One Bad Experience

This time my husband wrote the blog entry for me.  Actually he wrote the following account of a bad experience to place on a restaurant’s Facebook page.  You’ve probably all written one like it – or intended to after a bad experience.

“About three months ago my wife and I discovered a new wine bistro, and immediately loved the place. Since then we’ve given the restaurant a great deal of business and many recommendations. We built a good relationship with the manager, several of the wait staff, and a couple of the Sommeliers. All-in-all, it delivered the kind of service-focused experience we look for in a restaurant.

Unfortunately, that has changed. Last night we invited four friends to join us for dinner at 7:00, and knowing that it would be busy, my wife and I showed up 45 minutes early to put our name on the list. We didn’t see any staff we recognized, and didn’t get the usual level of assistance in picking out a case of retail wine.  Our friends showed up on time, and we all stood around with drinks waiting for our table. We waited and waited some more. Hours went by with no updates.

Around 9:00 I approached the hostess stand to check of the progress of our table. Rather than an apology, I got a lecture on the futility of trying to seat a six top on a Friday night. They implied that I was in error for requesting such a thing. I asked for our friend the manager and was told she was no longer employed.  I turned and walked away. About 30 minutes later, the six of us finally nabbed a four-top in the bar from an exiting group and got a server’s attention.

As I reflect on this experience, it occurs to me that the management must not have the skill to plan appropriately for demand or keep good staff.  It seems the place has reached a tipping point; its popularity is overwhelming its ability to provide the kind of high-quality service that originally attracted customers like us. There is no one to differentiate between loyal, free spending customers and others. While we have always enjoyed our experience at this bistro, I think that time is over.”

While unfortunately all too commonplace, our dining experience underlines three important facts about customer experience.  1) All it takes is one bad experience to turn a loyal customer into an ex-customer, 2)  social media gives disgruntled customers a forum to share their frustration with a wide audience, and 3) people who hear about another’s bad experience online tend to avoid the establishment.  Research I managed in 2010 provides some supporting data that has probably expanded since:   57% of consumers reported having had bad experiences with companies they regularly dealt with, and 44% stopped doing business as a result.  80% of consumers surveyed reported that they told friends or colleagues about the bad experience either in person or through media and 62% of those who heard about a bad experience on social media intentionally avoided the offending company afterwards.  That’s a clear-cut lesson, yet one so many companies fail to heed.  One bad experience and your customers will vote with their feet.

About Lorena Harris

Lorena Harris has more than 20 years of marketing leadership experience with large business service companies. Her expertise is in designing research-based content marketing programs for brand building and demand generation. Since earning her MBA from Duke, Lorena has built revenue-generating marketing programs for $B+ B2B service companies such as Fiserv, First Data and Vantiv (financial services), ADP (employee benefit services), Convergys (contact center services) and Donnelly (publishing services). More information available on
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