What comprises a great customer experience – is it the interface, the person at the other end, the process? Is it simply a good customer service or is there more to it? It is hard to evaluate a good customer service because it is different for everyone. When it comes to evaluating a customer experience, I fall back on two paradigms – that of Jacob Nielsen and another that is covered in the acronym VIDC.
Jacob Nielsen’s paradigm was originally focused on improving the user experience for an application, but the elements in it apply to both digital and non-digital experience. Nielsen’s framework is built around three concepts – Useful, Usable, and Enjoyable. The second framework I used is expressed in the acronym VIDC – Valuable, Intentional, Different, and Consistent. There is definite overlap between the two paradigms but there is enough differentiation between the two that there is value in using both paradigms. I am just going to use Nielsen’s paradigm today and will write on VIDC another day.
One company that provides a great customer experience is Patagonia clothing company. Patagonia was started by climber Yvonne Chouinard in 1972 to provide better clothing and equipment to climbers. Patagonia is also a company with a social conscience and contributes to numerous environmental efforts and non-profits.
I purchased a Patagonia hard shell but had to take it back to the store for repair due to an issue with the zipper. So even though I had purchased it online, I took it back to my local store. When I got to the store, I spoke with an associate at the counter and explained the zipper issue. He took a look at the jacket and offered me two solutions. First, they could send the jacket in for repair and I would have to wait three to six weeks for my jacket. The second option was that they could just issue me a refund for the price I had paid for the jacket and I could buy a new one.
Since the jacket was three years old and not wanting to be wasteful, I chose to have the jacket repaired. So it was sent off to be repaired. Approximately a week later I received a call from the repair center saying that they didn’t have a matching zipper and were issuing me a credit for the original cost of the coat. So I ended up getting a new coat out of the deal even though I tried not to.
Let’s look at how this experience matches up to Nielsen’s paradigm of Useful, Usable, and Enjoyable. First was the experience useful? Yes. What I wanted most was to have a jacket that worked. My preference was getting my old jacket repaired, but a new jacket accomplished the same thing. And in some senses it was more useful in that my new jacket will likely last longer and I got a jacket quicker then waiting for the repair.
Second, was the experience usable? Yes, it was. First, it was channel agnostic. I could have dealt with this issue in person (like I did), over the phone, or over the internet. Second, during all of the touch points, the representatives from Patagonia had complete information on the issue going all the way back to when I had purchased the jacket. Third, it was actually fairly easy to do. Yes, I could just have mailed it back, but dropping it off at the store was easy too.
Lastly, was it enjoyable? How do you rate enjoyable? By the customer service rep cracking jokes? By the store associate inquiring in to what sports I enjoyed and why I purchased the jacket? The repair associate assisting me in picking the best replacement jacket? All of these were fun and I enjoyed each interaction, so yes.
Now there are number of systems, processes, and corporate values that are foundational to this experience – from a good CRM system to a good return process including evaluating issues against a set of corporate values to employees actually believing in and living those values, but the end result was a customer who is going to purchase from Patagonia again and again.
A good customer experience is always in the eyes of the beholder, but there are some simple characteristics that are a part of all good customer experiences. In this case, and in previous interactions with Patagonia, the brand has always met its brand promise of providing great gear and great interactions.