Make someone's day today

- 210128

I had a strange dream (oxymoron?) the other morning, in which Marie Kondo’s concept of 'sparking joy' popped up. Not very surprising; I'd just seen her being interviewed a couple of days before. While the queen of the Art of Tidying Up had appeared out of context, she left me wondering how her method could apply to my relationships; personal, professional, or with brands and businesses.

While Kondo suggests touching items to gain a physical response from the body as to what sparks joy in us, I took this to mean the more ethereal 'touchpoints' of customer experience.

Why not? Isn't there an energy trace in our interactions, whether intimate or casual? In studying mindfulness, I got to know the so-called ‘feeling tones’. All of our life's experiences, however small, are tainted or touched by them. Essentially it's how everything we do is perceived as positive, negative or neutral.


A couple of months ago, I ordered my first office chair. This was a momentous occasion: I've been committed to WFH for a while, but because I inherited my father's antique desk, I was stalling. Good office chairs are great for ergonomics but too modern for my tastes. However my lumbar was asking for support, so I did my research diligently and found a design that could suit. It was pricey but I figured my back was worth it - plus the 'cost per use', given the hours at one's desk, was supporting the argument. And so I delightfully customised my future chair, in ice blue twill, polished aluminium and delicate leather pads on short slick armrests.

Imagine my surprise when I received the product only to find out that I couldn't adjust the chair's height. I scratched my head, pushing and pulling on levers that were doing everything else but what I needed.

From a first email and phone conversation with customer service, it took eight other emails and another two calls to their helpline to finally get someone interested in my case. I brushed it off at first, remembering we are in the middle of a pandemic. It took six weeks after my initial inquiry for another customer service representative to finally come back to me with the bad news. I was told that I’d ordered a 'conference' chair unknowingly, the height of which couldn’t be adjusted. My query was denied.

I know better than to respond when upset (most of the time). Thank god for mindfulness practice. The chair itself still sparks joy, my body is resting against it as I type these words. The broader interaction with the company, however, does not. I had higher expectations from a prominent furniture supplier such as this one. I was left wondering why would any office chair manufacturer offer seats that are not adjustable? Where is common sense and where was it lost in the customer journey?


Given that that is in itself not the consumer's responsibility, what can brands do to alleviate stress, remove obstacles, across all touchpoints, in order to make everyone happy? And of course, what would common sense dictate when a customer is deeply unhappy with their purchase or interaction?

Martin Lindstrom recently made the case for common sense in Forbes. A global consultant, Lindstrom was hired to reinvent Economy Class travel for Swiss International Airlines two years ago. He cleverly cites Ralph Waldo Emerson, who once said that “common sense is genius dressed in its working clothes”

I really enjoyed Lindstrom’s explanation: “Swiss International’s initiatives weren’t groundbreaking, didn’t require an army of McKinsey consultants, didn’t need a multi-billion-dollar budget, and most of them didn’t cost one single dollar to implement. But they were all born with one thing in common. They derive from a point of view that experiences the world not from a corporate office, but through the eyes of the customer.”


Years ago, when Christian Louboutin in London was a franchise business, the terms of sales were ‘returns accepted for exchange or store credit within 28 days of purchase’. As a sales assistant, later on as boutique manager, I had to butt heads with clients regularly, when they’d changed their minds and returned the product in perfect condition. They all asked the same question: why could they not have their money back?

What was I to answer? My bosses don’t want you to? Truth was the law was on their side so if they kicked up a fuss in store, I had to refund them anyway.

Why make it difficult for people I wonder? Can’t we just apply both the Golden Rule and common sense when we work on the customer journey? As my mentor Rajesh Ramani reminded me a few months ago: “It’s not two algorithms doing business, it’s human beings doing business together.”


It may be that a product is beautifully crafted, even ethically designed and priced adequately. Unless we spend time putting ourselves in the shoes of the people we sell it to and generously consider their needs, we will always come up short of ‘sparking joy’.