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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Shattering Expectations - II

Diamonds are forever originally uploaded by Marco V.A..
What messages do we send our customers?

Take IKEA. I admire IKEA. I've even referred to IKEA - see How To Achieve An Inspired Environment - as a destination for inspiring ideas, practices and products. IKEA does so many things right in terms of the retail experience and marketing to women.

So what to make of this experience?

On a recent hot August Saturday, my daughter and I opted for an indoor IKEA lunch and in-store [air conditioned] browsing. We left the house late, hungry and ready for a light Scandinavian lunch feast.

Now, IKEA does a wonderful job with its cafeteria, offering meal solutions and entertainment for parents with kids: kids' sized meals, a play area, fun plates/utensils. It's always a hit. Furthermore, the store heavily promotes its meals. Not only are they a terrific service for shoppers, but shoppers also get to taste some of the foods sold. [Heavy] promotion takes place within catalogs, throughout the store and on the mailer we received, which triggered the visit [and a desire for 2 items]. So, no worries!

Thirty minutes later we arrived, found a lovely spot in the covered garage and made our way into the store, up the escalator and to the cafeteria, only to be greeted by total silence and barriers. A 8.5 x 11 inch piece of paper indicated that the cafeteria was closed due to a Bergen County water emergency. [Afterwards, I learned more about the 'crisis'. See BOIL WATER ADVISORY LIFTED FOR BERGEN COUNTY AND NORTH HUDSON COUNTY CUSTOMERS from 8/6/2007.]

I had no idea what was going on [I live in Morris County and got in late the night before from a business trip] other than NO FOOD was available in-store, and few immediate options available out-of-store... On the other hand, we'd committed time and effort and would rather not leave without finding those 2 items.

Long story short: despite both of us feeling strong hunger pangs, we decided to stick it out, quickly found the items and high-tailed it back to Morris County for MacDonald's.

As we were leaving, we noticed that an IKEA person had positioned himself at the entrance to advise people as they entered that the cafeteria was closed. Where was that person when we arrived? Our arrival matched up more closely with a traditional meal time than our departure time did. At the same time, he really wasn't offering people any options. What a missed opportunity.

Given IKEA's commitment to serving family meals, why couldn't the store come up with a temporary, but fun food solution? Offer complimentary cookies? What about water, soda, milk? As we checked out, I noticed that ice cream was available at a cash/wrap snack bar. Why not upstairs in the cafeteria? Why did I have to check out to realize that another food [OK, snack food] option was available? This didn't make sense.

What about selling sandwiches? Or offering Lunchables? I understand water and sanitation issues, but why should that completely shut down this cafeteria? During the busiest shopping day of the week? When the store heavily advertises the service that had been shut down? What a missed opportunity.

Needless to say, I was disappointed with the response to the water emergency. These things happen, and what a lost opportunity to draw in consumers and Wow! them with a delightful and unexpected solution to a crisis. Especially the coveted woman and mom demographic!

As is often the case with large organizations, as long as interactions and market presence can be scripted from a centralized or corporate environment, they delight customers. However, when life interferes [and gets messy], they lose touch with the world of their customers and disappoint.

So, don't lose touch with your customers. Don't shatter their expectations. Your response to unexpected situations separates you from large entities that have lost the ability to be flexible in how they offer solutions to their customers' issues. What a golden opportunity!

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