June 13

Customer Experience Fail: That Was NOT Easy


People sometimes confuse customer engagement, customer satisfaction, customer loyalty, and customer service which makes it challenging to know how to improve customer engagement.

Let's start with some definitions so we're on the same wavelength as we explore customer engagement strategies.


What is customer service?

Customer service is the action of providing a good customer experience.

customer service

What is customer satisfaction?

The degree to which you believe that your needs are met by a product or service, and how likely you would be to recommend it.

What is customer loyalty?

Is where customers do not look for alternatives even when they could easily find one

What is a customer journey?

A customer journey is the step-by-step process someone goes through when they are interacting with a company

What is an important part of a customer journey?

The first contact (whether in person or online) can shape how customers feel about your organization for years.  There are other key touchpoints within a customer journey but the explanation needs to be saved for another post.

What is customer experience?

How a customer feels about their interaction with your brand or product

What is customer engagement?

Customer engagement is the act of forming a relationship with customers where they can experience emotional fulfillment when they interact with you. It's the highest level on the customer pyramid.

What is the difference between customer engagement and customer experience?

Your customer experience is the culmination of a whole lifetime of interactions with your brand broken down into individual touchpoints which can affect how they feel about your brand.

Customer experience is a major component of customer engagement as the experiences are the external factors which provide the internal feelings that a customer has relative to your brand. The feelings determine whether engagement happens.

Customer engagement starts with your marketing -- which is more than logos and ads.

There are many Ps to marketing including product, price, promotion, place, people, process, physical evidence, promise, platform, passion, purpose, personality, and others.

Your marketing includes a brand promise and if your brand promise doesn't align with what you deliver, engagement will be nearly impossible.

Customer service is one of the most important parts of any business.

It's a chance for your company to build relationships with customers and improve their perception of you.

But all too often, customer service fails or falls short in some way. Whether it be a lackadaisical attitude or an error on behalf of the company, these mistakes can have lasting effects that can seriously hurt customer engagement and turn people away from your brand altogether.

In recent years, the retail industry has seen some major changes. With consumers turning to online shopping at a rapid pace and store closures becoming more common, it's important for retailers to make sure they're doing everything in their power to keep customers happy.

In this blog post, we'll discuss 9 customer service lessons learned and mistakes committed that you should avoid at all costs if you want to improve customer engagement!


Lived experience with EPIC customer service failures by this retail giant

These days I can't stand the customer service at many large companies. They always do something to make me regret buying their products, and my experience on the days in this story, were no different.

You know those days where you just want to shake someone silly? Well, that's how my experience went with this retail giant -- an F for making customers happy, let alone building a long lasting relationship which is part of customer engagement!

It all started on a Saturday night when I submitted a file to two Staples stores (one locally and the other near where my editor lives.) 

The file was an extremely valuable and extremely time-sensitive document as it was the culmination of months of blood, sweat, and tears.

It was the draft copy of the first part of my Guerrilla Marketing book “Guerrilla Tourism Marketing – Increase Your Profit by Leveraging Marketing, Technology, and Relationships"

The irony of what I'm about to share with you is that my customer experience will not increase their profits, they didn't leverage their marketing and their brand promise of "that was easy", and they used technology poorly.

They also failed to do anything relative to building a relationship with me (I use the copy center often).

The Staples Saga is so outrageous I cannot help but share the intimate details of the delivered customer experience.

I must warn you that -- as they say on the news -- this story may not be suitable for all audiences.

Here goes:

I submitted my order on Saturday and received email confirmations (expected). 

Given that my order was less than $75 and knowing that the copy center was open on weekends, I expected that the order would be processed by Sunday. 

My editor's version of the Staples order was completed and an email was received at “Date: Sun, Jun 17, 2012 at 12:32 PM / Subject: Staples Copy & Print Online - Your order #xxxxxxxx is complete and ready for pick up”.

Thinking that the email from our local copy centre was lost in cyberspace, I went to the copy centre at 5pm on Sunday only to find out that their copier was broken and my file had been sent away for printing in Vancouver!

So I left there disappointed as they told me come back 10am Monday to pick up my order.

I was so busy on Monday that I thought it couldn't get any busier. So when 7pm rolled around and there still wasn’t an update, my heart sunk a little bit when I checked the status online and saw the message which popped up saying “copier broken."

I called the store and pressed various numbers to get in touch with their copy centre, but I couldn't speak with anyone. The call seemed to bounce from line to line before coming back as if it were going through an echo chamber.

After a bad customer service experience, I hung up and phoned back to see if someone else could help me.

Thinking that customer service would be a good option, I chose it but that's where my experience went off the rails even more.

I had the unpleasant experience of dealing with Shelley, one of the managers at the store.

I gave her my name and explained that I was trying to reach the copy centre. 

I asked if they were available now. 

Shelley informed me that the copy centre closed at 7 pm. 

I explained what had happened and she responded by asking for my name -- apparently, she didn't hear it the first time around.

Feeling my blood pressure starting to rise, I started to question their approach to this problem.

I went on to say that I knew the printer was broken but I didn’t really care. Their problems should not be my problem and something should have been done.

She asked for my name again (seriously, she'd heard it 2x already). 

She informed me that the printer had been fixed on Monday. 

When I said something snarky she told me to watch my tone.

Whoa, watch MY tone??!? You know when you are watching a cartoon and the smoke starts coming out of someone's ears, or their head explodes, well that was me.


I didn't really care that she didn't know what goes on in the copy centre, nor did I care about their machine problems. 

I didn't care that they had to send orders to Vancouver “hub” in the situation where the order couldn’t be filled and I really didn't care that the copy centre person had left 2 minutes before I called the first time.

I became so exasperated by her lack of … hmmm… customer service, empathy, support, or willingness to do what it takes (that’s as an employee, let alone a manager) that I said to her “Why didn't they just print my file on the freaking printer then?”. 

To which she said “What did you say?” to which I replied “I said, why don’t they just print my file on the freaking printer”, to which she said “That’s not what you said” and to which I responded, “Oh yes, that’s what I said”. 

She asked for my name AGAIN and she told me that Ann would phone in the morning.

A short while later, a perky little voice called me to say that they had found my order in the “hub” box and that I could pick it up. 

I can just imagine what happened at the store. Shelley delegated the task of researching and resolving the problem to someone else. Instead of taking responsibility as a manager and closing the loop with a customer service issue to ensure it was resolved.  

If you think that's the end of this saga, sadly you'd be mistaken. The story gets even better while the customer experience gets even worse.

The next day, I went to Staples a little before 9 am to discover signs on the door that “due to reasons beyond our control they could only accept cash”.  

So, I entered the store anyway and was greeted by the cashier who told me that it was cash-only because their machines were down. I asked her where to go to get cash and off I went to a bank that charged me $1.50 to withdraw cash because I didn’t bank with them.

So, cash in hand, I returned to the copy centre.  

I’d had more than enough by now, but I kept my cool and explained the entire situation and got a better response than any I’d received so far.

Are you ready for it? Here it comes … “I don’t know why you didn’t get a call, someone obviously dropped the ball yesterday” with some concern in her voice. Yahoo, someone actually cared.


However, there was a missed opportunity because she didn’t immediately offer anything to make this series of unfortunate experiences up to me. 

Eventually, she offered a 20% discount, which was the best she could do. 

I took it but decided that I’d help them to avoid this situation in the future by writing this blog post.

I’ve had a few customer service experiences in my lifetime that have really left me wondering what people are thinking when they answer the phone for companies who provide customer service, and I think it's time we all start caring about this issue.

It's not just rude or lazy to customers – it can also be costly in terms of reputation as well as to business profit and customer lifetime value.

Business is a game of perception.

It's your job, as an employee, manager, and leader, to control the customer experience with every touchpoint.

The challenge is that you never know what customers are going through internally, so it's always best to assume the worst and deliver the best experience you can.

If you can master this while staying consistent in your branding efforts, then there will be no way for competitors to take away current customers and lose potential customers due to negative social media posts and online reviews.

Learning from customer service mistakes

The first mistake people make when it comes to customer service is not apologizing for errors that cause inconvenience, distress or disappointment.

It's surprising how often people will try and justify something when they could just apologize for the mistake.

The second customer service mistake that many businesses make is assuming anything about a person without talking to them first or getting their perspective on the situation.

It can be tempting to ask what went wrong rather than asking "how can we fix this?" but if you don't talk with customers, then it might lead to assumptions which may not have been true in the first place.

For example: A company thought its products were too expensive so they asked for feedback from customers only to discover that most of those who responded liked using their product because they had higher quality ingredients and used less preservatives and artificial colours.

Another mistake is promising things that are too good to be true.

This is a mistake most of us are guilty of at some point or another - promising something that we can't deliver and then scrambling to make it right once the customer points out our error.

The best thing you can do in this situation is try your hardest not to promise anything, even if there's a high probability for success (this isn't always possible).

When explaining what might happen, use phrases like "I'd love to help" rather than "It will work." It'll save everyone time and energy when expectations aren't dashed by disappointment later on down the line.

Taking things personally is another mistake. I suspect that Shelley took the criticism related to the saga personally. She was defensive rather than helpful and it came through in the way she handled the problem.

walk in their shoes

9 lessons learned from this customer experience and how you can use them to improve your customer engagement strategies

Lesson 1:

Put yourself in your customers shoes.

Think about how you would want to be treated and treat your customers that way.

In my example, the customer is expecting delivery of a service, which couldn't be fulfilled due to broken equipment. However, in a Staples store, there are many printers -- they even sell them!

The big printer was broken but why didn't they use another printer -- the colour printer, or the self-serve printers. There were alternatives, they just didn't use them.

Lesson 2:

When dealing with a customer, especially a customer who hasn't had a good experience, don't pour fuel on the fire. Your job is to diffuse the situation and come to a satisfactory resolve.

If your managers and employees are not capable of diffusing a situation, they should not be dealing with customers.

We all have bad days and if things aren't going well that day, you have 2 choices:

  1. Take a breath, give yourself a pep talk, smile and enter the conversation with a positive outcome in mind or
  2. Stay out of the conversation

Lesson 3:

It's exponentially harder to provide a good customer experience if your employees are not having a good employee experience.

Lesson 4:

If rules are so strictly enforced that you’d lose your job or be reprimanded because you are trying to satisfy the brand promise being made to your customers, either speak up to get the rules changed or find another job because no business that cares about their customers has rules that will send their customers to a competitor. 

Attn: Management find some common sense and give employees the ability to make the situation acceptable to the customer.

Lesson 5:

Communicate clearly, and honestly, and respectfully.

There were more breakdowns in communication in the Staples Saga than there were for equipment.

While I've already suggested thinking outside of the box in terms of solving problems creatively for the printer situation, having a broken payment system without a back-up plan is poor planning especially for a store that sells equipment and has internet.

Back to communication though. Proactive communication would have saved many problems.

Calling me to advise me that the printer was broken would have been a great start.

Calling me with a solution as to how the printer problem will be fixed and managing my expectations would have been even better.

Finally, for all the customers who received notification that their print order was ready, a follow-up phone call to say something along the lines of: "We seem to have tech gremlins which are causing problems. When you come in today, please bring cash as our payment processing system has decided to revolt like our printer did."

A little lightheartedness goes a long way. Not for everyone, but it's a better place to start. And any type of communication to manage expectations is better than none.

Lesson 6:

When things go completely sideways, like they did in this story, a follow-up call to apologize and to ensure the customer is satisfied with the result will help to repair the poor experience.

People know that things break and events can happen. Part of the benefit of having an engaged customer base, is they are more likely to forgive you when they do.

Engaged customers want you to succeed. They are rooting for you because your success is their success in ways that can be hard to explain.

Lesson 7:

No-one wants to deal with a company that can't get their act together -- employees get demoralized, customers stop buying from you, suppliers  stop selling to you and business will falter.

That said, it doesn't matter how many mistakes your company has made in the past; as long as you learn from them and don't repeat them.

Lesson 8:

You spend an enormous amount of time, energy and money getting customers. The minimum stakes for customer engagement strategy is living up to what you've promised them.

This means that your product does what you say it will do, and your people deliver a service level consistent to your promises and service level agreements.

The more trust that you earn as a result of consistently delivering what you promise, the higher the customer satisfaction levels, which helps move people toward engagement.

You have to do your part, so you earn their trust, then their loyalty and eventually, ultimately you win their hearts and minds when they subconsciously decide to become engaged.

Lesson 9:

Customer engagement is a result that takes strategy and effort. It's not like winning a medal -- once you achieve it you don't always have it.

You cannot drop the ball or else the engaged customer could become the enraged ex-customer as quick as a flash.

Your employees deliver the experiences that can build or destroy customer satisfaction, customer loyalty, customer experiences and customer engagement.

They must be part of the solution and they need to be supported by managers and leaders with policies, training, tools, and other resources to enable them to do their jobs well.

Hiring people who have the ability and attitude to constantly and consistently provide your brand promise is one of the steps to improving your customer engagement.

And when things go wrong, which inevitably they will, all the goodwill you've earned along the way will help lessen the impact of a failure.

heart mind engagement


You can't always control what your customers experience, but you do have the ability to make sure that when they're interacting with your business, your team is at their best.

Keep in mind that it's exponentially harder to provide a good customer experience if your employees are not having a good employee experience.

You'll also want to communicate clearly and honestly as well as respectfully because there are no timeouts or "do-overs" for this game of human interaction.

When things go completely sideways like they did in this story, follow-up calls will help repair some of the damage by apologizing and making sure the customer is satisfied with how everything turned out - even if doesn't turn out exactly as planned (which sometimes happens).

The bottom line is that customer service is an important part of successful business, and the most significant investment you can make in your customer experience.

When you put your customer experience at the forefront, you can eventually grow a base of highly engaged customers who support your success.

... and this is a worthy target to aim for.

Originally published June 19, 2012. Updated May 14, 2021



customer engagement, customer experience

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