Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. As a child, I always looked forward to dressing up, watching scary movies, and carving pumpkins. And of course, the best part of all was when I would go out trick-or-treating with my cousin and my little sister. The three of us always put up quite the display as we paraded through the neighborhood, fiercely scouring for treats. Over the years our crew mapped out the best paths through the city for maximum candy collection; our goal was to get the most candy as possible within the short time that our parents allowed.

Every time we’d go out, we learned which neighbors would hook us up with more candy, since they were friends with our parents. We knew where to go to find free donuts and hot chocolate, and we had even discovered which houses had the king-sized candy bars. Each Halloween taught us more about the experience that we could anticipate for the years to come. And in our case, every year just got better and better. Our candy hauls increased, and we became loyal to our plan.

Trick-or Treat…Smell Defeat

Although we always had a great Halloween, there were a few times that our knowledge base, and expectations, did end up letting us down. Take the donuts and hot chocolate for example. The woman in our neighborhood who always decorated her garage into a spooky haunted house, complete with the treats at the end, spent her Halloween away from home one year. My sister, cousin and I didn’t know this in advance, so we were disappointed when we arrived at a closed garage with no donuts in sight.

Not being the only ones to be let down, we noticed many other kids passing the garage with a sad look on their face. Halloween just wasn’t the same that year without the hot chocolate break. And for some strange reason, the rest of the night followed in suit. A lot of the classic houses we depended on were absent as well; lights off and closed doors. How inconsiderate of them to go out of town, we thought!

The year after that, our favorite pumpkin patch ran by a sweet elderly man, was discontinued. I don’t know if he passed away or moved, but he never held the pumpkin patch in his front yard again. We checked many Octobers for his return, but even to this day it never re-occurred. He had the best pumpkins for the best price. I still miss it.

The final straw was when the free Halloween train in a neighborhood cancelled their Halloween ride. This was extremely sad to our trio, because we always looked forward to the Nightmare before Christmas themed locomotive adventure. It was an impressive display, ran by volunteers and members of their community. It was a staple to our Halloween tradition, and although they still ran their Christmas themed train ride, Christmas was simply not our holiday of choice.

A Be-Witching Experience

The next year, after that series of disappointments, my cousin chose to go to a Halloween party with her friends instead of trick-or-treating with me. Even though I recruited friends to join my sister and I in her absence, it once again wasn’t the same and we really missed our cousin.

I asked her why she bailed on our Halloween tradition, and she told me, “Last year wasn’t very fun. I just wanted to try something different.”

I couldn’t blame her. Last year wasn’t very fun…and the year without my cousin wasn’t fun either. From that point on, our trick-or-treating trio was over. We never spent another Halloween together ever again. Part of that can be attributed to growing up and living our own lives outside of family activities, but I know that the biggest reason was that the experience we looked forward to, failed to meet our expectations and caused us to seek different alternatives altogether.

Embrace the “Boos”

Although Halloween for me is a holiday and not a retail transaction per to say, there is still much to learn from this story about providing customers with an excellent experience. Like my cousin, sister, and I, customers gage their expectations on what they have already experienced. If the last visit or interaction with a business was stellar, customers expect every visit to be just as good, if not better. And when consistency fails, they will seek other options.

Customers know what they want and do business with companies that best satisfy their needs. Even though brand loyalty is the first natural line of defense for retaining customers, enough let downs will drive someone to try something different.

Like my cousin, I too tried something different on the Halloweens to come. Following suggestions given by others, I attended a few parties, events, and even explored new neighborhoods in search of candy that friends said would be worth changing my Halloween routine. I ended up finding new spooky activities, and to avoid future disappointment, I vowed to continue switching things up. However, one thing is for certain. I would still trade it all to once again experience the donuts, pumpkins, and train from the past. If these people ever picked back up their old practices, I know that I, along with many others, would be there to welcome them back with open arms.

“Creep” the Experience Real

In the case of a business, even though some customers will inevitably be lost due to not meeting their expectations, keeping and retaining customers is still very possible. By listening and understanding the wants, needs, and over all journey your customers go through, decisions can be made to ultimately keep customers or even attract new ones. People talk, and will share their experiences with friends, making recommendations based on many factors. Listening to customers is crucial to staying ahead of trends and standing out against the competition.

Perhaps if enough people had advocated for the Halloween train to return, it might have come back. Maybe those who put it on weren’t in the position to hear or adhere to the wants of the public, but when a business is capable of acting on insights, it very well should.

Halloween will always be my favorite, and year by year, even though I will always have a great time, my experience is still compared to the glory days of the past. Based on the excellent experiences I’ve had, I still strive to find activities that measure up to my changing wants and needs for the holiday. Listening to feedback doesn’t have to be scary! The trick to a successful customer experience program is by treating your customers how they wish to be treated.