Lessons from Customer Experiences

The lessons we can learn in the real world are pretty applicable to the PR world. Quickly, think of how you are treated at any place you might go into - a store, a restaurant, a doctor's office. If you are treated well, you think better of the place and tell others. If you are treated poorly, you are unhappy with the experience, you walk away slightly miffed and that's it. Oh,and you tell people.

Well, that's pretty much how PR should be thinking of what it is doing. It does not matter the content delivery system - blogs, podcasts, television, mainstream media - but we are trying to tell a story and present a positive side of the story. So, couple weeks ago I was heading out to a friend's niece's birthday party out in Berkeley.

And, here's a great example of two incidences on why the customer experience influences decisions, and cements views and opinions.

The first is buying a birthday gift for her at American Apparel, and the next is me going to Everett & Jones (best damn BBQ, bar none - just look at that photo).

Okay, I live near one of the American Apparel stores. I like the shirts, they fit me well. I don't really care about their political bent, but more power to them.

The fact is that they pound their chest on their factories in East Los Angeles, but my shirts from Lacoste are made in Macao, and last quite a bit longer. I love buying a T-shirt from American Apparel and having it unravel ... after the first wash, line dried, naturally.

But, that's neither here nor there. It's the customer experience that is the best part of American Apparel (which I touched upon here). Or the worst, if you have to go through it. I just have three great stories that say "um, customers - who are they?" to me in regards to the store.

First, I like wearing long sleeve shirts underneath my short sleeve Lacostes. I like the look, and, well, it's freezing here. So, I want lilac. I like lilac. I look good in lilac. So, they transfer a shirt from another store ... and then take 20 minutes to look for where they put the shirt. The kids - and that might be the problem with the staff, it's all kids with no adult supervision and too cool to help people - ran downstairs, ran upstairs, ran everywhere.

But, um, did not look next to the register where they apparenlty keep the transfers. I walk up and grab the shirt and pay. They all look confused ... because the name "Pepper" is confusing?

Second, one of my best friends - and the impetus for this blog, so blame Kyle - lives in London. I was trying to figure out a birthday gift for him, and decided to order some shirts from American Apparel ... but had to do it online, because he lives in London. So, I order from the UK site ... and hear nothing. I send an email, and get a bounce back because the mail box is full. I call using Skype - I'm not going to spend real money on a call - and talk to customer service.

Now, this is almost two months since I ordered ... and no correspondence. The person I yelled at in the UK - let's be honest, I yelled at him - took the initiative and started corresponding, to let me know the issues (one shirt never came back to the UK) and that he would keep on top of it. He did, and he did a great job.

So, I emailed his boss ... and heard nothing. Classic example of no sense in customer service.

The last example was the niece birthday gift. And, pretty much a last straw. I go in, and ask for some help on buying a gift for a three-year old. Now, as far as I know, clothing is pretty standard for children. I ask for help, and I get the "I don't know, don't bother me" look. So, I ask again, and pretty much note that how the hell do you work at a clothing store and know nothing about size.

An overall wonderful experience just trying to buy a T-shirt ... but no one is trained to actually know anything about clothes at the store.

It's the too cool to help you mentality. We're soooo hip, we don't need you is the vibe.

Now, a real cool store is Everett & Jones.

Here's an example of customer service that explains why the restaurant has been around for more than 30 years. When I lived in the East Bay, I used to go to E&J for brisket a few times a month. The place rocks. And, when I do go to the East Bay now, I try to hit one of the places, but usually go to the one on San Pablo.

What makes them so good at customer service? Well, they say hello, remember faces of people that eat there, and treat everyone pretty much the same.

The service is not special for some people, but an egalitarian place. It's clean (well, for an old building), it's fast and it's customer oriented.

Is that really so hard? In all the times I have been there, the staff has been friendly and chatted up a little bit, noted that I always get the same thing - they make me feel like they really care if I come back.

It's pure PR - working with the public that comes to your place.

So, what's the point? In this "social media" world - blogs, podcasts, vidcasts, Yelp - it is too easy to air your issues with a company.

If the company is smart - and I give American Apparel credit for finding my first post, and commenting - then they are going to work on the issues presented. If not, then the company - and this will affect the local, smallest place to the largest multinational - will suffer and not realize why.

So, it comes down to good PR at the front-end, and good monitoring and PR at the back-end.

Photo from
Trac_1980, all rights reserved.

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9 comments

  1. To me, it is the idea of a servant philosophy that is slowly being lost among some businesses and employees. The ideal is that one should think of the needs of others, before thinking of themselves.

    If a company follows that model, you will likely experience great customer service.

    In society, that servant philosophy comes not only from family, but the community - the cultural institutions. In business, that comes from management and diffuses throughout the staff.

    One problem today, which impacts on this inability (or unwillingness) to be a servant, is that we are into another "me" generation, or generations. Also, the idea of being a servant strikes some people as being beneath them, or their status.

    Not all are like that, but more and more it seems to be the case.

    Just wondering, what were the ages of the employees in American Apparel and those at Everett & Jones? Or, what do we know about the management of both businesses? Certainly, the source of the poor service comes from those people.

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  2. Ages.

    American Apparel: No one over 30 (just a guess).

    Everett & Jones: No one under 30 (just a guess), and the daughter is the owner/manager and comes in all the time.

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  3. Ah, well the ages there speak volumes, don't you think?

    And the fact that there is family involved in the BBQ establishment is quite telling, too.

    I don't want to sound like my parents, but hey - it is a sign of the times, and the people living in these times. It is, more and more, "Me, Me, Me!"

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  4. Without making myself sound too, umm, "opinionated on others", I'd say that this also has to do with the environment that the employees and/or business serves. For instance, in the Baltimore area, I live in a predominantly low-class, and umm, shall we say "alter-cultured" area. The environment that the people grow up in is very much self-protective, self-preserving and it comes out in the customer service. Go 20 miles down the way to a middle-class culture that is perhaps a bit more economically secure area with a different demographic and the service at the identical store (Okay, lets call it Staples since thats the example that comes to mind) is altogether different.

    Where I live, you ask for help finding a 3-ring binder and they stare at you and cop an attitude. 20 miles away they'll ask you what color you want your binder and bring it to you at the register.

    Much different.

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  5. So, being from Atlanta, we southern folks are unfamiliar with the trendy American Apparel clothing store! But posts like yours are examples how word-of-mouth marketing is being propelled into an entirely different level.

    Although there aren't any American Apparel boutiques in Atlanta, had you posted about a positive customer experience, I would be very inclined to visit the website and probably buy something...I am an impulse buyer :)

    But due to your post, I along with the other readers would be hard-pressed to give them my service.

    It surprised me that this company is even in business. It makes me think that if you have had three bad experiences, how many other people have had such experiences as well, but still give this store their business (and money)?

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  6. You have to read another few days down the line, Monica. They did do outreach, and have been proactive.

    They've been smart about it. :)

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  7. Everett and Jones really is the best bbq in town.

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