I admit it: I’m a shoeaholic. I also hate to pay retail for anything. So I’m a frequent shopper at several of the discount designer shoe stores.

If you shop at these stores, you’re probably familiar with their customer loyalty programs. You earn special rewards, such as $5 or $10 off, based on your spending activity.

Recently, I decided to check out the new fall arrivals at two of my favorite stores, which are conveniently located next door to each other in a strip mall near my home. Of course, before I jaunted out for my shoe-shopping spree, I had to check my coupon drawer to see what “rewards” were waiting to be used. To my delight, I had coupons from both brands.

I was off and running.

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What a difference a shoe store makes

At the first store (I’ll call it Brand A), I picked out my “must have” styles and proceeded to the cashier. As I handed her my $10 off reward coupons, I realized one had expired in 2011. (How I let that happen, I’ll never know.) Quickly, I apologized and started to put the expired coupon away, but the clerk stopped me.

“Oh, that’s okay. I’ll take it. After all it’s a reward for the business you give us,” she said.

WOW! I would have understood if the clerk had refused to take the coupon, after all it was almost a year old. But I was thrilled and impressed that she was willing to take it.

After leaving Brand A in an exuberant mood, I put my new shoes in my car, then walked to the other discount shoe outlet next door to use their reward coupon. (I’ll call them Brand B.)

As luck would have it, I found a few more pairs that were definitely “Susan.” So far this day was going very well—that is until I went to check out at Brand B.

When I handed the cashier my reward coupon, she glanced at it and handed it back to me explaining the coupon had expired. The expiration date was September 19, 2012 and it was September 22—the coupon had expired just three days earlier! When I asked to speak to a manager, she said, “It’s our corporate policy not to make any exceptions.”

Really—I thought to myself. How non-customer centric.

“But It’s a reward coupon,” I argued.

“Too bad. I can’t accept it,” she explained.

Too bad is right. I explained I didn’t want their shoes, and from now on I’d happily go to their competitor next door to do my shopping.

Make your customer feel like Cinderella — not an ugly stepsister

These two discount shoe stores carry very similar products, yet the customer experience was night and day.  In Gail Goodman’s new book, “Engagement Marketing,” she talks about creating a WOW! experience for your customer. Brand A gave me that WOW! experience, and I will be telling all my friends. Likewise, I’ll be quick to share the poor experience I had at Brand B.

Sometimes rules are meant to be broken—especially when it comes to keeping a customer vs. losing a customer. Brand A recognized I was a loyal customer and made me feel like Cinderella by accepting my expired coupon. While Brand B felt an arbitrary expiration date was more important than my business and made me feel like an ugly stepsister by turning me away. They just didn’t get it and they won’t be getting anymore of my business either.

Make sure you give your customers a WOW! experience. Show them you value their loyalty. As you probably know, it’s easier to retain an existing customer than it is to acquire a new one.

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