Part of the anxiety around making big expenditures is the fear of the unknown. Will the product meet my expectations? What can go wrong? Will I feel good about having spent this money?

As I have mentioned, I've been putting some money into my house lately. It was long overdue, not just from a aesthetic standpoint (although that matters tome), but also from an investment standpoint. Needed to be done. Of course, as is usually the case with me, I have over-analyzed my experience as a customer. My experiences have felt like a primer on what can go right and wrong in customer experiences.

My first thoughts about picking someone to do my kitchen were inspired by conversations with other people about their kitchens. My mother had just had her cabinets replaced by Home Depot and though she warned me about that period of time when you are without a kitchen and roughing it, she had great things to say about HD; they take care of everything all the way through.

As I was thinking further about who to engage to do the work, I did consider other businesses; ones that specialize in cabinets. But having the endorsement of HD helped immensely and meeting with their design consultant sealed the decision. They truly did handle everything all the way through and as we know, I am thrilled with my kitchen.

As the kitchen was finishing, and as I was replacing the floor (if you decide to put cork down, I can give some hints I learned the hard way), I decided to replace my washer and dryer (I had to take out the old ones to get the floor in anyway...the timing was right). So I went online and ordered my new washer and dryer online from HD. I pulled out the old units and replaced the floor a few days before the new ones were to be delivered. Then I got the call from the manufacturer. Ten days after I had ordered my units, they were calling to tell me that they weren't available and I would have to wait longer. Around the same time, Jonas decided to get my attention by relieving himself on my (luckily washable) duvet. Thanks doggy. Now where's my washer and dryer?

I was peeved because this is not the experience I expected from HD, but the customer service person that refunded my money was nice when I canceled my order. So I decided to go back to HD to see what I could buy that was in-stock. I wanted high efficiency machines but other than that, didn't have any particular brand loyalty. So I walk into the appliance department. I look at the machines. I have a concerned look on my face. I walk around the machines some more...open the doors, stare at the tags. And the 3 people working in the appliance department could not have been bothered to stop their personal conversation with me and ask if I needed for help. Hmph, now what I expected from Home Depot. So I drove out of my way to Lowe's and had a very different experience and my new washer and dryer were delivered the next day.

As summer is approaching, and I decided to move onto my next project, replacing a big picture window and 2 smaller windows in the hottest room in my house became the priority. The previous owner mustn't have cared much about ventilation because on a hot day, it can be a good ten degrees hotter in my living room because you can only open 2 little windows a sliver to let in air. It's oppressive.

So here's where I am either a marketing case study or a psych case study. I called Home Depot again, because I knew that they would handle it all the way through and I wouldn't have to research other vendors. So here is what I am starting to believe from this whole experience:

*proximity matters in building relationships

*first impressions count. When a good first impression is made, people will want to give you the benefit of the doubt when things subsequently go awry.

*cognitive dissonance is a reality when dealing with brand perceptions. People will try to make their experiences fit what they believe about a brand already (Dr. Phil? Seth Godin? Can you help me?)

*even when things go wrong, if there's a positive customer experience to reference, customers may be more forgiving in the face of risking the outcome with another brand

*customers may be willing to pay more when they know what to expect. For me, that meant knowing that it was all going to be taken care of and I wasn't going to have to install something, or find other contractors to do stuff. Consistent expectations = value

I will stop talking about my kitchen, I promise. I am not a big purchase kind of a gal. Having my car and my student loans paid off was such a relief for me. I'm not going to say that my kitchen is life changing. It's just that with a bigger price tag, I must feel that more of my over-analyzing-consumer attention must be focused on the purchase.  I'm sure that many marketers have studied people like me who care so deeply about these types of decisions. I'm not sure if we need a focus group or a support group (Hugs for Over-Analyzers....how does that sound?).