There is so much choice today for the consumer—whether it’s buying a new car, new clothes, new appliances, new mattresses, new shoes, food, or other consumer good. How do we decide where to shop? For retailers and other businesses, we must capture and retain customers. The loss of just one customer can have a dramatic impact on future sales. Why? Because unhappy customers relate their story of bad customer service over and over again to everyone who will listen. As well, through social networking, they spread the word rapidly.

Where to Start

The creation of a powerful and meaningful mission statement is important to all organizations. Here is a great example from Sleep Country Canada: “To earn customers trust and exceed their expectations when they purchase a new sleep system. We care as much about the service you receive as the bed you purchase.”

This particular mission continues to say: “If you have any questions or comments regarding either your product or our service, please don’t hesitate to contact us.”

Mission statements help to attract customers. These are often used in marketing campaigns and posted where every customer can see the promise of service delivery. However, like Pandora’s Box, any level of service that is contrary to this promise is often met with the wrath of an unhappy customer. The consequences can be severe in the loss of reputation, lost sales and lost future customers.

How to Quickly Lose a Customer

The best way to understand this is through a story. We purchased a mattress from Sleep Country 10 months ago. The customer service representative was knowledgeable and very helpful. It was an easy decision to buy from her. The promise of a warranty and other on-going service put us at ease. Not that we’ve ever had a problem with a mattress before but it is always reassuring to hear the words.

After 6 months or so we noticed that the mattress was starting to sag. After another couple of months we found that the sagging was continuing to get worse and was affecting the quality of our sleep. We are neither tall nor heavy so this was a surprise. We’d been given a promise of service so we immediately contacted them.

An inspector arrived at our doorstep. He measured the sag and declared that it was only 1-¼ inches deep. While the inspector admitted that it was probably uncomfortable to sleep on, after measuring it, he told us that it did not qualify for a return to the manufacturer because it needed to be 1-½ inches. Sleep Country would not replace the mattress until the sagging got worse. As well, he advised that we do not qualify for another home inspection for another 3 months.

So we contacted Christine Magee, the company’s previous President and spokesperson. After considerable research we realized that she is now only a marketing celebrity and the “voice” for the organization. However, our attempts to contact her successfully brought a response from Sleep Country Canada’s Customer Service Manager. The Customer Service Manager sent me an email that was quite extraordinary. It included statements such as:

A call in to the customer service department may have assisted in trouble shooting the issue. (Our email had already informed her that we did this to no avail so it is a mystery why she would even mention this.) Based on the information you have provided, it seems that the issue was a non warrantable concern, and may fall into the category of a body impression. (We had never heard of body impressions on mattresses before.) I would like to ensure you that Sleep Country Canada is dedicated to providing exceptional customer service by processing warranty claims that would normally be handled by the manufacturer at the customer’s expense.” (We have never had to go directly to a manufacturer for any product under warranty and pay for a claim. We’re still wondering who she might be referring to?)

She invited us to contact her directly. Our phone call gave her the opportunity of talking about how most customers are happy and that there is nothing wrong with their mattresses. The idea of a faulty mattress to her was unimaginable. We brought up the fact that we have purchased many mattresses over the years (although none through Sleep Country) and never had any sagging occur, not even after 10 years of ownership. This was of little importance to her. She continued, throughout the conversation, to insist we must be at fault, not the mattress. She repeated how they have so many happy customers and there was really nothing that she is willing to do, except set up another inspection appointment no earlier than one month later (making it one month earlier than their usual policy).

Clearly, this experience did not reflect the organization’s stated mission statement: “To earn customers trust and exceed their expectations when they purchase a new sleep system. We care as much about the service you receive as the bed you purchase.”

How to Ensure Your Customers Keep Coming Back

Mission statements are powerful. They are positive statements about what you stand for, what your organization believes in and what the customer means to you.

Sleep Country did everything within their power to lose our trust and not meet (let alone exceed) our expectations. They clearly demonstrated that they neither care about service delivery nor the bed their customers sleep in. So why do they bother with a mission statement of service promises?

So, what can be learned from this customer experience? Go back to your mission statement. Does your service delivery promise align with the delivery of service to your customers? Do you find yourself trying to defend your products? If so, why do you believe you have to defend your products? If they are of the level of quality that you promise in your mission, this shouldn’t be necessary. When managing customer expectations are you aware of the consequences of an unhappy customer?

Conclusion

Establish a clear and meaningful mission. Market it to your customers. But, most importantly, do what you say you will do – to ensure your customer’s satisfaction is your most important act. The outcome will be beneficial for the continued sustainability of your organization and it’s bottom-line.

Michael Stanleigh

Michael Stanleigh, CMC, CSP, CSM is the CEO of Business Improvement Architects. He works with leaders and their teams around the world to improve organizational performance by helping them to define their strategic direction, increase leadership performance, create cultures that drive innovation and improve project and quality management. Michael’s experience spans public and private sector organizations in over 20 different countries. He also delivers presentations to businesses and conferences throughout the world. In addition to his consulting practice and global speaking he has been featured and published in over 500 different magazines and industry publications. For more information about this article you may contact Michael Stanleigh at mstanleigh@bia.ca