Dog with Not Guilty sign around his neckCustomer experience and how to manage it is a subject close to my heart. In my previous existence as Customer Marketing Manager at Avis I was heavily involved in working to change the customer experience and align the business behind Avis’ brand promise of ‘We Try Harder.’ – and it has become one of my enduring marketing passions.

Recently, I had my car serviced with a local VW dealer. Sadly, it wasn’t a great experience – mixed messages throughout the process, confusion over time the car was being returned, discrepancies with the service book, and an invoice that didn’t seem to reflect the work carried out. For a brand that works so hard to attract customers, I was hugely disappointed by the lack of service now they’ve ‘got’ me.

Keen to get the discrepancies sorted out, I questioned the dealer about the various differences between the service book and invoice. As I was doing this I received an automated text message from VW asking if I was happy with my car service experience, yes or no. Partly because I was annoyed and frustrated, partly because I was intrigued by how VW would handle the customer experience, I replied with a ‘no’.

A couple of days later I received an email asking me to complete an online survey to evaluate levels of customer satisfaction. This was not, I should add, in any way connected to my negative text response, it was simply another automated marketing communication. I’m still waiting for a follow up to my ‘no’ response some 6 weeks later – yet another disappointment and another dent in my feelings for this particular VW dealership.

Don’t get me wrong, I think technology is great – automated messages, online surveys, SMS, emails, they’re all effective ways of communicating a message and getting customer feedback (although sometimes it can be rather nice to speak to a human being don’t you think?). But, however you go about it, feedback has to be followed up – both the good and the bad – the good to consolidate the customer’s belief in your brand, and the bad to find an effective way to make amends and not lose future business.

And here’s the cold hard truth of the matter – recent research has shown just how unhappy we are as customers. Rude or disinterested employees, lack of communication and poor service all rank highly as reasons why 24% of UK customers have taken their business away from a company because of a bad customer experience (source: Satmetrix).

Equally, there is research that gives clear messages about how good customer experience can impact on a business. A number of reports (from Right Now, Retail Eyes and American Express) put the percentage of respondents would spend more money with companies if customer service improved at 50-74%. And personal recommendation has a significant and high value attached – 49% of customers rate personal recommendations as the most trustworthy source of information (source: Satmetrix).

So if you’re going to automate your marketing messages to your customers, all well and good, but do make sure you monitor the feedback and intervene manually if necessary to ensure your brand isn’t damaged in the long term.

So how do you manage the customer experience foryour small business? It would be great to hear your clever ideas and success stories.