Marketing: The Value of Your Own Experience

Bill Gates, Founder of Microsoft "Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning."

Years ago, when I was in graduate school, I enrolled in a course titled, "Services Marketing." Among other things, my professor required that we document three positive and/or negative customer experiences we had each week to share with the class.

We were asked to include the following:

1. Describe what happened.

2. How did this make you feel?

3a. What should they have done to make your experience better?


3b. What did they do that exceeded your expectations?

At first, I viewed this as just another task on my "to-do" list, but soon discovered what a valuable learning exercise it turned out to be! I continue documenting my experiences in a log book (it’s a lifesaver when I want to provide concrete example that help illustrate a point) and recommend this activity to all my clients.

As part of my preparation for this article I decided to randomly select an entry I’d included. So, I pulled out my log binder, shut my eyes, opened it up and pointed my index finger anywhere on the page.

Here’s the one I selected:

1. Description: My company is getting ready to participate in a trade show so I decided to but some "trash and trinkets" (giveaways) personalized with our company’s logo. Remembering that I had recently received a direct mail piece from a local company I decided to give them a try. I located the letter and was immediately impressed with their ad copy. It contained all of the "right stuff" such as:

* Great features translated into wonderful benefits

* Powerful headlines

* Plausible testimonials

* Strong offers

* "Customer First" Platitudes

* Promises of quick turnaround times

Thrilled to have such a seemingly awesome company so close by, I hauled out my corporate credit card, ready to buy.

The first two times I dialed their number I got a busy signal. Since that’s a rarity these days, I figured I had entered the number incorrectly. After double-checking, I redialed. This time my call was answered by "robot man", or so it seemed, who said, "Hi, you’ve reach Company X. We’re not here now but you know the drill. Leave a message and we’ll call you back."

Question: How Did That Make You Feel? Answer: Not Warm and Fuzzy…

1. Annoyed - I had to dial their number three times before I even got through to their voice mail system.

2. Disappointed – Their advertisement had created a picture in my mind of a professional company dedicated to delivering quality products and superior customer service. Apparently they hadn’t made the connection between customer care and answering their phones!

3. Confused – Why on earth would any business owner spend the time and effort involved in creating a first rate marketing piece only to "blow it" when a potential customer shows interest? It boggles the mind.

4. Surprised – I completely understand that many small businesses do not have the sophisticated phone systems like the big guys. No problem. I am more than happy to leave a message if all of the phone lines are busy (but I will say that if this is a regular occurrence, they should consider adding more because there are still folks who will hang up if they don’t reach a live person. Something to consider…)

Question: What should they have done to make the experience better? Answer: Change their greeting, at a minimum!

I should have heard something like this, "Hi! Thanks for calling "AAAA Company". Your call is very important to us and although we strive to answer each and every call personally, occasionally all of our consultants are busy assisting other customers. However, please leave your name and number after the tone and we return your call today. We understand that you have lots of choices, so we’re thrilled that you called us!"

Bottom line?

The "AAAA Company" wasted money.

The "AAAA Company" lost a sale.

The "AAAA Company" lost a referral.

The "AAAA Company" gained a detractor.

The "AAAA Company" lost profits.

The "AAAA Company" missed the opportunity to get a new customer.

The "AAAA Company" missed a chance for a repeat purchase.

Moral of the Story? Every single time you communicate with a prospect or customer, it counts. Small things may be worth a fortune!

Mary Eule specializes in helping small and medium-sized businesses get and keep profitable customers. Formerly a Fortune 500 marketing executive; founder of 2 successful small businesses and award-winning speaker, Ms. Eule is President of Strategic Marketing Advisors, LLC. and co-author of a new book, "Marketing: What it Really Means and How to Make it Work for Your Business". She holds a master degree in marketing from Johns Hopkins University. Log onto for free articles, newsletter and helpful tools, tips and templates.

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