How smart are we?

I used to have a sign in my office that said – “Happiness is expectation management” that could be interpreted as “It’s hard to be disappointed if you don’t expect much”. Apparently this wisdom does not resonate with a lot of consumers:

A recent Brandweek article titled “Retail Customer Service Stinks” reported that the service received by shoppers in over 1000 retail interactions in the study rated 48.2 out of a possible 100 points – a flunking grade. The study, conducted by the research firm The Salt and Pepper Group, examined retail interactions in 73 stores over a four-month period.

This quote, and the others to follow, came from an excellent article by @RetailProphet appropriately called  How Consumers Killed Customer Service. In this article, the writer puts responsibility for deteriorating Customer Service on the shoulders of Consumers with our focus on low price.

We demanded the lowest airfare wherever we flew. We went to the buy-one-get-one sales. We made Walmart what it is today. We camped out for Black Friday. We built the dollar store channel. The bottom line is that we voted with our wallets and customer service lost. We killed customer service.

I’m glad this is finally articulated as I’ve felt this way for a long time. It is rare to see an advertising campaign that is focused on quality of experience, and the only differentiator seems to be the price. These unbalanced optimization attempts inevitably trigger a “law of unintended consequences”. Results range from retail stores, that both feel and smell like dumps, to rising costs of waste disposal caused by purchases of low quality products, that do not last and are priced too low to fix. Apparently most of us do not value the extra time, effort and energy wasted to deal with inferior products and services, to balance the economics of our decisions.

Examples of better balanced services (Apple Store, Nordstrom, etc) point to the fact that market segmentation works as intended and some of us, who expect more than just the lowest  price, can still find better experiences.

For most of us it’s become a matter of making trades and concessions based on the type of product, the brand, or the store we choose to shop at. Just as we don’t expect the lowest price for a laptop at the Apple Store, we can’t in good conscience demand brilliant service at Sears, whose stores have become a virtual sea of sale banners. And if in fact we really can’t live with that trade-off, then I’m afraid we’ll need to rethink our definition of value as consumers and as a society.

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3 Responses to How smart are we?

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  3. Alex Tanner says:

    We do live in a “pick your poison/pleasure” world. This is not necessarily a bad thing if you as you say, manage your expectations. What is most distressing, is when you get neither low price nor quality service. Bed Bath and Beyond has great ease of returns and handy 20% off coupons, but often, despite the premium (Blood bath and beyond, as some call it) price, if you need help, you need to hunt down an assistant who can not find the merchandise that they have on the shelves and seem largely clueless. That, you expect at the 99C store.

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