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family camper or managing customer expectations

Guest post by Jamie Drake

I recently went on a 25-day, 3,400-mile epic adventure with my family in our camper. We are seasoned campers, and when the world told us it wasn’t safe for us to leave our house, we decided to figure out a way to take our house with us.

Amidst a global pandemic, we wanted to try a socially distanced exploration beyond our front door after so many months of staying home. We saw our chance to get out and we took it! But before we could set out on this journey, we needed some help.

An important piece of the puzzle was finding a new camper from a major national chain that could help us choose the right camper and support us along the journey. So, we set out to upgrade our old camper to a new 22-foot camper that would make it easier for us to be self-contained while we traveled in an uncertain world.

Our expectations were high and our excitement even higher! We walked in the door ready to buy. We weren’t ready for how the experience was about to play out.

We were very clear about our needs, budget, and experience, yet we were still treated as if our needs were up for negotiation. It was off-putting. And that was only the beginning.

We did not appreciate the demeanor of the salesman, nor did we feel safe as he kept adjusting and removing his mask while complaining about being forced to wear one. Other employees echoed the same sentiment over and over leaving us feeling unsafe and wanting to leave as soon as possible.

In the meantime, the salesman kept using what felt like very obvious and blatant tactics to encourage us to consider spending far more money on a much larger unit than we needed or wanted. The constant obvious efforts to upsell became distracting and made the experience less and less enjoyable by the minute. We were not being shown options even close to what we asked for, only being told we needed more… bigger… better. And, being the last couple days of the month, the pressure was on to buy quickly and when we mentioned needing a few days to think it over we were met with more uncomfortable sales tactics to try and convince us that we were ready.

When we had finally picked the perfect one and just as we were finishing the financing process, a man came in and let us know that the camper we picked was not suitable for the car we planned to pull it with. We felt shamed, irritated and like this was all a huge waste of time. Because we did not want to spend more money, they barely paid attention to the important details and recommended an unsafe option for our car. If the delivery manager had not caught the error, we would have been putting our family in danger with a camper that was too heavy for our vehicle. It was all confusing and awkward and what should have been an exciting day turned into an uncomfortable nightmare.

They did not do their job well and it could have been a real disaster for my family if that mistake had not surfaced. That is not the customer experience we wanted, nor deserved.

We originally decided to buy from a national chain so that we could take full advantage of the support available should we need help during our journey. They bragged and bragged about the stellar level of support we could expect on the road. I thought I was going to be able to lean on a company that had been in this business for several years, but I was disappointed at every turn.

With a lack of inventory in our area and a strong desire to still make this trip happen, we decided to buy a different, safer camper from them even though we were completely disappointed with the experience and left the store feeling doubtful about the level of support we would find on the road.

And, as it turned out, our feelings were justified.

Our experience reaching out when we had issues on the road were far below even our lowered expectations. We were a family traveling and trying to stay socially distant and safe on a cross-country camping trip during a global pandemic, but no one seemed at all concerned or ready to offer the support we had been promised.

In the middle of the trip, and in the middle of nowhere, the window next to my daughter’s bunk unexpectedly shattered leaving glass all over the ground and her bed. We tried calling the local franchise. No answer. We tried calling a franchise a bit farther away. They said they had no answer for us and no solution except maybe nailing a piece of wood to the side of the camper… not a very intelligent solution.

We then tried calling the franchise where we purchased the camper. They had no solution either and suggested we try taping a garbage bag up and ordering a new window that would arrive weeks later. They said that should work for the rest of our trip.

Were we the first people to ever have a window break? Was there honestly no temporary solution to suggest? This was not the support I had hoped for from a company that had made several promises of stellar support.

When we had a leak in the plumbing, they suggested we put a towel down to soak it up.

When we had questions about the technology system in the camper that had promised to provide better Wi-Fi, they told us to contact the company that made the system as no one in the camping store knew anything about that.

I was baffled. Their solutions were to use a garbage bag, a towel and call someone that cares. My family was trying to stay safe amidst a global pandemic and the support we got involved duct tape and a trash bag. Were we the first travelers to ever need support? It felt that way.

Thankfully we found our own creative solutions to our problems (which involved plexiglass from a local hardware store, a wrench and a Wi-Fi extender), and I was left to think about what this experience has taught me about business and the importance of the customer experience.

Expectations are everything.

Customers have every right to expect a consistently positive experience and those expectations are constantly evolving. Calibrating a customer experience compass has to happen quickly and often these days. People will quickly turn to a competitor if they have a less than satisfactory experience and alternative options are most likely readily available.

Our expectations were very high when we walked in the door and then significantly lower when we left with our new camper. We quickly started to expect the worst after only a week of being a part of this company’s culture.

They had a major opportunity to welcome us into their brand culture and nurture us to become loyal customers. We now try and think of other places to buy what we need before willingly giving them any more of our time or money. I went in wanting to immerse myself in the culture of this store and I left having to create my own independent experience outside of their world. This was a missed opportunity for sure.

Loyalty should never be taken for granted.

It needs to be earned and nurtured. When loyalty is expected or taken for granted, it can do even more damage. People tend to lead with emotion and companies are being proactive about understanding the psychology behind brand loyalty. The companies that miss this step won’t enjoy the same free marketing gained by having repeat buyers and customer referrals.

In this Attention Economy that we all live in, the customers have the power. Everyone has a certain amount of attention to “pay” each day, and a negative experience will guide a customer to actively pay that attention to someone else. A bad review, a bad experience or a disappointed consumer will not only damage potential loyalty, but also enhance the appeal of finding what they need elsewhere.

Referrals come when a customer feels loyal to a brand and confident that they can recommend them to their network.

For a customer to feel that level of loyalty, they need to feel emotionally connected to a brand and understood by a company.

I have a voice, a network and a social media following. I’m no influencer, but I have people who care what I think and who trust my opinion.

Anyone who knows me is aware of my love for camping. I posted photos for 25 days about my experience, but not one mention of the company that let us down. I was on an epic family adventure, and I had no interest in being negative or voicing my complaints.

But had my experience been positive, I would have been singing the company’s praises and many of the people following my story were interested in experiencing all of this for themselves. That’s a lot of potential customers lost. My combined total of followers for my social media channels is somewhere in the ballpark of 115,000; they won’t be hearing any praise from me.

From now on, if I do have to patronize this company, my expectations will be managed accordingly. They missed an opportunity to not only create a customer for life, but to create a loyal fan that could have been singing their praises. Instead, they left that praise on the table.

Jamie Drake is a Virtual Assistant and Branding Specialist who helps entrepreneurs and small business owners run their businesses online. She is a true digital nomad who can often be found working on the road from her camper. Learn more about Jamie on her website or in her Facebook Group The Virtual Business Life where she shares tips, tricks and trend related to working online.