I love standup comedy. I listen to it on the radio and television, and go to comedy clubs. Our entire family goes to Montreal every year for the amazing Just For Laughs festival. I love stuff that makes me laugh.
Last November, while I was at a charity auction for The Ottawa Boys and Girls Club, I saw that they were auctioning off “VIP” tickets for shows at the local Absolute Comedy club. I immediately thought to myself, ‘what an awesome opportunity for a night out with our team at the office.’ I was really looking forward to it.
My spidey sense began to tingle when I first called to make the reservation. I got, I found out later, the owner, Jason Laurens. Mr. Laurens was anything but funny. We have Rules, he wanted me to understand. Lots of them. You’d better be there 30 minutes before the show, or we’re going to have a Problem. We can only use 4 of the 8 tickets we bought (“It’s clearly stated on the ticket”, the ‘idiot’ was unstated, but there nonetheless). If we’re going to eat, there’s a different time, and if we’re late we’re gunna have another Problem. You gotta give me your credit card, cause if you break the Rules we’re gunna charge you. It went on. Yikes! I guess ‘have a nice day’ is off the table.
The attitude that dripped from his profoundly unfriendly tone was that customers were just a necessary pain in the &%#. Oh well, I thought. We’re not going to see him, we’re going to see a couple of great comics. I can get over his attitude. So, the morning of the event comes, and a some of our team are unfortunately unable to go. We have a choice to either go with part of the team or try to reschedule. We opted for rescheduling, and my gut just told me we were gunna have a Problem with RuleGuy. And we did.
The team member who had called to make the final reservation, then called to try and move it to a week later. The cancellation fee – $200. Not very much gets under my skin, and I’m usually a pretty happy guy, but this one did. I’m not sure why. I understood that we were breaking a Rule. I didn’t even really have a problem with the $200. Maybe it was Rule Guy’s whole ‘sucks to be you’ attitude that pushed my buttons. When I called back, the conversation didn’t start well, and certainly didn’t end well. I was clearly an annoyance, and was causing him Problems. The fact that I was trying to be a customer was irrelevant. The fact that we wanted to reschedule was irrelevant. The fact that, if we’d had a pleasant experience, we would likely be back many, many times, was irrelevant. I was obviously a Bad Customer.
“I just don’t care,” he said at one point. Yikes. So we left it that we’re going to be charged $200, with the full understanding that we’re never coming back. “I just don’t care,” he repeated.
Shades of the infamous Gasp Clothing story. Just for fun, I went on to our website’s ‘cost of a lost customer’ calculator, to see how much this was going to cost them (even though “We’re sold out all the time, so we don’t care if a customer doesn’t come back,” RuleGuy told me). I guessed that the average person who’s there for dinner spends about $45. ($23 for the meal and 22 for drinks.). I estimated that the average person might visit there 3x a year, and might be in the ‘comedy club’ market for 10 years. Then I multiplied the number by the 8 people I know for certain will never come back. Here were the numbers:
Actual cost: $10,800
Potential Cost in negative word of mouth: $97,200 – $216,000
Potential Cost if the negative word of mouth went viral: $1.4 million to $1.7 million
There is a cost to being rude, in real dollars and cents. And it is never a good business strategy to place individual transactions over customer loyalty. Don’t agree? Just talk to the people at Zappos. It’s not an accident that they are one of the most successful businesses in the last 5 years.