened to others. But he was never interested in learning about it. I only got to speak with an associate of his, who actually tried really hard to rectify the situation. He did his best and was as accommodating as he could possibly be.

But what happened in the end was worst of all. They finally agreed to a refund, but they informed me that I would have to destroy the bike myself! Yep. I had to physically cut the cord and take a huge, heavy bike down from my top floor and find some scrapyard to throw it in.

Really? Yes, really.

All I have to say now is Hello Peloton!

The Takeaway

Digital marketing and the post-purchase portion of the customer journey has taken on a whole new meaning in today’s market. The entire journey counts.

A sale itself is not the end of the road, it’s when a new phase of marketing begins. In the 21st century, we’ve come to expect that complaints, returns, and reviews will all be taken seriously and that companies are prepared to integrate these into the brand experience. But even more important than that, a brand story is really a brand promise—a covenant—and when it’s broken by shoddy post-purchase relations, what you’ve done is set a domino effect in motion that will negate virtually everything that’s good about your brand.

In 2020 and beyond, I can only see this gaining in importance. You’ll have to start investing in measures that ensure customers are taken care of well after purchase. As review aggregators grow in size, technology makes communications quicker and easier, and social media gives complaints a potentially global impact, companies are going to have to recognize their brand story lives on without them—in their consumers.

So pay attention to the entire customer journey and win fanatical brand advocates who share their fantastic story of their experience. Or, be like NordicTrack: only care about a customer until the buy and suffer the consequences of detractors who tell the world that your brand is toxic.

Do you have a story of your own? Share it with me by visiting me on LinkedIn. Or, if you like, follow TopRight CEO Dave Sutton @toprightpartner and maybe grab a copy of his new book Marketing, Interrupted.

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