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Is a great product more important than a great customer experience?

Jeff Daniels  |  by Jeff Daniels

Throughout high school and college, I worked as the manager of a custard shop. Even then, it didn’t take long for me to realize the importance my customers placed on a quality product and a quality customer experience. I used to think these two were equally important variables motivating consumer purchase decisions. Heck, I’m the type of person who might never go back to a place if my expectations for at least one of these two criteria aren’t met.  

Why can't I quit you?

Recently, however, I’ve noticed a change in my own behavior and thinking. You see, I frequent a sandwich shop close to my home because I truly believe they offer the best fast-food sub within reasonable access of where I live. The ingredients are high quality, the sandwich selection is unique, and I can quickly get in and out with my meal. But this chain has one major flaw: across the two locations that I go to, this company fails to create a consistent, positive customer experience. And while the experience is consistently poor, the issues behind it are widespread. Front-line employees don’t know the menu. Orders are incorrect as a result of employees trying to speed up waiting lines by preparing sandwiches before the order is punched into their system. I even had the pleasure of listening to two employees discuss their recent legal troubles while they ever so carefully prepared my sandwich. Every time I visit this place, something contributes to my negative view of the customer experience they create. Yet I keep going back.  And I keep ordering the same thing. And I keep hearing employees speak unprofessionally to one another. Or I have to tell the person taking my order what the standard dress on my menu selection is. Or my sandwich is made incorrectly the first time. But I go back.  

As the saying goes, a person who’s had a good experience tells an average of 3 people about it, while a person who’s had a bad experience on average tells 10. So I talk about this restaurant. Not too long ago, I was talking with someone who asked me why I go back. “Well, the food’s great,” I said. And that got me thinking. If the experience was great, but the food quality was poor, would I go back?  No!  Absolutely not! And then I had one of those lightbulb moments.  

Customer service doesn't end when they leave the store

Maybe I had been thinking about this all wrong. Maybe the elements of quality product and quality customer experience are not two distinct things. Rather, the product is part of the overall customer experience. And it’s a huge part. So huge that when the product is good but other experience variables are poor, we still don’t hit that threshold of “I’m never going back.” I am in no way saying the other experience variables are not important for retailers to focus on, especially when they are building a reputation and getting new customers in the door. But for those of us already in the door, we want a good, consistent product time after time. After all, if you are a retailer providing a product, your product typically outlasts other experience variables. Customers come into your store and have an experience shaped by store environment, employee knowledge and behavior, service level, etc. But then they purchase your product, and they leave with it. Part of the experience is acquiring the product, which may be good or bad, but the product itself is the last thing the customer remembers. That’s what leaves the final impression. That’s why I go back.  

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