What Makes Experiences Memorable to Consumers?

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I recently had a group of more than 50 consumers keep a record of memorable service encounters that they had experienced over a three- or four-week period. They were to record very positive and very negative experiences and then report in some detail on six or seven of the most memorable. I asked them to describe their experiences, explain why they thought they had occurred and how they felt as a result, and how the experiences had influenced their decision to continue to do business with the companies involved.

With well over 300 service experiences reported upon, I was not surprised to find that the consumers reported negative experiences outnumbering positive ones in a ratio of roughly two to one. What was more surprising was the fact that probably 70% or more of the experiences involved how the customers were treated by individual employees. Memorable positive service experiences were often attributed to individual employees taking initiatives to please the customer.

In the case of negative service experiences, the consumers reported literally unbelievable treatment at the hands of employees who ignored them, made them feel unimportant, argued with fellow employees over whose turn it was to serve a customer, or even shouted at them. They told of employees telling them how they really did not want to be working there, how they couldn’t wait to get off work—”Only another hour, and I’m out of here.”

What was really interesting to me was to whom the consumers involved attributed the positive and negative treatment they had received. It was generally the case that, when they received surprisingly good service, the customers attributed the quality of service to the employee and to the fact that he or she took control of a situation, possibly bending company rules in doing so, seeming to take the customer’s side.

In the case of negative service experiences, customers seemed prepared to give the employee the benefit of the doubt, often attributing blame to the company, suggesting that the service they received was in great measure attributable to how the company treats its employees, what they are paid, and even suggesting that “it can€™t be a very nice place to work.”

What’s happening here? There is little doubt that the customer-facing employee is an integral component in the customer’s perception of the quality of service received. Why is it that some customers at least seem to give the credit for good service to the employee, but tend to place much of the blame for poor service at the foot of the employer?

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