Boots Opticians: A Disappointing Customer Experience

I get a letter

I got a letter through the post informing me that I was due for an eye test.  Given that it has been several years since I had my eyes tested I welcomed the colourful reminder from Boots.  I noticed that I could book an appointment online or by calling.  At that moment I did not have a laptop handy so I chose to call. My call was picked up almost immediately and a helpful chap booked an appointment for me at the local Boots (Opticians) store.

How am I feeling? Happy.  What kind of impression do I have of Boots?  This is an organisation that has its act together: it has sent me a useful reminder, it has offered me several options, it has made it easy for me to book an appointment, and the fellow on the phone exuded human warmth.

I turn up at the store for an eye test

Several days later I turned up at the local Boots Opticians store. The store looks spacious and clean – I notice the whiteness of the store and I wonder if Boots is ‘stealing’ from the Apple retail stores. Walking up to the woman at the counter, I smile, I give my name and let her know I am there for an eye test. This is an opportunity for her to show up as a human being. She declines. In her best robotic voice, she tells me to take a seat.

Looking around the various stands housing the spectacles, I notice four seats in line. Two seats are occupied, two are free.  As I approach the seats I notice that one of the seats is dirty – obviously dirty. The dirtiness of seat clashes with the sparkling whiteness of the store. And I notice that the seats (for customers) look crammed in comparison with the spaciousness of the rest of the store.

What does this tell me?  It tells me that the star of the show at Boots Opticians is the product: the range of spectacles. How am I left feeling? Disappointed. Unwanted. What am I thinking? I wonder what the rest of the experience is going to be like.

The eye test happens

Shortly, and on time, a professional looking man comes out from the ‘back’ of the store, calls my name, and asks me to follow him. He shows me into a ‘tiny area’ which houses three machines. At one of the machines, a member of staff is testing a customer. I am handed over to a young woman. She proceeds to conduct an eye test.  Whilst another member of staff takes my glasses to get those tested.

What am I thinking? I am asking myself how it is that there is so much space in the front for the spectacles and so little space at the back for conducting eye tests on customers.  And I am asking myself if a lack of ‘human warmth’ goes with the opticians and/or the Boots brand.  I am clear that for the staff, I show up as a ‘widget’ to be processed and not as a ‘flesh and blood’ human being.

Thankfully, the eye test does not take that long and the professional looking man is back. He asks me to follow him and walks me to a room that occurs as positively spacious-luxurious.  Over the course of the next 10 – 20 minutes he proceeds to test my vision by inserting different lenses into the spectacles he has placed on my nose.  His manner is professional. He shows up as knowing what he is doing.

At the end of the testing he tells me that my short-sightedness is slightly worse. And that I have started to become long-sighted too.  He tells me that I can either have two pairs of spectacles – one for short sightedness and one for reading. Or I can go for one pair of spectacles that will cater for both needs.  He suggests that I go for the single bifocal pair of spectacles. He then hands me over to another member of staff.

I walk out without buying spectacles

The new member of staff, a good looking lady with a smile, is keen to take me to the front of the store to pick spectacles.  I decline. Instead I ask for my prescription, receive the prescription, make my way to the robotic lady on the counter, pay and leave.

Why did I not buy?  I did not buy because I did not feel valued.  I did not buy because it did not occur to me that I was consulted on my needs. I did not buy because it occurred to me that the focus of the staff in the store was to sell me spectacles.  I did not buy because the people in the store and the experience lacked any semblance of humanity.  Put plainly, I was looking for an ‘I-Thou’ relationship and what I got was an ‘I-It’ relationship – I was the ‘It’.

I look forward to the day, that an ‘Amazon’ like competitor puts the likes of Boots Opticians out of business.

Worth remembering

Investments in CRM (including database marketing) are not likely to yield the desired results if the customer experience sucks! To generate ROI from CRM investments you have to pay attention to the customer experience.

What the Customer Experience community can learn from Build A Bear

Most retail experiences are dull: bland, bland, bland

Do you find most retail experiences simply dull?  I do.  Most of the time that I walk into retail stores I am left totally unimpressed.  The retails stores all collapse into one heap of blandness: one mobile phone store is just like another – the only difference is the brand name; one games  retailer is like another one; one PC store is like another and so forth.  Yet in this ocean of blandness I have come across a company that stands out: Build A Bear.

Build A Bear have reimagined  and reinvented the Customer Experience

The folks at Build A Bear have reimagined the entire bear purchasing and ownership experience.  When you turn up at a Build A Bear store you are greeted by smiling sales assistants and lots of colour – the store is alive and it draws you in especially if you are a child.  Once in the store you cannot simply go to the shelves, pick up a bear, pay and leave.  That would be dull and you would just be like every other shop selling bears.

Instead you are invited into a process where you create your very own, personal, bear.  The shop assistant invites you to select the bear skin.  Then you move on and select  the audio that you want inserted into you bear. Once you have done this ( or chosen no audio) you go with assistant and sit in front of the machine that stuffs and stitches your bear right in front of you.  You decide how much stuffing goes into your bear – depending on whether you want your bear on the softer side or more on the firm side.  Whilst you are making the bear the sales assistant invites you to choose a name for your bear.  After all the bear is your very own special friend that you are going to share your life with, not just a toy!

Once you have made your bear and chosen his name, the sales assistant shows you the section where there are lots of different outfits.  And being a child you absolutely go crazy and select school outfits, party outfits, sports outfits, night clothes and so on.  This is usually where the parent steps in to ‘help’ the child to select only one or two outfits.  When you’re ready you go to the counter and pay.  Here you are met with another surprise.  The cashier hands you a birth certificate for your bear: in my daughters case Meemoo was born in the early days of January 2011.

Just when you think you have seen and experienced it all.  The cashier places your bear into a cardboard house – one that you can decorate when you get home – and tells you that once you get home you can go and log onto the Build A Bear virtual world on the website.  And when you get home that is usually what you do or ask your parents to do.  Once you are on the website you can do more fun stuff: you can make your very own bear come alive with the outfits you bought in the store.  If you want to do more on the website then you have to go and buy more outfits from the store.  And that is exactly what my daughter does.   That is how Meemoo ends up being loved when the other thirty odd bears sit on the shelves neglected.

What is the lesson for the Customer Experience community?

Customer Experience is much more than complaint management.  Customer Experience is much more than simply improving customer interactions.  Customer Experience is much more than better service.  Customer Experience is much more than a better product.  In its fullest sense, Customer Experience  is doing what Build A Bear does: taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary by engaging the customer in co-creating an immersive and enjoyable customer experience.

It is worth noting that Build A Bear has not just reinvented the customer experience,  Build A Bear has reinvented the business model as well.  The accessories prolong the relationship with the customers (the children come into the stores regularly to buy new outfits) and drive the majority of revenue, profits and customer LTV.  Put differently, you never have to sell another bear to your customer, you can just sell the accessories.