One of the great things about our modern world is mega-brands. For people who travel a lot, mega-brands make the world a much smaller and more convenient place.
Earlier this week I was in suburban Washington DC (or, more accurately, as I learned, Northern Virginia). I needed to accomplish two tasks that I could have easily done at home, because I knew exactly which businesses to go to accomplish them.
But being in a city on the other side of the country, I might have been hampered in my ability to quickly and easily get these two things done.
Enter the mega-brands.
Without two specific large, well-known companies I might have spent a lot of time running around Manassas, VA. Instead I stopped at the local branches of two companies that I´ve used many times in the Twin Cities.
And my two experiences could not have been more different.
The first was a clothing store, the Men´s Wearhouse. This was a quick errand because all I needed were two collar stays. (Though I´m no fashion-maven I do have some standards. One of them is straight collars.)
I pulled my rental car up to the store. I jumped out. Dashed in the store and saw all the staff were busy in what appeared to be a meeting.
Before I could say anything two people flew out of their chairs, simultaneously asking how they could help me.
It was almost scary.
"Uh, I just need a couple collar stays" I finally mumbled.
One of the salespeople hurried to get some collar stays. The other started a pleasant conversation with me. Not once did any of them act like I had interrupted their meeting (which I did). Instead they made me feel welcome and comfortable, like I was a lifelong customer or a good friend.
And I never told them I was a Men´s Wearhouse customer. They had no idea and they didn´t seem to care. Their entire focus was on helping me in any way they could.
I entered the store needing two collars stays.
I left with a handful of collar stays and one more great reason to remain a loyal and enthusiastic customer of this company.
My next errand didn´t go quite so smoothly.
After some driving around, I finally found the FedEx Kinko´s store I was seeking. I had a 127 page PDF file I wanted printed. (Reading material for the flight home.)
I went in the store and walked to the counter where no other customers were waiting. After a couple minutes an employee approached and asked what I needed. I told him and he replied "no problem, tomorrow morning okay?"
"Okay for what" I asked him.
"We can have your print job ready for you tomorrow morning" he clarified.
I explained I was from out of town and so tomorrow morning would not work very well. I said I was hoping to get it done tonight, while I waited.
"No problem" he said. "You can print it yourself on our laser printer over there." He pointed toward some cubicles. "Just put your CD in one of the computers and you can do it yourself in a couple minutes."
Okay, I thought. That sounds good. So I sat down at a computer, popped my CD in and tried to login. It was then I realized I needed to give the computer my credit card. I had to pay for the privilege of printing it myself.
Then I realized something even more interesting.
The price per page was 49 cents if I printed it myself. For 127 pages that would total over $62. Plus the charges for the computer time. That seemed a little high, even for Washington DC.
So, I went back to the same employee and asked him about the pricing. He confirmed the 49 cents per page rate. He also confirmed that it would cost about $10 total if I had them print it.
"That´s a big difference in cost" I suggested to him.
Blank stare. No words. No response. Nothing.
"Tell you what." I said. "That´s a little more than I wanted to pay. How about if you go ahead and print the document? I need it tonight."
Instead of responding, he walked away to talk to another employee. When he came back he said "the best we can do is 8:00."
Wanting to be 100% clear I asked "8:00 tonight?"
"Yep" he said.
It was 6:30 so I said, that´d be fine. I could kill an hour or so by grabbing dinner and a newspaper.
By 7:40 I was back at the FedEx Kinko´s store (I know, I was EARLY). After waiting at the "customer service" counter for a couple minutes, someone asked what they could help me with. I explained my situation and he went to look for my print job.
"It´s not here" he yelled to no one in particular.
I got his attention and I pointed to the employee who helped me earlier. They convened a quick meeting and determined that the job was not done. In fact, it had not yet been started.
It was 7:50.
I asked if there was anything I could do to help. The one who wrote up my print job (almost 90 minutes ago) grunted in reply and went to work on it. It took less than five minutes to print and staple the job. (I had to ask him to staple it.)
By 8:00 I left the store with my printed document and with a new opinion of FedEx Kinko´s. And it was not a new and improved opinion either. It was vastly inferior to my previous perception.
Two simple needs by one customer.
Two major brands. Both well-known leaders in their categories.
Two vastly different experiences.
Two lasting memories which will influence both my future buying decisions and the stories I tell.
While I appreciate FedEx Kinko´s for supplying me with an entertaining story and great material for my customer service training business, I´d rather have gotten better service. I´d prefer they hire employees who are interested in serving the needs of their customers. I´d rather have walked out of that store thrilled about doing business with them.
But I didn´t. And, I won´t do business with them again, at least not as a first choice.
On the other hand, Men´s Wearhouse gets my undying loyalty as long as I need what they sell. And they benefit from the many times I´ll tell their story. Because it´s a great story about great service. It´s a story about how they put me (the customer) first and they actually seem to enjoy doing so.
No matter what you do, your customers get a story when they do business with you. Every contact they have with your company contributes to the story. It builds your brand in a good way or in a bad way.
What story are you telling your customers when they do business with you? Are you giving your customers a consistent and fantastic experience that makes them feel special? Are you giving them an experience that feels so good they want to talk about it and write about it?
If you are, then bravo! You get it and you´ll do fine.
If not then you need to start. The sooner the better. Because if you don´t, your competition will.