Weeding Through the Customer Experience Gap
Aaron Perlut | Partner

A recent article in Campaign by Lindsay Stein focuses on the customer experience gap. She cites SAP Chief Marketing Officer Alicia Tillman who says, “…we live in an experience economy and what that means is business is won or lost based on the experience we deliver to our customers.”

That experience is often driven by service, as no matter how good your product may be, service can determine whether a consumer returns another time, rants on Twitter about you, leaves a positive or scathing online review or tells a friend all about their experience, good or bad.

We see this first-hand each day in our work leading social media customer care for brands like MattressFirm and Spectrum Communications among others. Our response efficacy to a consumer screaming on Twitter about a cable outage or a faulty mattress might be the difference between thousands upon thousands of dollars in sales.

CEOs seem to recognize its importance, and, as Stein notes, 80 percent of them today believe their brands deliver an exceptional customer experience. However, just eight percent of customers agree with that.

It’s not hard to find brand experience examples on either end of the pendulum — from the simplicity of Amazon’s online user interface to the appalling customer service and wait time at the Starbucks in Terminal 2 at St. Louis Lambert International Airport to the consistent end-to-end customer focus of every aspect of Southwest Airlines’ operations.

So if there is a wide gap and corporate America simply can’t get its shit together, beyond Southwest Airlines, where should leaders look for examples to help them rebound and improve? What brands or companies are really doing customer experience the right way?

Try weed. No, not my front yard. I mean marijuana. No, seriously.

If you are having a customer experience problem, visit a marijuana dispensary — even if you don’t want to purchase products — in any one of the 11 U.S. states where THC is legalized for recreational use like Colorado or California or Nevada and even Guam. I hear (ahem) they are remarkable examples of high quality customer experience and most share a few common characteristics:

Kindness: Who doesn’t want a kind human being to welcome them when walking into a store? And as you must show identification, most greet you immediately — and always kindly — as they check your ID and send you to a clerk or help you themselves depending on the size of the dispensary.

Knowledge: If you ever want to learn about marijuana, just speak with a clerk in a dispensary. Not only are they remarkably knowledgeable about the products they sell — they can put Apple store employees to shame, which is a high bar — but they do it with great patience and kindness, even if you’re that annoying customer who asks 98 questions the rest of us hate.

Efficiency: The former CEO of the pioneering indoor retail mapping platform aisle411 used to tell me that consumers want to come into a store and “get in, get out and get on with their lives.” And typically you can spend as much or as little time as you need in a dispensary while getting exactly what you need. The employees are simply so well versed in what they are selling and they do it with great kindness, the process is efficient.

If you’re the CEO of The Gap (and I’m not really calling you out, Art Peck, your company was just the first retail brand that jumped into my head), go on a fact-finding mission to a marijuana dispensary. No, seriously, do it. You’ll thank me, and if you want, pick up some Willie’s Reserve while you’re there. I hear (ahem) it’s a quality product.

Aaron Perlut

Aaron Perlut is a cofounding partner of Elasticity with some 25 years of diverse experience in journalism, public relations and digital marketing. He is a former senior reputation management counselor at Omnicom company FleishmanHillard, as well as a communications executive for two of the nation's largest energy companies. Throughout his career, Perlut has counseled a range of organizations – Fortune 500s, state governments, professional sports franchises, economic development authorities, well-funded startups and large non-profits – helping manage reputation and market brands across a diverse channels in an evolving media environment.

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