Customer Experience Lessons from My Colossal Dating Blunder

Sometimes exceptional customer experience comes from the least expected places. I wrote back in February about customer experience lessons from buying my car. Now, 8 months later, I am pleased to report that I have more reason to be a delighted customer. No, this post is not simply a Valentine to the maker of my car (Subaru), but rather an exploration of the much-ballyhooed marketing concept of winning and keeping customers by creating exceptional experiences. I hope this episode I’m about to reveal from my personal life resonates with any marketers who care about buyer engagement and building lifetime advocates.

Paul-keys-SubaruLet’s cut to the chase. The other day, I locked my keys in my car … on a weeknight date … where I was the sole driver. Yeah, great timing, right? Imagine this scene: The night is young, everything’s going well, she’s happy, a great social dance is starting, and as I ask her to take the floor with me I realize I forgot my dancing shoes in the car. No problem … I leave her for two minutes to go get them as she’s putting her own shoes on. Once at the car, for reasons entirely unbeknownst to me, I spontaneously decide to do something I occasionally do while dancing to lighten my pocket load … remove my car key from the rest of my cluttered key ring, leaving the ring behind in the car. Only this time somehow I managed to confidently place the car key in the car (rest of the keys firmly in hand), then proceeded to lock the door manually and close myself out of it.

That’s right, in all my excitement over the great bachata we were about to do, I locked myself out of my car … and with my phone inside (remember, lighter pockets = better dancing). Immediately I realized what I had done; a slow, sinking feeling washed over me. Nauseated, I futilely reached for the driver’s door and tugged. Locked. My stomach drops. Dread. Checking the trunk just in case: Also locked, of course. (“Why wouldn’t automatic locks secure the entire vehicle at once, genius?” I thought to myself. “Welcome to 2015!”)

At that moment a vision of fear overtook me: 10 phone calls (using her phone), untold delays, horrible annoyance, killing of good vibes and maybe even the relationship. How romantic! Then the rational part of my brain reminded me my vehicle came with its own brand of roadside assistance, and the number was permanently etched on the window. New resolution: Pick my head up, cast the negativity out, and go back inside and enjoy the night as if nothing had happened. About halfway through our 3 hours of dancing I finally coughed up the predicament.

Me: “I have a confession to make.”

Her: “What’s that?”

Me: “You’re not going to believe this, but I just did the all-time smoothest thing you could do on a date. I locked my keys in my car. And my phone.”

Her: “Don’t worry about it! It happens. I’ve done that before.”

Me: “OK, well, I’ll need to use your phone at some point to get us out of here. How about we keeping dancing for now and deal with this later?”

Her: “OK!”

Since the music was great and we were still having fun, pretending I hadn’t just done the most asinine thing in my life surprisingly was not difficult for me.

Around 11:30 the dance ends, and we’re changing our shoes and getting ready to tackle the ride home. “What’s your plan?” she asked.

Me: “First, we’ll use your phone to call Subaru roadside assistance and see if they can do anything. It came with my car … there’s a number on the window. If that doesn’t work, then I’ll just have to get myself to my apartment where I can get my spare key and then come back here.”

Now the moment of truth: We’re outside. She takes her phone out. I show her the 800-number emblazoned on the car window. She dials it and hands me the phone … ringing … I’m instantly connected to a human! The operator carefully elicits the necessary details (we’re with the vehicle, not in danger, etc.), and promptly arranges a locksmith to come to the scene to open my door for me. She gives me an estimated wait time (1 hr. max) AND the option to receive text updates with links to information about my rescue driver and his/her current status (standard messaging rates apply). Score!

So, thanks to my automaker’s customer-friendly program, a potential debacle of a night turned into a slighter longer yet still fun date, thanks to a simple phone call and quick fix. When you consider what under other circumstances could have been hours of delay, dead ends and multiple cab rides turned into 30 minutes of extra dancing while we waited for the locksmith as the owner of the restaurant kept the music going even though we were the only two people left.

Thanks to Subaru, I was able to maintain control of the situation, and our evening was not a massive waste of time. That’s a winning customer experience: Rescuing me from feeling like a big-time loser to a big-time winner, all thanks to a thoughtful and helpful emergency response offering. Put another way, I might have alienated an apparently good match right out of my life were it not for the ease of the roadside assistance. For this I am grateful, and the memory (and associated emotion) will not be soon forgotten.

So much of the valence in customer experience boils down to gut feelings. The greater a company can appeal to its customers’ emotions, the better (in my case, the maker of my automobile turning my disgust and fear to relief and happiness). When I saw the locksmith expertly crack open my front passenger-side door in less than 2 minutes of work, I knew then I could potentially be a Subaru customer for life. As I fished out the solitary key from the console, I smiled and held the door open for my date. Safe again. Then I exhaled slowly, fully realizing disaster had passed and I would still manage to bring her home at a somewhat reasonable hour for a Monday night.

What better story (brand or otherwise) is there than one of hope triumphing? My dating mishap reminds us marketers of the utmost importance of positively impacting our buyers when they most need it, whatever those circumstances may be. And all you single guys out there, remember even if you lock your keys in your car on a date, you might still have a chance!

Paul Richlovsky

About Paul Richlovsky

Paul brings a writing and teaching background to his decade-long marketing career. He advises clients on content strategy and editorial direction. He is an enthusiastic marketing automation practitioner and active member of the Cleveland Marketo User Group. He has written/edited multiple marketing guides, including those aimed at healthcare, higher education, financial services, B2C brands and manufacturing audiences. With a BA in English from the College of Wooster, he is also the author of a collection of poetry, "Under the Lunar Neon."He is particularly interested in usability, digital governance, ballroom dancing, bachata, racquet sports, and romping with his niece and nephews.

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