Attractive on the outside but ugly inside…the Customer Experience that is.  

05/25/2017 06:40 pm ET

For those that read our articles, you’re aware that we often draw inspiration from what we see, interactions with people or organizations, their stories, and from our research (be it from a chef, or a trip to the dentist), and then apply the learnings to the domain of experience design. Well…this time, we found ourselves dealing with a terrible experience that really reminded us of the importance of understanding Experience Ecosystems.

First a little background…

We were looking for a new private office in a co-working space. We visited several options, and settled on what seemed a great space. It looked amazing, great interior design, a guy watering the lovely indoors plants, nice conference rooms, and cool shared spaces like a work-café …alas, we soon learnt that all was not as it seems.

While looks are great, we picked it because it appeared to be a great hub of community spirit, great for learning from others, connecting, and bringing our clients and partners to. Even the community manager seemed very engaged when we were looking – and we all know how important customer service is. While it was a bit more expensive than others, we thought that the perceived benefits were valuable.

From Day 1, we started noticing little things, then bigger things, that all compounded into a series of events that demonstrated several issues with the experience. Operations and communications were—simply put—a mess. The community manager transformed from a helpful representative to seemingly nonexistent. From top to the bottom, management was unresponsive, dishonest, and nontransparent.

While it has been an ordeal, our experience is rife with great reminders for experience design, some of which are outlined below in the hopes that others can avoid these pitfalls.

What can we learn from this experience?

1. Taking accountability

Throughout the experience there was a lack of accountability, and this was clear all the way up the chain of command.

When we addressed a serious breach of security with the community manager, instead of taking accountability, and moving on to how we can come to a resolution, the community manager started making irrelevant excuses and blaming their team. Not to mention—our favorite part—telling us how busy they themselves were with their own work tasks. Even when we talked to the VP, the same traits were demonstrated.

Remember, customers need to feel confident that when things go wrong, the representatives will handle the situation appropriately. They don’t want to see whining and blame passing. A strong sense of accountability is a key trait.

2. Understanding what is important to your customers

Customer understanding is key to experience. Using the knowledge of what is meaningful to them can, amongst many things, help you tailor your communications in the most effective way to handle situations that may arise using context.

For example, two weeks after we had moved everything into the office, we received an email late one evening that said the locks to our office had been changed, and that we should collect the keys the next day. Two lessons here include:

  1. The email was last minute: Changing locks is usually something that is scheduled, so a heads-up would have enabled us to best plan our morning. We had a client meeting at 7am, but could not collect the keys until 8am, so had to rearrange locations at the last minute, causing unnecessary efforts.
  2. There was no context: Without any reasoning, we were left to wonder, was there a break in? Or what made them change the locks?

Without any explanation, apology, or indication of how the situation could improve moving forward, we were simply told, “no one ever changes the locks, we bent over backwards because it was the right thing to do.”

Again, understanding the concern, and importance of clarity, to their customers would have helped. After asking, we became aware that the keys from old tenants were never collected when they moved out—something we should have been informed about before moving in. Given their customers are businesses, they should have realized that they take confidential information very seriously, so this kind of incident is best to address up front so that people can best handle the situation, for themselves, and for their own customers.

Customers need to feel that their needs are important, and that you understand them. This can come through in communications, interactions, and the solutions provided.

3. Transparency

Transparency is paramount. Being upfront fosters trust between a brand and the customer.

In another case of poor experience, parking was advertised as free when we signed the lease. Due to some local construction, parking became a bit of a situation. Only a month after we moved in, they instilled a valet per month fee. Understanding the need for a solution to the parking situation, and thinking there were no other options, some customers paid the surprise fee. However, several customers complained to the management about the situation, so they then came up with a new, free, valet tag that stated, “if available”, allowing valet to park cars if there were spots. While this was their attempt to remedy the situation, they failed to communicate this to those that had already paid.

Basically, since the valet double parked cars, there was technically always space “available”…making the tag itself, meaningless. Meanwhile, those who did not complain, were still paying full price for basically the same service.

To further foster the feeling of mistrust, when we were negotiating the terms of our departure from the space to be 2 months earlier than planned - given the series of unsatisfactory events - we were told that “our only option was to continue paying for another month even though we were moving out, and that was all they could do,” then later in the same conversation, heard the words “I would consider that maybe,” when we proposed a potential remedy. You shouldn’t be pushed by the customer to indicate that you have the authority to try other options for resolution, you should be proactive in exploring them to come to an appropriate solution.

Remember, mismatches in information (from people, tools, messaging), and lack of transparent communications, lead to broken trust.

4. Ability to resolve bad experiences

Giving your employees the ability to resolve the situation when customers have had bad experiences is key. You need to provide them with guidance, and give them flexibility to uphold the experience.

In this case, on the call with the VP, trying to find a resolution, after several minutes of listening to irrelevant excuses, my business partner said, “let’s try and come to a resolution that is beneficial to everyone,” after this collaborative attempt to a resolution, the VP rudely told us, “we are bending over backwards and giving you free rent.”

This obviously is very frustrating. We were all moved out, leaving the space completely ready to be moved into; we just wanted to find a collaborative solution, but the tone and words were as if we were at fault.

The truth is, even if he could not refund the next months rent, given we were moved out and it was due to many dissatisfactory events, a potential right option was to offer a prorated rent once they had filled the office. This seemed an appropriate outcome as we knew they had many candidates waiting for a spot, and we ourselves had moved in the very day after the old tenants moved out, so we knew turn around time was quick.

Instead, they insisted that it takes “6-8 weeks to fill an office,” and that we were getting “free rent.”

The interaction left us, as the customer, feeling angry. It was a prime moment to turn the bad experience around, however it was made so much worse by the person we were interacting with.

5. Importance of brand identity, expectations, and culture

Several moments during our customer journey with them demonstrated the importance of brand image and culture.

It was clear they aimed to project a certain brand, from their modern aesthetic, to their higher cost than any other nearby spaces. But this higher expectation simply led to greater disappointment.

The drastic change in treatment from both management, and operations, left us feeling the “car salesman” affect, where they were all attentive for the sale, but virtually unresponsive from there on out.

Being dismissive, not helpful, and rude, leaves a customer feeling disrespected. There are many things to be aware of including: the language used, the tone, and how to respond using contextual awareness. In a moment where the customer is already frustrated, not being aware of this can leave a very lasting effect that the customer will always carry with them in reference to you and especially your brand.

They figured they could get by on simply what they projected to the outside world, but showed a lack of concern for the perception they projected from within, failing to take in account the power of shared story.

Interestingly, when discussing the experience with another company that stayed in one of their other locations, we found they had a very similar experience. This begins to create an external web of dissatisfaction that surrounds their brand, which, can eventually lead to the loss of potential future customers.

The sad truth is, they may not care at all at the moment, they may think, “we have demand, so who cares about a few customers…” However, it is important to remember that complacency or not addressing such issues, is where giants can begin a slippery road to failure – especially in a competitive marketspace.


Luckily for us, the story has a great ending…we moved locations to somewhere that is so much better. This series of unfortunate events—so to speak—really cautions brands to remember that the Experience Ecosystem is all connected. There are several moments in the journey, traversing interactions with people, spaces, processes, tools, and physical objects, all of which will impact the overall sentiment, which has the power of great, or detrimental, outcomes.

So, while looks are great to attract a customer, don’t forget that what's underneath that can affect the sentiment for a long time. Here are few things you can keep in mind as you design and deliver your Experience Ecosystem:

  • Understand the moments that matter across the whole journey, and ecosystem, as well as the impact of these connections and the emotional effects.
  • Garner online sentiment and feed forward the understanding.
  • Enable employees to resolve bad experiences in the best way – give them guidance as well as the trust and ability to act.
  • Don’t forget about Culture – from the top, all the way down.
  • When customers leave, find out why so that you can understand the cause and learn from it.
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