24 hours of customer service fails

Note: This article first appeared on TheCustomer.net and is re-published here with permission.

Last week, I experienced four customer service fails in less than 24 hours. What was interesting was that none of them were human error – and every rep that I interacted with seemed friendly, (somewhat) empathetic, and professional. Instead, it was clear that each case involved a process and system breakdown – clearly none of which were installed with the customer in mind.

My day started with a call to Ikea. I had just taken a couch out of storage and put it together the night before. Unlike when you usually build Ikea furniture and have pieces left over, I was missing the feet. These are seven plastic cones that screw directly into the couch. I looked up the items on Ikea’s website but you can’t buy them online. So, I called the call center and spoke to a service rep. I told them that I had misplaced them and inquired whether it was possible to purchase new ones. Bizarrely, Ikea wouldn’t sell them to me because I didn’t have my original order number from when the couch was purchased. I asked if I could go to the store or whether there was another way to get them, but there was no way for the rep to override the system, and it left me out of luck.

Next up, I called Varo Bank. Varo is one of the fast growing “fintech” banks that are supposedly different from traditional banks – it’s digital-first, there are cool features that you don’t find at traditional banks, and everything is supposed to “just work.” Until it doesn’t. I had sent a check to someone via their app – a neat feature that negates the need for a checkbook. Although it would be even better if the check arrived in the 3-9 days that the bank promised. I called the bank to figure out when I could let the recipient know it would arrive – the money had already been removed from my account.

It started with trying to navigate an IVR that didn’t have any prompts that remotely met my needs. There was also no way to go back in the IVR menu, so I kept hanging up and starting again. Eventually, I picked the closest prompt I could find, and was told that my wait time would be more than 60 minutes. There was no opportunity for a call back. And, they were right – after an hour and twenty-three minutes somebody answered the phone. I explained my issue, and the rep told me that she wasn’t the right person – she worked for Varo Money and not Varo Bank, and she put me on hold to transfer me to someone. else. After another 15 minutes on hold, I had to hang up for a work call. I sent an email to see if I could get the question answered and was told that I would get a response in 4-5 days. So, the next day I tried again. After being told once again that my wait time would be more than an hour, I sat on hold for two hours and eight minutes. This time I got someone from Varo Bank who told me that the check should arrive in the next two days. After almost three hours of hold time, I received an answer in less than 2 minutes – although I’m still waiting to see if the check gets there as promised.

That afternoon – since obviously I hadn’t had enough punishment or enough of frustrating financial institution experiences – I ran out to do some errands. I had been sent a check for a speech that I had given, and even though it was issued in US dollars, the issuing bank was in Canada so I couldn’t use the phone app to deposit the check. So, I went to a CapitalOne branch where a very nice teller explained that it would take up to 14 days to clear, and gave me a photocopy of my check in case I needed to prove that it had been deposited, which didn’t exactly fill me with confidence.

And, then I went to Bed Bath & Beyond to pick up a BOPIS (buy online, pick up in store) order that my wife had ordered earlier that day. I arrived about 20 minutes after the recommended pick-up time, but the item wasn’t ready so I went into the store to inquire. A really helpful young store associate earnestly set off to investigate. After about 15 minutes, he came back to say he was still working on it, but that they had a lot of orders. I wasn’t the only person standing there waiting for their BOPIS order. After another 10 minutes, he came back with the manager and two alternative products in his hands that I could pick from as they didn’t have the item my wife had ordered – and paid for – online. It took them another 10 minutes to figure out the refund and charge for the product that I was then going to purchase instead. To rub salt in the wound, the very next day I received a generic coupon in the mail for 20% off any purchase at BB&B —addressed to me or the household — despite the fact that my wife is a Beyond+ member who gets 20% off every purchase.

As I mentioned, all of the people that tried to help me were very professional and seemed to want to help. Unfortunately, they were hamstrung by their employers’ systems and policies.

Entitled customers don’t want to wait two weeks for an international check to clear when they can send money around the world in seconds – and are even less inclined when the check is issued in the local currency. They also won’t accept a company’s absurd policies – I went elsewhere to get feet for my couch and Ikea lost the potential for that (minor) sale and the possible loss of future sales, since I’ll be less inclined to shop there in the future. And, entitled consumers who measure every company’s experience against the best experiences that they receive elsewhere now consider failures of supply chain to be failures of experience. Companies are left with nowhere to hide – it’s too easy for us as consumers to see through the system, policy, and process failures, and to take our business elsewhere.

Being a US health insurance customer sucks. Does it have to be this bad?

I have a sick kid. Thankfully it’s not life-threatening, but for the past three-and-a-half years he has been battling an often debilitating neuropsychiatric auto-immune disorder that has severely impacted his education and social life. It has also taken six-figure chunks out of our bank account every year in out-of-pocket medical expenses that insurance companies don’t cover. I share this not for sympathy but for context.

Several months ago, my son’s neurologist recommended a new treatment regimen to add to his current protocol. It’s an antibody therapy that is most often used in combination with chemotherapy to treat cancer patients, but is also used to treat certain autoimmune diseases and the neurologist has had success incorporating it into treatment for my son’s condition. The doctor’s office applied to our health insurer for pre-authorization and we were denied.

We had expected to be denied on the first request and tried to submit an appeal. For the past three months, both the doctor’s office and my wife have called the insurance company multiple times a week, navigating their IVR, and, since no human ever answered the phone, leaving messages indicating that we wished to start an appeal. Finally, last week, we got a service rep on the phone. To make an incredibly frustrating story as short as I can, because we hadn’t previously been able to speak to someone, and, therefore, hadn’t submitted the appeal within two weeks of being denied, we have to start the process all over again. We know it will be denied on what will be a new first appeal, and we have no idea whether we’ll be able to get through to a human being to initiate an appeal within two weeks of that denial.

It’s just one anecdote, but it encapsulates so much of my experience as a health insurance customer. Ultimately, Health insurers suck at CX (customer experience). If I tried to be charitable, I’d say that’s somewhat understandable. Because insurance firms have traditionally sold to, and through, employers, they have never really had to care about member expectations, feelings, or market competition.

But, that’s changing. As consumers’ expectations rise (after all, we are all increasingly entitled) we push back when we don’t get the convenience and value that we get from brands in other sectors. I believe a reckoning is coming for insurance companies and healthcare providers that fail to focus on member experience.

Whether you call them consumers, patients, or members, customers are becoming aware of – or forced into – alternatives to employer-based programs even if they haven’t actually considered switching. Meanwhile regulatory changes have made the market more competitive and the landscape is rapidly changing as new technology-driven providers emerge and non-traditional behemoths (like Amazon, Walmart, Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan) consider how they can play a role.

Consumers don’t care about why firms are not delivering on their expectations, they just have higher expectations for service and the reason for brand failure be damned.

Providers and insurers should be scrambling to get their heads around how to manage direct relationships and deliver experiences that at least come closer to meeting consumer expectations. Of course, like most other brands on the planet, they’ll have to deal with the fact that their customer-facing functions are designed to meet performance metrics that have little to do with one another and are often mutually exclusive.

I don’t believe that my insurance company is worse than any other. I don’t think that any of them have stopped to think about what the member actually expects from their relationship. And, I don’t claim to have all the answers.

Although not related to this experience, it’s a timely anecdote. Our team at Atlaas is kicking off research with consumers, insurers, healthcare providers, and experts to get a better understanding of what consumers expect from insurers and providers, the challenges these firms face in delivering excellent (or slightly positive) CX, and seek to recommend and predict how healthcare institutions will adapt in the future. Do you have a perspective? We’d love to hear from you!

Note: This article originally appeared on TheCustomer.net and is posted here with permission.

Put yourself in your customers flip-flops

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Every now and then, I’m fortunate enough to have a client engagement close to home. During one recent example, I was on my way to meet a client at The Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach. My Lyft driver was a retired college professor who had taught business strategy at Drexel University for many years. He shared a wonderful anecdote about the first time he came to the Breakers in the 1970s with his wife. They were co-teaching a course, and the agenda was fairly light. In fact, they didn’t need to show up in the mornings until 10 a.m.

Unfortunately, for them, The Breakers was building an upscale condominium complex on the property, now known as Breakers Row. Every morning, the jackhammers and cement mixers would start up at 8 a.m. jolting them out of their illusions of paradise.

One night over drinks, one of the course members commented to my driver on the hotel’s beauty. The driver agreed and said that everything had been wonderful, but that he regretted how early the construction noise started every morning. When they got back to their room that night, they found a bowl of chocolate covered strawberries and a note apologizing for the inconvenience caused by the construction, and letting them know that for the remainder of their stay, construction would not start until 9 a.m.

A waitress or bar tender had overheard their conversation, noted their room number, informed their manager, and someone took the time to call the construction company, figure out a solution, and put themselves in their customer’s flip-flops.

As we’ve mentioned before, we get pushback from marketers when we use examples of USAA, Amazon, and Disney. Some marketers believe that it’s easier for them because of the resources at their disposal. But we always point out that customer-first behavior starts with a mindset. Without that, any investment in technology or process is going to be wasted. The Breakers didn’t use fancy listening platforms or big data solutions – just respectful empathy and a desire to deliver a world class experience to every customer.

Sephora’s customer focus is simply brilliant (and, at times, brilliantly simple)

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I get pushback when I point to Disney, USAA, or T-Mobile as examples of companies that excel at consumer-first marketing or customer-centricity. People argue that these companies have some sort of unfair advantage or extenuating circumstance that somehow makes focusing on the customer easier for them. But, even if you’re not trying to be the next Disney or USAA, every company can improve – and that starts with a mindshift, and doesn’t have to involve spending lots of money upfront.

To make the point, I usually turn to Tom Boyles, former SVP of global customer managed relationships at Disney Parks & Resorts. Tom spent most of his career in banking, and would point out that his opportunity to connect with customers at Disney was no greater than at any other stage in his career. He once told me that people would look at him and say, “it’s easy for you to connect emotionally with customers. You’ve got everything from Mickey Mouse to Johnny Depp at your disposal.” But, Tom would turn that around and ask them, “what’s more emotional than the roof over the head of your family, your ability to send your children to college, or your ability to afford your retirement?” Mortgages, 529 accounts, and 401Ks could be boring products to promote, but if you put yourself in your customer’s shoes and understand their emotional connection, it makes it a heck of a lot easier.

I’m not naive. I know that Disney spent more than $1 billion upgrading the customer experience at its parks. But, one of the reasons I point to Disney as a great example of a consumer-first business is because of the small things that it does. Look back at Tom’s title. He wasn’t running the CRM team. It was CMR – Customer managed relationships. Why? Because they believe that the customer owns the relationship and not the company. In Marketing to The Entitled Consumer, we reference the story of a security guard at a Disney park asking little girls that were dressed as princesses for their autographs.

I love finding small examples that demonstrate a firm’s commitment to being customer-first. Last week, on LinkedIn, I posted a picture of two stacks of shopping baskets in a Sephora store. The baskets are in two colors – one indicates that the shopper would like to be assisted and the other that they would like to be left alone. The response to my LinkedIn post has been tremendous. Thousands of people have viewed the post and hundreds have liked or commented. As I said in that post, customer-centricity and customer experience start with a mind shift – by putting yourself in your customer’s shoes.

Sephora is another one of those companies that I point to as an example of a consumer-first business. They’ve shown over the years a commitment to understanding and providing value to their customers. But, what I loved about this example was its simplicity. You don’t have to invest a billion dollars as Disney did to overhaul your entire process and system. Instead, you can change your outlook – truly consider what is valuable to your customers and make small, incremental changes that can have major impacts on your customer’s experience.

What causes hostility towards brands?

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When my former colleage Augie Ray posted recently that he has “given up on Amazon until they become a better employer and corporate citizen” it set me thinking. I realized something about how I patronize different brands. When I favor a brand, it’s often due to aligned values — I’m willing to spend more at Patagonia, for example, than at many of their competitors. Yes, they produce a quality product, but I also respect, and am willing to compensate them, for their principles.

I once commented that some companies seem to engage in “concerted acts of hostility” rather than “random acts of kindness.” And, unlike Augie’s principled stand against Amazon, I realized that when I have blacklisted brands, it’s almost always due to negative customer experience – or concerted act of hostility. There are companies that I refuse to patronize. For example:

  • I once rented a car from Hertz to drive to Miami airport. When I missed my flight, I ended up driving back home. I went back to Hertz, was given the same car, which hadn’t even been cleaned yet, and they charged me for two one-way rentals (which was significantly higher than returning it to the same rental center, even though I ultimately did).
  • Avis isn’t any better. They recently charged me for an extra day when returning a car that was 20 minutes late. They failed to take into consideration the fact that I received it late — waiting in line for more than an hour to pick it up — two days previously.
  • Uber has pissed me off in so many ways, but the final straw was when I ordered from UberEats when my son was in hospital. The driver drove in the opposite direction for 20 minutes to deliver a different order, and took more than an hour to actually get our food to us. When I spoke to customer service, initially they hung up on me. When I dialled back, they denied that he dropped off another order, finally admitted that he did, and then told me that our food was delivered within their permitted window. The food was cold and congealed. The customer service was just cold.
  • I live two doors away from a hotel in Palm Beach – The Tideline. It has a beautiful outdoor patio which we should love to frequent. We used to go their occasionally for breakfast or lunch, but the service is so bad that it was hard to keep going back. The final straw was when my son and I were sitting at the Sushi bar eating dinner, and were informed that we wouldn’t be able to order for 45 minutes because they had just received a large order. This had happened to my wife and I previously (although not in the middle of our meal). Beause it had happened before, and we had previously been told the cause, I asked them if it was because the owner had put in the order. And, they confirmed it. So, the billionaire owner of the hotel would rather interrupt a patron’s dinner so that he can be served. I’m not spending any more of my money at his establishment.
  • I once drove more than an hour for an appointment at the Cleveland Clinic. After waiting another hour to be seen, I was told that the doctor I was waiting to see was not an ENT specialist – which is why I had set up the appointment to see him. The RN was pleasant about it, but we canceled the appointment. I pointed out to the receptionist what had happened, and she didn’t seem to care. Nobody ever followed up with me either to apologize or to schedule with an actual ENT specialist.

To complicate matters, I do know that my expectations are higher for the Cleveland Clinic than for other hospitals. This is mainly due to having heard from their executives while I was at Forrester, about how much emphasis they place on customer experience. When they failed to meet basic courtesy, yet claim to value CX, I gave up on them.

I had a similarly nuanced experience with JetBlue. I used to hold them to a higher standard due to the experiences that I had enjoyed. When they let me down, badly, on a subsequent occassion, I stopped flying them for a while. Then, when I began to fly with them again, I changed how I thought about them. I now think of them as just another uncaring airline. They’re no worse than the others, but I no longer think of them as better. And, then there’s brands like Comcast, that I’d love to avoid, but I live in a condo which has a monopolistic relationship with the company. I live with them, but loath them.

I don’t have the answers on this one, but I’m intrigued to explore further. Do shared values lead to higher loyalty, while negative experiences lead to hostility? Certainly for me, that’s the case, but what’s your experience?

 

Good customer support can instill loyalty

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Although I own a lot of Apple products, I don’t consider myself a fan-boy. If anything, I’m constantly on the edge of giving up. Every time my Apple products don’t work the way they’re supposed to (isn’t ease-of-use a big part of the promise?) I start thinking about giving the Pixel phone a go or trying to work with a Surface or chromebook.

Usually, inertia takes over. I realize the effort it would take to manage and migrate my photos and music, and there’s the need to re-learn which way to scroll and which corner to click to minimize a window. None of it is insurmountable, but the magnetism of the new just isn’t strong enough to overcome the habits of the present (with a hat tip to Jobs to be Done research for this description).

But then I had a great customer support experience that guarantees my loyalty for the foreseeable future and raises the bar for the support team of every other company that I ever interact with. Without boring you with the technical challenge, I contacted Apple’s customer support team and, after some time, my case was escalated to a manager. As well as regular troubleshooting, at a couple of stages I had to send logs for him to forward to engineers.

When we first spoke, he told me that he would remain on my case until it was resolved. It took several days, but he was true to his word. What shocked me was his communication and tenacity. He told me exactly which days he was working and when he would follow up. He arranged specific times to call me and then called me at those times. He explained as much technical detail as I wished to know – and didn’t overwhelm or bore me with the rest. In short, he owned my case. He wouldn’t let go until it was resolved and I was satisfied.

My expecations of every company’s support are now so much higher, and my appreciation for Apple has pushed thoughts of Google, Microsoft, or Samsung to the very back of my mind.

How do you show you care?

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A few weeks ago, I was in Miami and needed to order lunch for my family. We had flamed out a couple of times with different local eateries, and I once again looked online for highly rated lunch places near us. I came across a sandwich place — Super Subs — that was close by and got four-and-a-half stars on yelp. But something seemed iffy about it. So, rather than call in an order or use a delivery service, I decided to drive there to either order or find an alternative.

When I got there, the store was bustling. There were some people sitting on stools around the perimeter, and it initially felt like you needed to be a regular to have any chance of decent service. Then, when it came time to give my order, I realized how wrong I had been. It wasn’t that they were treating regulars differently. They were treating every individual as though they were the most important person in the world. The questions were endless – they wanted to get every aspect of my order exactly right. They wanted me to avail of extras – not upsells, but additions that I might want and alternatives I might prefer. And, all of this was done with a huge smile and in the server’s second language.

While I was waiting for the order to be prepared, I noticed a sign to their customers. The language and grammar wasn’t perfect, but the sentiment was. It basically informs customers that mistakes made by Postmates (although Doordash also seems to deliver from the store) can’t be avoided by the store. The sign pointed out that “they only care about their delivery charge and we only care about your food being ordered correctly.” Here’s the thing — I believed them. I’ve had enough mediocre to lousy experiences with Postmates, Uber Eats, Delivery Dudes, and others to know that they don’t care. My experience with Uber Eats was so poor that I refuse to use the service again.

But, having experienced Super Subs first hand, I knew how much they cared about getting my order right. There was something so authentic about their store, their note, and their service. As they pointed out, they are not in control of their brand when a customer orders through an intermediary, and yet, they sometimes get the blame. That’s life, but their little sign brought a smile to my face. It reinforced the notion of authenticity and emphasized how much they care. In the era of social media, none of us fully controls our brand. But, we can be honest and authentic, and trust that this resonates with customers.

Oh, and next time you’re in Miami, check out Super Subs — just be sure to call in the order yourself, or to visit in person!

Customer feedback: do you really want to know about my experience?

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Companies try all sorts of ways to get customer feedback. You see those emoji button stands as you exit airline security. Every fleet truck I get stuck behind seems to be emblazened with a “How’s my driving?” sticker.  And, last week I took my first ride on Florida’s new express train, the Brightline. On the multiple screens laid out in each train car, the messages alternated between ads, service information, and one message that encouraged passengers to “share your experience!” providing a hashtag for Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. OK, Brightline, since you asked, here was my experience:

  • I was supposed to get a $10 coupon for registering. I never received it. When I explained that to the lady at the ticket counter, she took down my name, email, and phone number, but a week later, I haven’t heard anything from anyone. And, she was pretty rude and patronizing.
  • I tried purchasing tickets on my home computer, on my mobile browser, on the app, and at the kiosk in the station. None worked. The rude, patronizing lady succeeded in booking us on the train. By the time we got upstairs to board the train, we were, late for it. Our tickets didn’t work at the turnstyle. A very nice security officer got us through the gates and radioed ahead to hold the train for us.
  • Although our train car only had about 15 people in it, my son and I were given seats that were four rows apart. There was nobody else at the table which I was allocated, nobody in the seat beside him, and nobody in the 6 seats between us. There was also no way to change our seats in the app, so we just both sat at my table, and nobody questioned us.
  • On our return journey two days later, we booked the “Select” service, which Brightline bills as its “first class service”. This time the app did work to buy tickets (but still no coupon). Thanks to a collosally incompetent Lyft driver we missed the train we had booked. Brightline staff kindly and efficiently booked us on the next train — which was an hour later. We went to the Select lounge, where our advertised “enhanced experience” was supposed to include “an ever-changing lineup of enticing bites throughout the day and evening.” Neither my son nor I had eaten dinner (thanks Lyft driver!) and when we got to the lounge, all of the food was gone. Despite advertising “champagne, premium wines and beers, handcrafted cocktails, juices and soft drinks,” a lounge employee was removing everything except the beer, juice, and soft drinks. When I asked about food, I was told that food was only served until 9 o’clock. We got to the lounge at about 9:04. But, nowhere in Brightline’s ads or promotional literature does it say that food was only served until 9pm. And then, the lounge employee was about as rude and patronizing as her colleage from two days ago. I bought food for my son at Brighline’s over priced cafe — although the only reason we had booked “Select” was because we hadn’t eaten. Finally, a very kind employee at the cafe responded very appropriately to our story and put together a plate of cheese and cold-cuts for us.
  • I bumped into a manager and explained our plight. She was rude and patronizing. Maybe she trained the other two employees.
  • The WiFi wasn’t fast enough for my son to play Fortnite. That was a negative for him and a positive for me.

In Brightline’s defense, it is relatively new. But it’s not that new. The West Palm Beach-Fort Lauderdale segment opened in January, and they extended to Miami in May. I’d have thought they’d have worked out the kinks by now. My wife had taken it the week prior to my son’s and my trip and she loved it. Maybe that led to a hightened expectation on my end. And, some elements worked great. Melba, the cafe member in Miami that put together the charcuterie plate for us was a sweetheart. The security staff in both the Miami and West Palm stations were efficient, showed empathy, and frankly displayed better customer service than most of the service staff. And, the on board experience is clean, efficient, and pleasant.

But, I came away underwhelmed and disappointed. I’ll give Brightline another go — it’s not like driving to Miami is fun! But, Brightline, I offered my feedback to your employees and to one of your managers, and for the most part they were rude and patronizing. Since you asked for feedback on social media too, I’m happy to share it there. But there’s a lesson for companies to reconsider how they treat feedback — when you get it directly, in particular. If you genuinely want feedback, you might want to invest in some employee training and introduce some processes to capture the feedback and evolve your experience. If it was just an excuse to display your hashtag, I messed that one up for you. Sorry.

Crocs and boors and friends, oh my!

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A couple of weeks ago, I bought my son a pair of crocs. Typically, I’d buy something like this from Amazon, but the size and color he wanted wasn’t available so I bought them directly from the Crocs website. Since then, I have received an email every single day from Crocs. The first one – apart from the order confirmation – was a welcome email thanking me for my support and promising to keep me posted on all their “best sales events, new product releases, unique discounts, and special offers.” I had no idea how diligently they would deliver on that promise to keep me posted. And, not that I buy crocs very often, but so far all they’ve done is train me that paying full price is a really stupid idea because I’m likely to get a 40 or 50% off email every day.

Except that I won’t get that email. I unsubscribed. I don’t want to get their lunch special, or to ‘stay connected and share the crocs love’, or even to ‘get comfortable with 50% off.’ Crocs has acted like what Nick, Josh, and I call a loudmouthed boor. We compare these boors to someone that comes to your house and won’t shut up –  talking about what’s important to him, without making any effort to understand what’s going on in your life. And, once a boor thinks he knows you, he’ll text you, email you, show up in your Facebook feed, and follow you all around town. If that sounds like your company’s approach, unfortunately, you’re not alone.

The alternative is to act like a friend – someone who considers what’s going on in your life and how they can help you. We interviewed Susan Fournier –  who next week will become the next dean of the Questrom School of Business – for Marketing to the Entitled Consumer. Together with Jill Avery of Harvard and John Wittenbraker of market research firm GfK, she penned a great HBR article that dives deep into the different types of friendships that people have with brands. We provide a synopsis in the boook, but the full article is well worth a read if you’re trying to shed your boorish ways.

Why do brands so offend to make offense a skill?

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16th-century imaginary painting of Henry IV, National Portrait Gallery, London

In Ireland, secondary school students take two national exams when we are about 15 and 18 years old. The Junior Certificate helps determine where students will track for their Leaving Certificate, which then determines entry for college programs. They both take place during a three-ish week period in early June, and I don’t think I’ve ever studied more intensely than preparing for those exams.

Maybe that’s why I remember random German phrases, obscure mountain ranges in Eastern Europe, and snippets of poetry as Gaeilge.

This weekend, a famous speech from Henry IV, Part I (which I studied for my Intermediate Certificate, as the Junior Cert used to be known) came to mind in relation to a phenomena Nick and I call the “transference of entitlement.” We use this phrase to describe the effect of experiences we have with one company that set expectations for other companies. We usually think of it as a steady build-up of expectation rather than something triggered by a specific event. The reason Prince Henry’s soliloquy came to mind though was the result of back-to-back experiences that I had with car rental companies that couldn’t have been more different, and “like bright metal on a sullen ground” one of the experiences glittered, while the other offended.

Budget/Avis – the company that used to ‘try harder’ – offended. When picking up a car last Thursday in Boston to go visit our daughter, we stood in line for an hour and a half to get to the counter to pick up the car we had ordered (I know, I could have skipped the line if I joined the loyalty program). When we got to the counter, the agent didn’t apologize, or even reference the time we had spent in line. He was surly and just acted like he didn’t want to be there. Then, when we dropped the car off on Sunday we were about an hour later than we had scheduled. By the time they checked us in, they registered us as an hour and a quarter late (yes, there was a long line again). And, as a result, they charged us an extra $95. I was so incensed, but had the good sense to let my wife discuss it with them. I don’t think I would have been particularly diplomatic. My wife handled it very well, and ultimately they removed the charge. But, we were left with a bitter feeling towards the brand.

We went from the Avis return counter to the Alamo counter to get a new car to drive to New York to visit my wife’s family. The lady checking us in couldn’t have been more pleasant. When I questioned the price she quoted versus what we had been quoted online, she seemed genuinely concerned, and when it turned out she had been right and I was wrong, she remained pleasant and gracious. Returning the car in Manhattan was a smooth process where all of the employees were friendly and responsive. I left with a significantly enhanced impression of the Alamo brand, and it even restored a bit of my faith rental car companies.

Maybe if I hadn’t had the Budget/Avis experience, the Alamo experience would have been unremarkable. But, coming so quickly in succession, the positive Alamo experience seemed to “show more goodly and attract more eyes; Than that which hath no foil to set it off.”

I’ll stop torturing the analogy, but suffice to say that your customers’ perceptions of your brand experience is influenced not only by what you do, and not only what your competitors do, but by what every company does. The transference of entitlement is driven by our experiences with every brand – good and bad. When those experiences come in close proximity, the benefit or harm is only accentuated.