Archive for the ‘Customer Experience’ Category

What Earth Hour Taught Me About Branding

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

(Earth Hour happens every March 30th. People like me turn off their lights and gadgets for an hour because they feel super-guilty for leaving them on all the time.)

The single best example of building a brand that I’ve ever seen happened during Earth Hour 2009.

I was on a date with my now-wife, and we were enjoying a romantic dinner at a trendy Ottawa restaurant called Absinthe. (Wonderful place — the dessert menu is to die for.)

We observe Earth Hour every year, and we were a little disappointed when we realized we’d be stuck at a restaurant when the hour started. Restaurants are full of lights, you see, and turning off your lights is like Earth Hour 101.

Anyway, we’re at a small table for two, near the back of the restaurant. Dinner had just ended, and we were ordering desserts. (If you ever go to Absinthe, promise me you’ll get a dessert. They’re fantastic.)

As the clock drew nearer and nearer to 8:30, there was suddenly a good bit of hubbub about the restaurant’s staff. I couldn’t tell exactly what it was, but they were bringing something to each table. At first I thought they might just be bringing patrons their bills, but that couldn’t be right, there were too many at once. Finally they got close enough that we could make out what they’re carrying, and-

Oh. Candles.

They were bringing candles to each table. Not just the tables that had people sitting at them, either. There were candles everywhere; I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many in a room that size. And the waiters were lighting them, too.

As our waitress dropped off an armful of candles at our table (already lit! How did she carry them already lit?) she casually remarked:

“We’re going to turn off the lights for Earth Hour.”

Sure enough, when the clock struck 8:30, off went the lights (or at least so dim as to appear off; I’ll admit I don’t quite remember if they were all the way off or just really, really dim). The restaurant was more or less completely dark, save for the light from probably a few hundred candles.

It was a beautiful sight. From our small table for two, near the back of the restaurant, we could see what seemed like an infinite wave of tiny flames, flickering in all directions. Giant shadows lept across the walls and ceiling; I could hardly believe the transformation.

Our table was no different. By now our dessert had arrived, and we found ourselves sharing probably the best crème brûlée I’ve ever had — by candlelight.

It was absolutely perfect, and it’s one of those memories I wouldn’t trade for the world.

Now, where was I again? Oh, right: Branding.

Building a brand is all about creating remarkable experiences.

Nobody remembers “good”. If your restaurant or your product or your blog is just “good”, it’s not going to get any attention from anybody. The way to build a name for yourself, the way to build a brand, is to give your patrons/users/readers something really special. Something remarkable.

Aside: You could argue here that being “good” for a really long time is a perfectly viable branding strategy. You would be completely right.

Coca-Cola has built their brand on bringing consumers the same really good (but not remarkable) experience hundreds of millions of times. So if you have hundreds of millions of chances to impress your clients or bosses or shareholders, you can make lots of good experiences add up to a remarkable brand. Otherwise…

Let’s look at what Absinthe did to make my Earth Hour 2009 so special.

First, they put in a lot of effort. I know, you’re probably thinking “Dan, all they did was dim the lights. I can do that right now with very little effort.” But let’s really think for a second about everything that had to happen for that night to play out the way it did:

  • Someone had to really believe in this idea, and sell it to the rest of the staff.
  • Someone had to go out and buy like 300 candles.
  • …and get them to the restaurant, and store them, and open all the packaging.
  • Oh, and lighters or matches. Someone remembered those, too.
  • Someone coordinated the timing of the rollout/lighting (because the timing was perfect, and perfect is no accident).
  • Someone planned what to do if a patron complained about the darkness.
  • Someone cleaned up all that wax afterwards.
  • Etc.

I’m not going to say this was some huge, Herculean effort, but it didn’t just happen all by itself. Someone cared enough about making my Earth Hour special to take responsibility for it, and to lead the charge on the big night. This is absolutely essential for a remarkable experience.

And second, they didn’t ask for permission. This is especially clear in the wording our waitress used. “We’re going to turn off the lights”. Not “Do you mind if we turn off the lights?” nor “Sign this waiver so we can turn off the lights”. Can you imagine how lame that would have been?

Remarkable experiences happen on their own terms. Nobody opts-in to being amazed by something.

Yes, this adds risk, and yes, it means the same experience won’t delight everyone. The art of the perfectly-crafted experience lies in how well this risk is assessed, and how well you know your audience.

Absinthe got this exactly right. They knew they could count on their hip clientèle to enjoy the novelty of the experience. They decided that they weren’t risking much by the possibility of alienating a few folks well after the dinner rush. The surprise and lack of control were well thought out, and a key aspect of the overall experience.

Make your own remarkable experiences.

This is the part of the post where I give you some key takeaways you can use right now to improve your brand today.

Sorry. I’ve got nothing.

I don’t worry very much about branding in my day-to-day. That’s going to change a little with the new gig. Working on a product that touches millions of people every day means I have a huge opportunity to impact a major brand.

I’m really excited for this aspect of my job, so I’m going to start thinking about branding a little more. I promise I’ll share what I learn.

In the mean time, what branding advice do you have to share with me?

Classics Week #1: What Photography and Programming have in Common

Monday, September 26th, 2011

This post is part of the Classics Week(s) feature, which will run for three weeks while I’m off overseas. It’s the first of three posts from the early days of the blog, dug up from the archive and polished ’til good as new!

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to share with you a tale of two photographers.

Back in the summer of 2010, my fiancée and I were featured in a piece for our local newspaper. The columnist wanted an image to accompany her content, and sent a photographer to our apartment to take a photo of me and my soon-to-be bride.

The photography session played out as I’d expected. Some nondescript ‘dude’ with a camera sauntered in, looked around the room for all of about six seconds, arranged a semi-interesting shot involving a mirror, snapped a few pictures and left. Took around ten minutes.

A few days later, the writer called back and asked if she could send over another photographer. Apparently the shot the boring fellow took was too similar to a shot the newspaper was running on another article — on the same day, in the same section — so they needed a different one.

The second photographer was Christopher Pike.

Christopher ran things a bit differently. After introducing himself, he spent a few minutes looking around our humble abode and the surrounding area. He then asked what my fiancée and I thought of a few potential shots, and started taking pictures.

Many pictures.

We posed on our balcony. We posed on a bench. We posed near a wall, and then next to a fence. Every time Christopher noticed something that might make for a cool shot, he asked if we wouldn’t mind another photo.

After about an hour of this, he thanked us and left.

Like the first photographer, Christopher was a freelancer hired by the newspaper. Presumably, the two of them were each paid the same amount for their work. But while the former spent ten minutes taking a picture he had decided upon in advance, Christopher spent seven times that long experimenting and looking for the perfect shot.

What does this have to do with programming?

Just like photography, programming is a craft.

That first photographer, the one whose name I couldn’t be bothered to remember, was just in it for the job. The columnist wanted a cute photo of a young couple, so our unremarkable photographer snapped an equally (un)impressive shot, and left.

This is how unremarkable coders look at programming. You need a function that converts X inputs into Y outputs? Sure. Let me whip up a quick algorithm that does that. Done. What’s next?

Christopher, on the other hand, was there to take great pictures.

He was passionate, and he approached photography as a craft. Yes, the result was still just a photo to sell to a newspaper, but believe me when I tell you that’s not why Christopher is a photographer.

Here’s how I look at coding (and hopefully how you do too):

You need a function that converts X inputs into Y outputs? Ok. Let’s first consider the context, ask a few questions, then create a proper solution. Functionally, it may be the same as Joe-first-photographer’s solution, but a programmer that cares about his craft took the time to:

  • Verify that a single function is in fact the best solution.
  • Keep future maintenance and extensibility in mind.
  • Write clear, reusable code.
  • Add useful comments when necessary.
  • Refactor the function to be as simple as possible.
  • Switch spaces to tabs to match the existing code-base.

Which photographer would you rather hire?

Which programmer would you rather have on your team?

User Experience Begins at Step One

Monday, September 27th, 2010

For this week’s post, I decided I would play around with the Internet Explorer 9 beta and post some initial thoughts. I’m a bit of a browser geek, and as I mentioned back in April, I’m excited about IE9. I imagined I’d have a great time exploring the support for HTML5 and CSS3, and playing around with new features like SVG and GPU-acceleration.

As it turns out, I didn’t get that far. Why, you ask? Two reasons:

Reason #1: It has never taken me as long to download a browser as it took me to download IE9.

Seriously. I opened a text file to log my initial impressions, and thought it would be fun to start taking notes right from my search to download the beta. I ended up saving my text file, happy with my outline, after only completing the install. Briefly, here’s what I noted:

Downloading the installer feels like work. The top hit on Google for Internet Explorer 9 is the old platform preview page from April, still with the same title. I initially skipped over it, thinking that I already have the preview and that’s not what I’m looking for. The next few results were all sketchy, unofficial mirrors. Eventually I crawled back to the preview page, which had a link to “Get the Beta”.

This led to a completely different-looking page (neither were particularly well designed, they were both quite startling in their mediocrity). Here I immediately saw a link called “Get it Now”, which I followed to a third page, that had not one but almost forty buttons labeled “Download”.

Yes, forty.

This is because Microsoft decided to list all languages IE9 is available in, each with its own download link. And to choose your preferred language, you don’t click on the language or a checkbox or anything, you highlight your OS version from the accompanying drop-down list. Are you kidding me? Who designed this? That’s five clicks now, for those of you who are counting, across three pages, with two different types of controls, and I had to parse my language out of a giant list.

Downloading a browser shouldn’t feel like a chore!

Think about the last browser you downloaded. Was it Chrome? Then you probably don’t remember downloading it at all, because it takes about 10 seconds. The download page can be found in an instant, and you click one button to download the installer. ONE. From one page, that you found really easily.

Maybe your last download was Firefox. In that case you probably remember it a little better. The procedure was smooth and enjoyable; branding was consistent and the sequence of clicks and navigation was concise and straightforward. You probably noticed how beautifully designed Mozilla’s website is.

If Microsoft is expecting IE9 to compete with the other major players in the browser market, they have to streamline the downloading process. Google and Mozilla go out of their way to make sure their browsers are easy to find, and simple/enjoyable to download. Finding and downloading IE9 is currently a hassle.

Reason #2: Installing IE9 is about as modern as debugging IE6.

I’m serious. The installer for IE9 looks and feels like it was built in about 1997. It’s a standard dialog box with a progress bar. No decoration of any kind, and no branding. No “Thanks for participating in our beta!” or “Here are some of our new features…”. Just the bare minimum; something no other browser maker would dare do these days.

And how long it took! I’m pretty sure I could have installed FF, Chrome, Safari and Opera in less than the amount of time it took to run the installer for IE9. Of course, Microsoft was kind enough to provide me with a couple of helpful progress messages explaining what was taking so long:

  • “Installing required updates.”
  • “Installing.”

That’s it. Two extremely vague statements with no way to gain further information. And just when I thought it couldn’t possibly get any worse, I completed the install only to find a pop-up telling me to restart my PC. I almost fainted. Why on earth would installing a browser require a system restart? This is unheard of.

Is this really the best Microsoft could do?

Where were the interaction experts that put together the interface for Windows Phone 7 or Windows Live? When will Microsoft figure out that it’s no longer acceptable to phone in their UX? That it’s not okay for even trivial interactions with a new product to be poorly designed?

The web crowd is not known for its patience, and I wonder how much longer it will persevere.

What Strippers can Teach us About Transparency

Monday, September 13th, 2010

Recently, I spent a few fun days in Las Vegas. Since I’ve been back, many people have asked me what I thought of Vegas as a city, often with leading questions like:

  • “Didn’t you find it kinda shady?”
  • “Wasn’t it really gross?”
  • “Isn’t everything there so fake?”

The first two are rather boring; I had a great time and don’t really have anything bad to say about a pretty unique city. That last query is an interesting one though, and from day one I’ve been answering it the same way:

Las Vegas isn’t fake at all — in fact, it’s completely transparent.

Before we get to Vegas, let’s start with your hometown or a nearby city. When you walk down a major street where you live, what sort of things do you see? Here in Ottawa, I see a lot of two things:

  1. Quirky shops with witty names.
  2. Crowds of people that I know nothing about.

There’s nothing wrong with this (I love my city) but when you contrast it with Las Vegas, doesn’t it seem kind of muddled? If I didn’t already know what places like Zone, Foundation, and Atelier were all about, it wouldn’t be easy to guess just by the sign out front. And while we get the odd eccentric downtown, most people here in Ottawa are a lot like me; pretty nondescript.

Now let’s think of Vegas. First of all, every building in Vegas has a nice, big, blinking sign outside telling you exactly what you’ll find indoors. Is it a hotel? A casino? A gentleman’s club? You can always tell right away, the second you look at it. It’s almost like being completely honest about what your establishment contains is a part of Las Vegas culture. Every business owner in Vegas believes that being loudly and overtly transparent about what you do is the best way to go.

Second, there’s the people you find in Las Vegas. That wholesome-looking guy with a camera? A tourist. That group of girls with goofy tiaras and matching shirts? A bachelorette party. That guy handing out cards for call-girls? Well, you can call him what you want, but you know exactly what he does. Really, you can pick out just about anyone walking down the street and take a pretty good stab at what their night will consist of. Why? Because people in Vegas are transparent about their intentions. They’re obvious.

This is why I find it so strange to be asked if I thought Vegas was “fake”. Not one time did I ever feel cheated or confused or like I didn’t know exactly what I was getting myself into. Everything in Las Vegas is crystal clear, which was incredibly convenient for me as a visitor. Even though it was only a few days I felt like I knew my way around the city, knew some great places to go and a few to avoid, and knew who to talk to and who to stay away from. The level of transparency throughout the city was remarkable.

Do you need a little more Vegas?

Is there anything you could be more transparent about? I know that this blog, for example, could use a tagline that better describes the types of posts one might find here. I’m not being as transparent as I should be about my blog’s content. Is this true for anything you’re responsible for?

Rules are Made to be Not Strictly Followed

Monday, June 21st, 2010

A couple of things happened over the weekend that made me wonder about rules. More specifically, they made me wonder about why rules exist and how strictly rules should be enforced. Let’s look at these two stories and see if we come to the same conclusions.

How I scored a free bus ride.

On Saturday, my fiancée and I attended a wedding (not our own). By a miracle of convenience, the reception hall was a 10-minute bus ride from our humble abode, and the reception included an open bar. This meant neither of us had to worry about driving or finding a ride home, we could simply take a bus that ran until 2am.

And so, shortly after 1:30 in the morning, the two of us stumbled out to the bus stop and caught our bus. I have a monthly pass, so I walked on as usual, but when la fiancée went to pay her fare, the bus driver stopped her and told her not to worry about it. I’ve never seen this happen before, and I’ve been taking buses in Ottawa for over ten years. The rule has always been pay your fare or get off the bus.

Why did he break this rule? My working theory is that the driver saw two young-adults making the responsible but unusual decision of taking a city bus home from a wedding in the early hours of the morning, and decided to mark the occasion by breaking a rule and saving us a few bucks. More on this in a moment.

How I spent half an hour at the airport.

On Sunday, I went to the airport to surprise my parents with a ride home. Their flight was delayed… for about two hours. So to kill a bit of time, I thought I’d grab a drink at the bar (yes, the day after the wedding; no, I don’t have a problem).

I sat down and ordered a gin and tonic. When it arrived, I realized that I didn’t have any cash on me and began digging through my wallet for my credit card. The bartender told me not to worry about it, and to just let him know when I’m ready to pay. I was a bit surprised here. Usually the rule is that the barkeep brings you a drink and you either hand him some cash or start a tab.

He didn’t know if I had any means to pay for my drink. In fact, he completely left the bar for about ten minutes to make a club sandwich for another patron. I could have nonchalantly up and left if I were that type of person (I’m not — I watched a bit of baseball, and paid for my drink when I got up to leave).

Why did he break the order-your-drink, pay-for-your-drink rule? Because it was convenient. I was fumbling through receipts and business cards, and someone else had just ordered a meal. Why make the hungry gentleman wait for me to sort out my payment details?

Let the over-analysis begin.

The first point I’d like to make is that both cases were great examples of good customer service.

On the bus, the driver likely recognized that I take the bus frequently on account of my pass, and may have deduced that I talked my date into taking the bus home. Maybe the bus line wants to encourage wedding-goers to benefit from its services, or maybe the bus driver just wanted to make our ride memorable so that we would tell people about it (mission accomplished). The price of a single fare on this one rare occasion was a small price to pay for those goals.

At the bar, the bartender managed to please two people by not requiring me to pay for my drink immediately. He trusted me, even though I was a total stranger. He had no idea that it was my first time at the Ottawa Airport Bar and Grill, or that I had a blog and might mention it in passing. He was just doing his job, and making a positive impact on his customers.

The second point I’d like to make is that this sort of behavior is probably actively discouraged (and that sucks).

I seriously doubt either the bus driver or the barkeep would have broken their respective rules if “the boss” had been watching. It’s way easier to enforce the rules (all passengers must pay, no exceptions! all drinks must always be paid for immediately!) than it is to flexibly provide great service.

I’m not going to say this should be actively encouraged, as that could get chaotic very quickly in both cases, but every once in a while a situation presents itself where it’s ok to break a rule or two. It makes the interaction feel more human, and we like that about it.

And the final point I’d like to make is this: are there any rules you strictly follow that might be ok to break every once in a while?

What Photography and Programming have in Common

Monday, May 31st, 2010

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to share with you a tale of two photographers.

My fiancée and I were featured in a piece for our local newspaper a couple of weeks ago. The columnist wanted an image to accompany her content, so a photographer was sent to my apartment to take a photo of me and my bride-to-be.

This went down about the same way I expected. Some nondescript dude with a camera walked in, looked around the room for all of about six seconds, arranged a semi-interesting shot involving a mirror, snapped a few pictures and left. This took around ten minutes.

A few days later, the writer for the aforementioned article called back and asked if she could send over another photographer. Apparently the shot the first guy had lined up was too similar to a shot the newspaper was running on another article, on the same day, in the same section, so they needed a new one.

The second photographer was Christopher Pike.

Christopher ran things a bit differently. After introducing himself, he spent a few minutes looking around my humble abode and the surrounding area. He then asked my fiancée and I what we thought of a few potential shots, and started taking pictures. A lot of pictures. We posed on our balcony, on a bench, near a wall, next to a fence, under a tree, and probably in other places that I’ve since forgotten about. Every time Christopher noticed something that might make for a cool photo, he asked if we wouldn’t mind posing for it. In total, this process took over an hour.

It’s important to note here that the first photographer and Christopher were both freelancers hired by the newspaper. They were probably both paid the same amount. But while the first guy spent ten minutes taking a picture he had decided upon in advance, Christopher spent about seven times that long experimenting and looking for the perfect shot.

What does this have to do with programming?

Just like photography, programming is a craft.

That first photographer, the one whose name I can’t remember, was just in it for the job. The editor wanted a cute photo of a cute couple, so our unremarkable photographer took one and took off.

This is how a lot of equally unremarkable coders look at programming. You need a function that converts X inputs into Y outputs? Sure. Let me whip up a quick algorithm that does that. Done. What’s next?

Christopher, on the other hand, was there to take great pictures. He was passionate. He approached photography as a craft. Yes, the output was a photo that he could sell to a newspaper, but believe me when I tell you that’s not why Christopher is a photographer.

This is how I look at coding (and hopefully how you do too). You need a function that converts X inputs into Y outputs? Ok, let me consider the context, ask a few questions, then create a solution. Functionally, it will be the same as Joe-first-photographer’s solution, but as a programmer that cares about his craft, I took the time to:

  • Verify that yes, a single function is the best solution.
  • Keep future maintenance and extensibility in mind.
  • Write clear, reusable code.
  • Add useful comments where necessary.
  • Refactor my function to be as simple as possible.
  • Change all my spaces to tabs to match the existing code-base.

Which photographer would you rather hire? Which programmer would you rather have on your team?

How to Promote a Mall in the Year 2010

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

There’s a mall near my apartment called Billings Bridge. It’s a pretty nice place with a nice variety of stores, and up until about six months ago that’s all I would have had to say about it. But six months ago I started following their marketing director on Twitter, and since then I’ve come to the conclusion that Billings Bridge is a great case study for how to promote a mall in the year 2010. Here’s a look at some of the awesome things they’ve done since I started noticing them in December 2009:

Give-aways just in time for Christmas.

I found Billings Bridge on Twitter after reading the tenth or eleventh tweet about how they were giving away extra products they had lying around to their Facebook fans and Twitter followers. I know first-hand how awesome it was for them to do this, because I won an iPod Touch. On December 23rd. (That’s two days before Christmas.) So for the next three weeks, whenever anyone asked my girlfriend (now fiancée) what I got her for Christmas, she’d have this great story about how because Billings Bridge is super-generous and using modern communication channels that are easy to follow, they gave this to me so that I could give it to her.

There are probably about fifty other stories like this, plus all those tweets, and now at least one blog post. Word of mouth sells.

$50 for every 50 fans.

I don’t know when they started doing this or when they’re planning to stop, but every time Billings Bridge gets fifty new fans “likes” on Facebook, they give a $50 gift-certificate to one of their.. likers? (What do you call people that like things now? I miss fans.) This is brilliant because the sooner they get another fifty “likes”, the sooner they’ll give away another gift-certificate. This means that they have a steady stream of excited new mall-enthusiasts, in a very powerful social networking environment, constantly trying to get their friends and acquaintances to pay attention to that mall that gives stuff away. Motivate people to say something nice in a conduit for viral messages, and you’re going to get a lot of attention for your brand. Textbook smart marketing.

Sex and the City month.

Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of tweets about various fun things Billings Bridge is doing related to that new Sex and the City movie that’s coming out soon — things like that trip-for-four to NYC that they’re raffling off at the end of May. This is a fantastic topic to promote around, because it’s a movie that glorifies shopping. It allows them to catch interest through the popularity of a trendy, upcoming film, and convert on that interest because the film is about shopping. People that like to shop probably like the movie, so bringing them into the mall is obviously a good idea. Simple. Genius.

This is how every mall should run promotions. I’m sick of billboards and radio advertisements — I ignore them. If you want my interest, meet me halfway and spend time where I spend time. Give me incentives to pay attention to you, and better yet, incentives for me to get other people to pay attention as well. Try new things with new tools, and create a feedback loop so that I can tell you what works and what doesn’t. It’s working for Billings Bridge.

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Oh, and did I mention that they’re giving away an iPad when they hit 2010 “likes” on Facebook? Because they’re about halfway there, and if you could “like” them too, and then tell a few friends, that would get us both a bit closer…

Are you Selling Winter Tires or Customer Experience?

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

Note: This article was re-editing and re-posted on the Macadamian blog.

In Canada, right around when the first major snowfall hits, all the last-minute drivers bring their cars into Canadian Tire to get their snow tires put on. Pop Quiz: If you were managing a Canadian Tire, what would you say you’re selling?

The obvious answer is “winter tires”. Someone brings their car in, you put some winter tires on it, then the driver picks it up. This is the naive answer. Yes, ostensibly you’re trading tires for money, but what you’re really doing is providing a service. Anyone can put winter tires on cars, but the people who will be most successful at doing so will be the people who take this opportunity to show off their customer experience skills.

This year, I needed new winter tires and new rims. Let me tell you about how this went for me at Canadian Tire, and as I go, explain some of the ways in which they could have sold the experience of getting winter tires, rather than just some rubber and steel.

I did a bit of research first to make sure I knew what I was doing ahead of time. I got my tire size, the bolt pattern for the rims, looked into which brands of tires they sell and figured out which ones I want. Then I called the store’s automotive department. The conversation was pretty straightforward; juggle the auto-answering system, tell the tire guy my specs, and hear that yes they have tires and rims in stock for me. Good start!

I drive over to the store about 20 minutes later, and walk up to the automotive desk. I mention that I called not long ago, and the guy asks me for my phone number, then does some work on his computer, then asks me what size the tires are.

Why didn’t the guy on the phone enter the tire size into whatever record the behind-the-counter guy pulled up with my phone number? In fact, I’ve been here several times before, including 6 months ago to get my old winters thrown out and summers put on; this data should have all been there already. This would have saved time and a lot of trouble if I hadn’t known my specs off the top of my head.

After mentioning that the rims need to match a 4-bolt pattern and making sure I point this out because the 2008 model of my car is much more popular and has a 5-bolt pattern, the service rep disagrees (!) and insisted we look it up in some book. Lo and behold, it’s a 4-bolt.

Why didn’t the service rep trust me? Again, this could have all been avoided if they’d recorded this information last time they worked on my tires. This is at least the third time I’ve mentioned my tire information to this store, shouldn’t it be worth writing down?

After asking what brand of tires I would like (it didn’t occur to him that I might not know? good thing I did) the service rep informed me that I would have to leave my car there for a day and a half for them to get the tires installed (why didn’t the guy on the phone warn me about this?), then told me the price and that they’d call me when my car was ready. I pulled out my wallet, but he said payments are done when the car is picked up.

By waiting until pick-up, I have to come back into the store and wait in line again to get to the register. Not efficient. I should have been able to complete the transaction right then and there.

The next day, about five hours past the estimated time the service rep gave me, I still hadn’t received a call. So I reluctantly called the store, dialed through the auto-answering system, got transferred from Auto Department: Tires to Auto Department: Service and was finally told that yeah, the car is ready to be picked up.

Gee, thanks for letting me know! Why did they not call me when it was ready like they promised? Why did I have to jump through so many hoops to get a simple answer? If the store is this busy, and calling people back is too much of a hassle, maybe it’s worth investing in some sort of “dial a number/enter your license plate/find out if your car is ready” system.

I ended up walking to the store because it was late and I had no one around to drive me out of their way in the middle of a snowstorm. File this in the over-and-above category, but if they know I don’t have my car, maybe they could run a service offering to pick me up and drive me to the store? I’d gladly have paid them to avoid a 40-minute walk, knee deep in snow. Hell, if they’d let me pay for the tires when I bought them, they could have driven my car to me!

So I get there, half-frozen and covered in snow, wait in line to get to the register, pay for stuff I technically bought yesterday, and they hand me my keys, telling me the car is in the lot. Thanks. Have you seen a parking lot during holiday shopping season? This particular location shares its parking lot with a Starbucks and a Best Buy. It’s massive, completely full, and somewhere in there is my car, covered in a foot of snow.

Rather than having me wander about aimlessly looking for my car, they could have simply noted where they had parked it and told me that when I’d picked up my keys. Better still, they could run a valet service where an employee finds my car, brushes off the snow, then brings it to the front entrance.

I now have my car back with new winter tires and rims, which are working great. So in one sense, you could say that Canadian Tire sold me some great winter tires. That’s true, but what they didn’t even attempt to sell was a great customer experience.

To sum up, the next time I need new tires I’ll be looking for a store that:

  • keeps the guy on the phone and the guy behind the counter in sync.
  • warns me right away if it will be a long wait to get the tires installed.
  • trusts me when I know my specs, or better yet doesn’t expect me to.
  • keeps a history of previous work they’ve done on my car, and uses it to avoid unnecessary questions.
  • eagerly explains the differences between the various tires it carries.
  • lets me buy and pay for tires in one transaction.
  • calls me back when it says it will.
  • offers an easy way to check if my car is ready.
  • brings my car to me, or at least tells me where it’s parked.
  • sells great tires.