When Positive and Negative Customer Experiences Hit Home


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A recent blog post by Denyse Drummond-Dunn offered an enterprise-level cultural concept that everyone involved in one-to-one customer experience management should get behind: “So what is customer centricity really about? After all, putting the customer at the heart of business sounds easy doesn’t it? Well it’s not, because it involves a culture change and that is the biggest hurdle. Customer centricity needs everyone in the organisation to think customer first in everything they do. Seeing every decision they take from their customers’ perspective. It necessitates exceeding and not just meeting their expectations, handling their complaints more quickly and effectively, and co-creating the future with them. In a word “involving” them in everything that is done.”

We often present examples of positive and negative customer experiences to demonstrate a) how they are generated largely as a result of enterprise cultures and b) how examples of these experiences trigger emotions and can create positive and negative customer memories, leveraging word of mouth and downstream purchasing behavior. Apropos of that, in our household we’ve had two recent personal vendor experiences, one which exemplifies enterprise customer insensitivity and one representing proactive, positive customer focus.

1. Customer Insensitivity

On a recent trip to the Phoenix area, my wife and I visited the wonderful Heard Museum of Native Cultures and Art , which features Southwestern tribal history and artifacts. In their gift shop, she bought a beautiful little Santa Clara black pottery sculpture of a young girl. When we returned home, my wife decided that it would be fun to learn a bit more about the artist, who was from Santa Fe. To her amazement and shock, her search uncovered that that the artist had been convicted of multiple crimes over several years, the most recent being an assault case involving a young child. Needless to say, having learned this, she no longer wanted to have the pottery sculpture in our home.

My wife immediately called the Heard Museum, and she spoke with a very insensitive employee. The museum employee, whose name is Cathy, essentially said that the museum couldn’t be responsible for knowing the background of all of the artists whose works they exhibit and sell. Unwilling to be brushed-off, my wife escalated her concern to a museum manager. Result: the sculpture was returned, and the money refunded. But, the poor response by Cathy remained a negative memory. My wife sent a note to the manager, saying: “I believe you need to have a talk with Cathy, your employee who I had originally spoken to by phone, about customer service. I explained what my problem was, and in response she seemed to get defensive stating that your museum is in Phoenix and the artist is in New Mexico; and, with the amount of work that goes into running the museum you couldn’t possibly keep track of issues such as the one I was trying to explain.”

The manager apologized for Cathy’s behavior, but the reaction created by Cathy exposed a cultural deficiency, namely the customer-insensitive nature of an employee who regularly deals with the general public. Overall, the experience with Heard Museum created a negative memory in our household. Not great for an organization created for the public’s enjoyment.

2. Customer Focus and Proaction

We needed some exterior trim painting and light window frame repair at our home. The first painter we hired had an annoying habit of not showing up when promised and/or not returning phone calls made to get an explanation for his absences and to nail down a schedule. After almost two months of this, my wife located another painting contractor, one recommended by a friend. We promptly received an estimate from this new painting contractor, gave him a down payment, and set up a timetable for the work to be completed.

Here’s the email we received the evening prior to the work being done, just a day after accepting their proposal (and a week earlier than originally scheduled):

Dear Susan and Michael:

It was a pleasure to meet you yesterday. Thank you again for your time and your kind hospitality, and especially for your order and down-payment. I am confident you will be very happy with the job.

This will confirm that we will be at your house at 10 a.m. tomorrow morning, to begin your exterior painting project.

We will cover shrubs and bushes that are at risk, lay down protective tarps where needed, and clean up upon completion.

Here is what we ask you to do before we begin working:

a. Please point out, or otherwise identify, any particularly delicate plants so we can be extra careful around them.

b. Please clear any miscellaneous items/objects from around the base of the house so they are out of the way of our ladders and any hoses and/or electrical cords we might be using.

c. Please let us know where there is a working water spigot that we can use.

Toward the end of the job we will ask you to do an inspection with the crew to ensure your complete satisfaction with the job. If you see any issues you would like addressed, that is the best time to bring them to our attention. We will also give you a one-page customer satisfaction survey. We would appreciate it if you could fill that out and give it to us, along with your final payment, when the job is completed.

When we are done we will leave you with the excess paint in case you need that later on. We will also leave a bag of trash to be thrown out.

Important: The new paint will feel dry to the touch within a couple of hours. However, it can take up to four weeks for it to “cure” all the way through. Therefore, do not try to wipe, wash, or scrub any newly painted surfaces for four weeks. Otherwise you might blemish the new paint surface, or even wipe the paint right off. Also, be sure to store any leftover paint where it will not be exposed to freezing temperatures or extreme heat.

Your crew will consist of one painter. He will be your contact during the job. I will be there at the beginning of the job, and I will always be available by phone if you need me; but if you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to bring them to the painter’s attention.

We are looking forward to doing this project, and making your home more beautiful and enjoyable for you.

Now, that’s proactive communication from a customer-focused company. The work was completed, as promised. A very professional job, leaving a positive memory.

Forrester has determined businesses that prioritize the customer experience grow three times faster than the Standard and Poors index. Based on the personal examples just described, that makes perfect sense.

Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC
Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC, specializes in customer and employee experience research/strategy consulting, and brand, customer, and employee commitment and advocacy behavior research, consulting, and training. He has authored seven stakeholder-centric strategy books and 400+ articles, white papers and blogs. In 2018, he was named to CustomerThink's Hall of Fame.


  1. Glad one of my recent posts inspired you to write this excellent piece Michael. As you say we all have examples of good and bad e periences, so it should be a “no brainier” for companies to become more customer centric – but it’s not as you know.

  2. Just had someone from Comcast come to our door, offering a 40% short-term discount to switch back (from Verizon). We dropped Comcast three years ago because the service was both chronically poor and unresponsive. I sent the sales guy on his way, to dangle the cash incentive in front of some other household..

    Starting early last year, Comcast has lobbed millions of dollars into an initiative to improve service (and perception). New 2016 data from Temkin shows that Comcast has had the lowest TV service and ISP performance ratings of all major carriers for three years running. If the culture and level of executive commitment doesn’t change – and, at Comcast, clearly it hasn’t – there is little chance that its reputation and image, or recovery of former customers, will improve.

    Yesterday, Jeff Toister posted a blog on which all of this was nicely covered: http://customerthink.com/one-year-in-to-comcasts-massive-customer-service-overhaul/


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