Friday, March 04, 2011

Customer Experience Management - A Case Study in Failure

I want to share an example of a failure for a company to grasp the importance of customer experience management.  If you have not heard, Customer Experience is a term used to describe the sum of all experiences a customer has with a supplier of goods or services, over the duration of their relationship. Customer Experience covers multiple phases and contexts including awareness, discovery, attraction, interaction, purchase, use, cultivation and ultimately advocacy or ranting (like I am doing).

The story starts with me.  I am an avid outdoors type person.  I love having good ski, snowboard, mountain bike, kayak and hiking gear.  I generally buy nothing short of the best as I've found myself in places where your life depends upon your equipment.

Recently I bought some Vibram hiking boots from Mountain Equipment Co-op.  They basically wore out in about a year despite the fact they were only one of 6 pairs of footwear I used in that year.  This includes the gaping holes in the toes and any of the plastic area.  I called MEC which were very helpful but they said my best bet was to talk to Vibram myself.  I went to the website twice now and left messages telling someone what happened and asking at the very least if they would contact me.  I feel the quality of the boots is real bad and could have been possibly improved by the company examining them (I will otherwise not use them anyways).

Anyways, long story short, no one returned any communication to me.  The company has permanently lost me as a customer over this.  They showed no consideration for me as a customer.

Now while I rant about other companies on this blog with similar story (Rheem Water Heaters, Hillcrest Plumbing - both criminals IMO and The evil City Center Florists), I also want to commend companies that do really good things with customer experience.  I recently made a post applauding Marriott Hotels for outstanding customer experiences.   I've had similar great experiences with Shaw Cable Group, Delta Faucets (great warranty service) and others like Mountain Equipment Co-op.  

So what are the lessons to be learned here?

1. If you run a company, you can no longer ignore the power of the people to spread bad news of horrible experiences via social media such as blogs, twitter, facebook etc.  A simple person like myself can put such a message out and it will eventually reach potentially millions of your customers.

2. I would suspect people are much more motivated to spread negative experience than good ones.  Companies like Vibram and ignore your customers when they have serious and legitimate complaints, it will hurt you.  Just read the follow on messages on the City Center florists blog post about how others reacted to their deceptive and illegal business practices -

3. You need a platform to reconcile the multiple channels of experience into a single view at your company.  This should take into account social media activities as well as data from existing business processes and CRM type systems.

4. Understanding the context of an experience is essential.  This will probably involve ontology work or semantics for a shared understanding of the possibilities, meaning and concepts within an experience, with inside of and outside of the enterprise.

5.  The old way of doing business is dead!  Big multinationals cannot simply adopt the Ostrich move (stick your head in the sand until danger goes away).  YOu must be proactive in ensuring your customers have the best experience or they will not be your customers much longer.

In closing, if I owned stock in Vibram,  I'd be selling it as fast as I can.  Bad experience, shoddy workmanship and no desire to communicate with customers are a recipe for financial disaster.


  1. That's why you should have stuck with Timberland dude.

  2. Great news! I took the liberty of bringing this to the attention of Mountain Equipment Co-op and I got an immediate response. It seems that I have made an error in my accusations of Vibram (they only made the soles which have held together fine). My next course of action will be to find the Hi-Tec manufacturer customer service and talk to them to see what they suggest. A representative of MEC got back to me with the following email, proving their customer experience management is top rank! MEC is a place where I will be shopping in the future!

    "Hi Duane,

    Thank you for sharing your experience with MEC. Sorry to hear that the boots
    did not meet your expectations.

    If the boots that you are talking about are the Hi-tec Ridgee boots that you
    purchased near the end of August in 2009, then your comments towards Vibram
    are probably misplaced. Vibram only provides the soles of the boots for
    Hi-tec, a company that supplies many entry-level (low-priced) footwear.
    Based on the pictures on your blog, it looks more like the rands are the
    issue, not the soles.

    It seems from the picture that the rands are splitting at the flex point for
    the toes. It seems likely that the material used on the rand just simply
    does not have the flex that it ought to. Perhaps Hi-tec would have been
    better off simply leaving the leather uppers 'unsheathed'.

    I suspect that you have seen the MEC Rock Solid guarantee? We back your
    expectations. If after looking at the boots, you decide that they should
    have lasted longer, MEC will return them for you. If a repair would make you
    happy, MEC would be even happier to give you a tube of Freesole to goop up
    the split parts in order to get as much life out of these boots as you can.

    Either way, it sounds like a visit to the MEC Member Service Desk is in

    Also, thanks for the kind words about MEC in your blog. From your
    purchase/returns history, I have noticed that you have not yet returned
    anything so I can only assume that you are referring to the 'front end' of
    MEC's service. I am pleased to let you know that the 'back end' is just as

    Happy hiking,



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