Binary customer experience

HomebaseI love really bad retail experiences – because they make really good stories.

Don’t get me wrong here, for I love brilliant experiences too for the same reason – they also make memorable stories. Here’s a memorable story about Homebase, a UK-based DIY warehouse for consumers, but not for a great experience…

Homebase have a system where you can check online if an item is in stock, and then reserve it to collect later at your local store. In the past eight months I’ve used this service twice before and each time when I got to the store, I was told they had no stock of the item I’d reserved – even though I’d got a confirmation email with a reference number.

Yesterday I tried to use this system for the third time (I’m an optimist) but just before I set out to pick-up the item, I got a call to say that they didn’t have any stock – even though the stock level showed four available. I was told there were some at another store (some 7.5 miles away) and I could get one from there. Driving into Greater London for the item had absolutely no appeal to me.

In an effort to improve things for me (and for millions of other Homebase customers), I said that I wanted to make a complaint. I stressed that I wasn’t complaining about my local store – which is the Reigate branch – but that I wanted to complain about the continued failure of the reservation system itself. I asked for the head office number – got it – and dialled it – but it turned out to be the online ordering support number. The IVR system eventually put me through to a call centre operator whose manner was appalling.

She said that the reservation-in-store system was solely the responsibility of the store and that she would put me back to my local store. No amount of explaining was going to convince this person that this wasn’t about the store, but about the system itself. I finally asked for the issue to be escalated – but she refused, stating that she would only put me back to the store – and nothing else. I asked for the issue to be escalated eight times and each time she just asked for the name of my local store to connect me. Despite my demonstrating that her approach in itself was poor customer experience, the response wouldn’t change – so I hung up and vented on Twitter.

140 characters and eleven minutes later, the #Homebase-UK team were in touch with me. Eventually, the manager of the social media team called me, listened to my situation and asked for time to sort it out. Ten minutes later, he called back to say that the local store had been instructed to send someone to the next store with stock to collect one of the items and bring it back to the Reigate store.

Sometime later, Homebase Reigate called me to say they had the item, and I went in to pay for it. The store manager was very apologetic, but I said she didn’t need to apologise as it wasn’t her fault – this was a systems fault.

So, was this a good recovery of a bad situation by Homebase or not?

I’d say absolutely not!

If I was just a customer, then I would agree that I’d be quite satisfied. However, I’m not just a customer – I’m a CX consultant who likes to see both sides of the service equation. And the other side of the service equation relates to how the employees are treated and the experience they have within their company.

It’s accepted that selling more stuff (increasing business revenues) and being helpful to customers (delivering great customer experiences) form a self-reinforcing circle. The companies that embrace CX as part of their corporate-DNA frequently have higher growth and stock valuations than those that don’t.

In these CX-vanguard companies, there’s a tacit acceptance that there’s a binary approach to delivering great customer experiences for there are only two types of role within their business:
1. You are a customer-facing employee actively involved in serving the customer and delivering a great experience, or
2. You are supporting the above people to perform their role – and you’ll do whatever it takes to help them succeed.

If you want to be truly committed to delivering great experiences, then it has to be this simple. A binary customer experience approach.

In this case the store staff were imposed upon to help me out due to an installed system which clearly didn’t work properly. If Homebase were truly committed to delivering a great experience for customers and their staff – then perhaps it should have been the support person responsible for the poorly implemented system that should have assisted the store staff to recover from this issue.

If the IT director had been told to get in his (or her) car to collect my item to fix this up when it first happened eight months ago, would this reservation shambles still exist?

I doubt it.

Note: Homebase was recently acquired by Australian company Wesfarmers – and knowing them from my time in Australia; I have expectations of a massive improvement in the Homebase experience.

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