It’s a skill and an art, this PR business. And it’s often found in some of the unlikeliest and most unlovely locations. In my case this week it was in the darkened confines of an optometrist’s vision-testing room.
I’ve got two opticians within a spectacle-throw of my office. I know – lucky me. You have delis and cafes. I have eye doctors.
It’s been apparent for a while that I must start wearing glasses. So I trotted off to one of my near neighbours to get a quote for an eye test.
“That’ll be $40”, I was told. And among their promotional bumf was a poster proclaiming that testing included a medical examination of the back of the eye.
Being a good PR consultant I’m aware of the importance of obtaining competitive quotes, so off I went to the second outfit. “That’ll be $35, including the medical exam,” I was told.
Anyway, I liked the vibe of the first place better – so back I went. [Now you know – I’m prepared to pay a premium of at least $5 for happy feelings].
“Do your eye tests include the medical check?” I enquired of the lady behind the counter. “Oh yes, sir,” was her response.
Anyway, after being ushered into the gloom of the testing room and being subjected to all sorts of confusing shapes of varying focal crispness I was asked if I wanted the back-of-eye medical.
Yes, you got there before me. “That’ll be an extra $20 please, sir.”
It’s one thing to simply ‘make right’ a bad consumer experience. It’s another thing entirely to turn it into a triumph of relationship management. That’s artistry.
Now, I know what happened. I figured it out as I sat, stewing on the injustice of it all, waiting for the appointment with the optometrist. At no point had my ‘happy vibes’ optician promised that its $40 fee included all the services advertised in its overall eye-testing package.
I had been led to make the assumption. The original quote, the literature and the subsequent verbal assurance that tests included the medical check had led me to believe what I wanted to believe.
One of my New Year’s resolutions this year was to stop being trampled over. I’m happy to say that it’s one I’ve been able to keep. It’s cost me some money along the way but boosted my sense of general wellbeing immeasurably.
So as I sat there, marvelling at how effectively I’d just been internally probed (in entirely the wrong part of my anatomy for an eye doctor) I decided to speak up about this unexpected $20 I was being relieved of. I was grumpy and disillusioned, with a strong sense of having been conned. Especially as the vibes I’d enjoyed on my first visit to the shop were about to cost me $25 more than the other place. [Now you know – when it comes to anatomical tests I’ll gladly pay a premium of $5 for happy feelings, but not as much as $25].
In PR terms I was a stakeholder experiencing an emotional disconnect.
So I voiced my emotional disconnect to the nice optometrist.
You know what she did? She gave me the most sincere apology I’ve ever experienced as a consumer. Without quibble she arranged for me to have the medical exam at no charge. And then, just to cap it off, she gave me a voucher for another $20 to be redeemed against the frames of my choice.
Remarkable. Given the role my own erroneous assumption had played I would have been mollified by the sincere apology alone. And the free medical check was the icing on the cake that then put the matter to bed, in my book. [Wow! How many metaphors is it possible to mix in a single sentence?]
But (and here’s the thing) the $20 voucher took the whole episode to another level entirely. It turned my visit from a bad-to-neutral experience (one I might well have grumbled about afterwards to anyone who would listen) into a great experience that has converted me into a loyal customer.
It got me thinking: I wonder how many organisations have a process in place, or have trained key customer-facing staff, to do what my optometrist did. It’s one thing to simply ‘make right’ a bad experience (such as replacing an under-cooked dish in your restaurant, or exchanging a badly-knitted garment sold in your clothing store). It’s another thing entirely to turn it into a triumph of relationship management. That’s artistry, that is.
And it doesn’t have to cost much. In my case it took just 20 bucks to have me say “thanks, Specsavers – I’m yours for life and I’m going to encourage all my friends and family to use you, too.”
Gift voucher aside, you just can’t buy that kind of genuine personal endorsement – and that’s why I love what I do.