Mind the Gap in your Customer Experience

Mind the Gap in your Customer Experience

In a previous post about winning your customers’ hearts we learned that every interaction creates a personal reaction. This means that every customer experience needs to be as positive as possible. Gaps in your customer experience derail any positive momentum you created with prior interactions. They confuse your customers and create a perception that you are unreliable and inconsistent.

A Gap at The Gap

Recently, my wife had a problem at The Gap that is a perfect example of an inconsistent customer experience. She went to a Gap store to purchase a cardigan that was on sale. The store didn’t have her size in stock, but they told her they were getting a shipment in two days (on Tuesday) and would have more available at that time. They took down her name and number and promised to call when it arrived. They were even willing to put it on hold for her. Everything sounds pretty good so far, right?

Tuesday night rolls around and no phone call from The Gap, so my wife calls them and they say they have it in stock and will put it on hold for her. No big deal at this point. They failed to deliver on their promise, but no harm no foul…yet.

The next day my wife drives to the store and walks up to someone at the register. They know nothing of the item that was supposed to be on hold and they don’t have any in stock.

Houston, we have a problem.

Of course, the nice thing about a massive clothing company like The Gap is that you have many resources at your fingertips to solve issues and turn angry customers into evangelists.
Or so you would think.

The rest of the experience went something like this:

My wife: I drove over here because someone said you had it in stock and would hold it for me.

The Gap: I’m sorry ma’am, I don’t know who told you that.

My wife: Can you check online and see if they have it there? I believe I saw it still available on the website.

The Gap: Let me check. Yes, it’s available online, but it’s more expensive than in the store and there’s a $7 shipping charge.

After some more back and forth with the store clerk, the end result was that the issue was created by the brick-and-mortar store and there was nothing the online store could do for her. It was a store issue, not a Gap online issue.

You see the problems here? The customer doesn’t see an online Gap and a store Gap. They just see The Gap. They had a golden opportunity to turn a problem into a great story. Instead, after creating a problem by failing to deliver on a promise, they decided to compound it by being unreasonable and illogical. Why, at the very least, would you not comp the shipping charges? Why would you not work with the store and utilize every resource you have to create a happy customer?

We’re not talking big bucks here either. We’re talking about a $7 shipping charge. Gap did $1.05 billion in sales in May 2010. That’s BILLION. In one month. They created an angry customer and negative word-of-mouth over seven dollars. Brilliant!

What do you think Zappos have done in this situation?

A Customer Experience or Leadership Gap?

What’s interesting about The Gap is their claim regarding a customer-centric culture.

They state on their corporate website that they think about the customer first:

We make decisions with our customers in mind. We connect with our stores and create the quality our customers value and expect.

It is supposedly a core value that defines their culture. The question is whether or not that core value is really cherished by and communicated to the customer-facing employees. It would seem, at least in this case, that it is not.

A recent statistic from Linda Ireland’s Customer Experience for Profit blog revealed that 72% of C-level leaders claim there is a definition of customer experience that is well understood across their organizations, however 52% of director level leaders said there is no definition of customer experience that is well understood across the troops.

If more than half of “director level leaders” say there is no definition of customer experience in their company, then what percentage of front-line employees understand the concept of customer experience? The answer might scare me, but I think it’s a question I’m going to start asking.


  1. Well said Tim. An all to common example of a company that has not recognized customer experience as a priority in their corporate environment. They have a false sense of perceived success resulting from their financial performance and ironically as a result they have a potentially huge missed opportunity to further their financial performance with authentic, consistent customer experience.

  2. Hi Tim,

    Hopefully, The Gap will read this and learn from their experience. (Yes, I'm a dreamer)

    There are so many things they could have done to “save” this customer experience; yet, they did none of them. The worst of it is that most would have cost next to nothing.

    For example, if the staff had a box where they put customers' notes/requests and had a process to review them every day. (1$ for the box and 15 minutes of training for the staff?) This would have helped ensure that they contact your wife when promised and told her that they hadn't received any yet; she wouldn't have had to call or visit…

    Unfortunately, you're correct in wondering if the “core value” of customer centricity is understood by front-line employees. Most “leaders” have no clue about what's really happening in their organizations; and, they are the only ones that can fix the culture.

    Instead, they pay lip service to the “core values” and keep their heads' in the sand.

    Great post! Should we assume that your wife won't be shopping at that store again?


  3. Wow! What an experience. There were so many opportunities for The Gap to right this wrong, and yet they did not take one. You make an excellent point by adding leadership into the equation. Are the employees not empowered to make decisions, or not engaged? The employee may not be empowered, but the employee in this scenario had an opportunity to provide empathy and apologize for the experience. The leadership is clearly disengaged if they are unaware that this is happening at their stores (I'm confident this is not an isolated incident). Where is the accountability?
    I hope your wife chooses to take her business elsewhere. It's one of the few cards a customer has to play.

  4. I spent last week at a Customer Service conference. It was incredible to spend time with executives and managers who were passionate about service. It was amazing, however, to see how many

  5. @Dawna – You're exactly right. I'm not sure if this is an isolated experience or not, but it appeared that their “core value” of putting the customer first is not being upheld as it should.

    @Eric – Not sure if anyone from The Gap has seen this post yet, but I'll let you know if I see anything in the stats. I think the big problem is a lack of empowerment among front-line employees.
    Not sure if you can keep my wife away from The Gap permanently, but she definitely remembers this experience and is less likely to shop there now.

    @Jen – You're spot on with accountability. I've been thinking about that a lot lately. We could all learn a lesson from The Ritz-Carlton on having accountable employees.

    @Bags – I'm not betting anything on that one…unless you give me really good odds. ;)

  6. Hey Tim,
    A classic channel conflict issue. Unfortunately it is not uncommon and becoming more and more common. Its a convergence of a couple of different factors. As you noted, the customer sees one company, one brand regardless of channel. The customer expects to be serviced via the channel through which they prefer. And so the brand has to continue to add channels to satisfy that consumer requirement. Oh rats! Yes, we do have a problem. Consistency of treatment, consistency of messaging and consistent experience across all channels I see as one of the main drivers of dissatisfaction in retail going forward.

    I wouldn't be a bit surprises if gap.com is being run as an independent business unit (rather than an integrated channel from the customer experience point of view). I saw this recently with another retailer, and I'll be damned, but I've drawn a blank as to who it was. But, the thing that struck me was exactly that. The dot com business was a completely separate entity from the brick and mortar store business. Separate order mgmt, separate inventory. I think the down stream supply chain was leveraged, but that's about it. That is the ultimate in absurdity in terms of customer centricity.

    There is a whole other post/response in my fingers about creative methods I've seen retailers addressing this conflict (trying to focus on solutions rather than problems). But, I'll save that for another time.

    I'll just leave you with this diddy. You know what the craziest part of this story is? The utter lack of empowerment given to those store personnel to solve your wife's problem. Ok, so the suits can't get out of their own way in terms of who “owns” the customer. The store guys. The web guys. But, at the very least, give the front line people the power and authority to remedy those screw ups until HQ gets their act together. Regardless of how messed up your corporate issues, your front line sales and service people ultimately are the ones that will make or break your brand.

    Isn't that a no brainer?

  7. @bags and Tim, maybe gap.com does have a commitment to the customer the The Gap clearly doesn't :)

  8. Spot on about channel conflicts and empowerment Barry. Thanks for the great comment.


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