In the space of the last couple of days we have experienced the gulf that can exist between what businesses promise online or in the controlled environment of a call centre and what they provide in-branch. The results can be pretty damaging.

We’re too busy for you

The first was in a chain restaurant on Saturday. We had been at an appointment and wanted a quick lunch, so we chose a restaurant that we know well. We walked in and the restaurant was at least half empty. We were talking about a late lunch, so it was no surprise that there were many, many empty tables. What came next was a surprise.

The bar man looked up from the bottle he was opening and said “it’ll be a 15 minute wait”… for want he didn’t explain. But before we had a moment to react to that a waitress appeared with a tray full of empty glasses that she was bringing to the bar and she said:

It will be at least half an hour wait

I looked at all the empty tables and asked what she meant. She mumbled something about people eating before going to the theatre and repeated that we would have at least 30 minutes to wait for food. We left.

Then yesterday we had another in-house experience that flew in the face of the online and telephone experience we have had.

Come back when it suits us

We need to organise some new banking facilities and had been through a lengthy application process with the bank. Online things had been a doddle (albeit quite involved) and the experience we had had with the telephone centre that we had been dealing with had been great.

We did have to go into a branch to have our identities verified and we were told that we could do that without an appointment. It would take 10 minutes. So we went to our closest branch and went to the business banking area. There were two employees that I could see in their little glass offices. Another member of staff greeted us and we explained what we were trying to do. She went into one of the glass boxes and spoke to the staff member there. She emerged a moment later and said:

He says you can come back at 3pm

It was 11am. This time when we left I made sure that the staff knew that I was not impressed. In fact I was furious.

What does this mean for your business?

So why am I unburdening myself of these two stories? Well it seems to me that the both represent a huge failure of the two businesses involved. We were on the verge of wanting to spend money with them and they failed to even be polite and find a way to keep us interested.

The restaurant employees could have sat us down, put a basket of bread on the table, taken a drinks order and then come back later to take a food order. We would most likely have stayed. The waitress didn’t even give us a chance to say that we were happy with a half hour wait.

The bank employee failed to even come out of his little glass box and acknowledge our existence. I don’t know whether the telephone center staff were wrong to tell us to just turn up or not, but if he had come out and said hello and explained that we needed and appointment and that he was right in the middle of something extremely important for another small business just like ours,  I would have understood.

This is not to make a point about poor (pre-) customer service, but rather to suggest two things: first, that in many circumstances what a company promises online and in controllable call centers fails to translate into face-to-face interactions. And because expectations have been raised before the customer arrives, the disappointment is significant. And second, that staff should understand the importance of the first interaction with a person who might turn into a life-long customer. Get that wrong and the ‘bad taste in the mouth’ lasts for a very, very long time.

Of course, if you get it right you may well have a loyal customer and brand advocate for a very, very long time. The opportunity is there.


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