What I Got for Christmas

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I goofed. In the haste of the holidays, I made a quick trip to the neighborhood grocery for a must-have baking ingredient. Preoccupied with the half-made cookie dough that was languishing on my kitchen counter, I absent-mindedly backed my car out of my narrow driveway. Seconds later, I was startled by a big thump: My driver side rear-view mirror had hit the side of our house, breaking the mirror into what can only be described as a million little pieces. Suddenly, I got a big knot in my stomach as I realized that I had just bought myself an expensive, new car mirror for Christmas!

My pride made we wait until the next morning to confess my transgression to my car-loving husband, Mack. To his “How did it happen” query, I simply replied, “I over-compensated for the shrubs.” From the tone in my voice he knew I was already in deep self-punishment mode, so he chose his words carefully. After conceding he had made similar mistakes, he offered: “Don’t over-compensate on the soft side. It’s the hard side you should always worry about.” Mercifully, he said no more.

Later, I thought more about those words and realized that up until the mash up, I had naively treated the wall of shrubs (bordering one side of my driveway) and the brick wall (that borders the other) as equal barriers when in fact, a hit to the hard, brick wall carried far graver consequences. That got me thinking about the business of getting and keeping customers. How often do our customer policies steer us clear on softer costs but, in turn, run us head-on into more lasting, harder cost consequences?

On January 1, I made a quick sweep through a department store at an Austin mall and over-heard a customer in the designer sports wear department ask a sales associate whether the New Year’s Day sales price could be honored on the jacket being mailed to her from another store. The customer had just purchased the garment the previous day and understandably wanted the new, lower price. I didn’t wait around to hear the outcome, but my instincts told me that customer frustration was right around the corner. Chances are the front line policies enforced by the sales associate over-compensated on the soft side (upholding retailer’s profit margin on “old” price) and ignored the hard, far more damaging, long-term effects of diminished customer loyalty that often appear when a buyer feels unfairly treated.

Consider your customer policies. Are you overcompensating on the soft side and ignoring the hazards of the hard? It’s a question worth asking. I have a shiny new $487 car mirror to prove it.

Jill Griffin
Griffin Group
Jill Griffin is a "Harvard Working Knowledge" author of three books on customer loyalty. She serves as public board director for Luby's Cafeterias, Fuddruckers and Jimmy Buffets' Cheeseburger in Paradise restaurants. Microsoft, Dell, Marriott Hotels, Ford, Toyota, Wells Fargo, IBM, Subaru are a few of the clients served since she hung out her "Loyalty Maker" shingle in 1988. Jill delivers customized keynotes worldwide. Sign up for her monthly loyalty tip at www.loyaltysolutions.com.

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