Better To Disappoint ‘Em Now Than To Piss ‘Em Off Later

Frustration in customer experiencesThis is a story of my recent experiences dealing with two businesses. Both were less than ideal experiences, but one became far more emotionally charged than the other — all because one business owner didn’t consider the long-term effects of avoiding his own discomfort.

As you’re someone who probably cares a lot about converting customers and retaining them, there are lessons to be learned from my story.

This year marked an important birthday milestone for me.

To celebrate the occasion in true Joanna style, she gave me the mind-blowing gift of driving several exotic cars on an airport runway in the Mojave Desert, at the admittedly insane speed of 200 mph or higher… while being filmed by several cameras inside and outside the car. Crazy fun!

As my anticipation of the event grew with every passing week, I got to within two months of my auto-exotica wet dream… only to receive notice that the event had been cancelled. Apparently the driver at a related event ran his Ford GT off the end of the runway and crashed in spectacular fashion into the desert flora. And with that liability scare, the airport revoked all such future events.

Talk about disappointing. I’ve not experienced disappointment like that since learning the truth about Santa Claus and the fact that he doesn’t always eat the cookies himself. I was pretty devastated at the idea of losing out on a dream of mine.

The company that put together the event was up-front with me about what happened, and they tried to persuade me to participate in a different, less extreme exotic car experience. When I declined, the company refunded our payment in full. Disappointed, yes. But not pissed off in the least. I think they handled the situation effectively.

So faced with the question, “What do you want for your birthday now?” I decided to look into a bit of 80s nostalgia.

As a young teenager, I plugged every quarter I could find into the classic arcade games like Pac-Man, Galaga, Donkey Kong, and Joust. It was what my friends and I did on evenings and weekends for many years. Sure, the games look positively ancient compared to what’s available today, but they have an addictive quality that is difficult to explain.

Turns out that, thanks to a smart lad named Nicola Salmoria, classic arcade game lovers like me can recreate that time of their lives with a bit of slick software called MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator).

It also turns out that a few computer-savvy cabinetmakers have created booming businesses selling people like me custom-designed arcade cabinets that house a regular PC (running MAME software) capable of playing 5,000+ classic games. Birthday problem solved!

So with that decision, Joanna invited me to explore various companies who build these amazing systems.

After several days of research online, I landed on a promising Web site. The company offered a fully customizable cabinet, high-quality hardware, a reasonable build time, and the ability to ship to Canada. Sold! After sending a deposit and choosing my cabinet options, I’d only have to wait 2 weeks before wheeling it into our rec room. Or so I thought…

The original 2 weeks turned into 4 weeks, which turned into 8 weeks.

Turns out there was a reasonable explanation for every delay the business owner faced in shipping my product. But with each new deadline that came and went, so did my level of tolerance… to the point of where my frustration grew so great that I nearly hopped a plane to personally collect a full refund.

If the company’s Web site had set my expectation for delivery in 10 weeks, I would have used that information to make a decision – and likely still gone with the same company. But this was not entirely about setting expectations up front, which surely would’ve helped.

Rather, this was about a business owner sacrificing my customer satisfaction in the hope of avoiding a bit of early discomfort for him. By trying to temper my disappointment with each successive shipping delay, he would fail miserably at managing me through the experience, to the point where my blood pressure would spike every time I saw an email from him in my inbox.

There is really no recovering from that. Trust completely gone. At this point I’m having daydreams of how to collect our money, old school. :-)

Which would you rather face if your customers were bears?

It’s always better to disappoint people up front than to piss them off later.

It’s natural to want to please people – and to avoid the discomfort of disappointing a customer when you’ve just established a new relationship. But that early relationship is fragile, and by avoiding the discomfort of breaking bad news on the belief that things will somehow still work out in the end, you are playing with fire!

Business owners take note: A disappointed customer is far easier to manage than an angry customer.

Remember that classic bar scene from Crocodile Dundee? The scene where an attractive but heavily made-up young lady propositions Mick Dundee? Remember his shock when he reached under her dress and discovered that she was in fact a he? Well imagine how much more volatile the situation could’ve been if he’d made the same discovery after taking ‘her’ back to his hotel room. Ug-ly.

Now it’s your turn…

How do you handle tricky situations with your customers?

Do you adequately set expectations about your product or service on your Web site? Or do you make promises that are difficult to keep?

If you have a customer support issue, do you find yourself minimizing the problem or inflating the likelihood of a solution to save yourself some short-term pain?

Based on my recent experiences as an excited customer of two cool businesses – one that resulted in disappointment and the other that ended in outright disgust – I encourage you to tackle your sales opportunities and support issues with full transparency.

Doing anything less puts your business at risk, because as you’ve heard so many times before, angry customers share their experiences more frequently and with more force than happy (and disappointed) customers.

~lance

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