Archive for the ‘bad customer service’ Category


Here’s a sobering little bit of reality:

“A study by Bain & Company found that 80 percent of companies surveyed believed that they delivered a “superior experience” to their customers. But, when customers were asked to indicate their perceptions of the experiences they have in dealing with companies, they rated only 8 percent of companies as truly delivering a superior experience (James Allen, Frederick F. Reichheld and Barney Hamilton, The Three “Ds” of Customer Experience, Harvard Business School Working Knowledge, accessed Nov. 7, 2005). Do you sense just a little bit of disconnect?”

(Thanks to John Winsor for catching this some time ago on Seth Godin’s blog, who himself had wisely nipped it from Jim Barnes.)

8% vs. 80%.

… Which is probably the same percentage of companies thinking their advertising, marketing, PR or Social Media “efforts” are solid vs. what the rest of the world thinks of them. (What some of us like to refer to as “reality.”)

Delusion to the nth degree.

By the way, statistically speaking, if you are reading this, you are 10 times more likely to be in the 80% group than the 8% group. Don’t blame me for the bad news. It’s just basic math.

A few pointers to help you figure out where you stand:

If you haven’t seen continuous double-digit growth for the last three years, you are NOT in the 8% category.

If you don’t know at least 10% of your repeat customers by name when you see them, you are NOT in the 8% category.

If you don’t know exactly how many people mentioned your company’s name on the web since the start of this month, your are probably NOT in the 8% category.

If you find it painstakingly difficult to get trade publications to write positive stories about you, you are probably NOT in the 8% category.

If your customer service people yell or complain more than theysmile or laugh when they get off the phone with customers, you are NOT in the 8% category.

If your executives are not being invited to speak at industry events on a regular basis, you are NOT in the 8% category.

If your customers are increasingly pressuring you to lower your prices to match your competitors’, you are NOT in the 8% category.

Starting to get the picture?

Time to do something about it, perhaps? 😉

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1. Bad Customer Service

As a follow-up to my US air travel rants of yore, this piece by Joseph Jaffe (also a follow-up to his own rants on the same subject – his being specific to Delta Airlines):

A bunch of my colleagues experienced the delta skelter.

About 10% of the Microsoft people travelling from Atlanta to Brussels on july 21st couldn’t find their luggage in Brussels. Some of the luggage are still missing today. Among the retrieved ones, the suitcases of my lovely colleagues Valérie and Virginie… in  very bad shape (see picture). Valérie called Delta today to discuss a compensation but they asked her to call again within a week.  They obviously don’t have the time to handle her complain.

Bad goes around.

Wow. Check out the picture of the bag here. Imagine if you took your car into a mechanic’s shop for service, it came back with a huge dent in the hood and grease stains all over the seats, and the customer service manager told you “uh, yeah, sorry ’bout that… Why don’t you come back later this week when I have time to talk to you.”

Imagine any company outside of the airline industry doing this. “Sorry about your suits sir, the dry-cleaning machine must have malfunctioned. Come back later this week and we’ll see what we can do for you.” I don’t think so.

2. Bait & Switch Tactics

Seth Godin also focuses on the airline industry today with this:

I feel badly for the airline industry. They are caught in a never-ending price war due to online websites and their own commodification. Pick the cheapest flight to get from here to there…

The natural short-term solution is bait and switch. Advertise the lowest price you can imagine and then require add on fees so you can actually make a profit.

Air Canada, which my readers generally concur is the single worst major airline in North America, has a fascinating policy. No oversized duffel bags, regardless of weight, unless they contain hockey gear. No shin guards, you pay $80 a bag.

Of course, you can have whatever rules you want, even if they’re only designed to help defensemen. The problems with bait and switch are:

1. You have to be very careful to apply them equally, because people hate being treated worse than everyone else.

2. You have to be prepared for anger, resentment and brand disintegration.

 See what his answer to pain vs. pleasure is for companies like Air Canada here. (Hint: Disney has a pretty good system in place.)

3. Community Managers

Chris Brogan has a great piece on the essential skills of a community manager, which ties in nicely with the Tribalization of Business post from Monday. Some of these skills include being experienced communicators, being ambassadors and advocates all in one, being bodyguards and protectors, etc. Great post, but the real gold here is found within the comments. Here are two of my favorite:

“The great community manager is able to match the importance of the bottom line with the requirement of providing customers with a feeling of being #1. He or she is an advocate for the customer while being able to discern what is realistic ahead of time.” – Sol Young

“Not a skill, but an essential for a good community manager is to be empowered by their organization. They need to have very public, spontaneous conversations; sometimes shiny happy ones, sometimes trickier ones. Not an easy string for many companies to cut, but the only way for real conversation and communities to evolve.” – Pamela O’Hara

Join the conversation here.

Chris Abraham follows suit with this post about the importance of Community Leaders:

I woke up to an amazing article written by Jonathan Trenn, The fallacy of community, and I responded in a comment to a pretty passionate article and a passionate comment string, and here’s what I wrote — and I have expanded the argument below, so it is an expansion:

Gosh, I don’t know what to say here… there are so many different types of communities, many of which can surely be manufactured. What every successful community requires is community leadership. Community leadership can be organic and emergent or they can be hired in the form of online community managers or facilitators. A strong leadership — people who have skin in the game — is more important than a good web application; also, these community leaders are often the main draw to the community and can be the difference between keeping or losing your members when a competitor comes to town.

Read the full article here. It’s good. (Why the focus on communities all of a sudden? Whatever the reason, I like that it is on so many people’s minds.)

4. Starbucks, design, and the future

John Moore gives a sneak peek at the design of future of Starbucks stores. (kind of cool, but will it work?)

5. The writing on the wall finally gets the attention of Ford execs.

CNN reports that Ford Motor Co., faced with its largest quarterly loss ever, is finally planning to “shift product line, bringing European-made vehicles to North America.” Duh.

The company said it will make big changes to the vehicles it sells domestically – bringing six small cars made in Europe to the North American market.

Ford said that three large truck and sport utility vehicle plants in Wayne, Mich., Louisville, Ky., and Cuautitlan, Mexico would be switched over for the manufacture of small cars. Re-tooling will begin in December, the company said.

In addition to converting the three plants in North America, Ford said it will ramp up production of small utility vehicles at its Kansas City, Mo., assembly plant, including the Ford Escape, Escape Hybrid, Mercury Mariner and Mariner Hybrid.

Check out Ford’s “new” Euro offerings here. Better late than never, I guess.

6. Back to work already!

Okay, lunch break over. I have to get back to work now. Have a great Wednesday, everyone.

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Prologue: The Heelys Guestapo Incident

Heelys-haters beware: If you would rather spend your energy sniffing out Heelys-wearing kids and reprimanding their parents for letting them wear the devil’s rollershoes in your stores than being cordial and professional, maybe you’re missing the point of what your job is supposed to be in the first place. (Whatever it is, it isn’t playing detective Dickhead from the Heely Police.)

Face it: Heelys are popular. Kids wear them (heck, I wear them whenever I get a chance). And despite what you may have read or heard on the news, they aren’t any more dangerous than 3″ stilettos or 46″ waists – or both. (Perhaps less so.) The point is that they are shoes. Sure, they have a wheel built-in to the heel for when you feel like taking advantage of a slight downhill, but they are shoes first and foremost. You can walk with them without rolling around, and you can easily remove the wheel from its socket in about ten seconds flat if need be.

Now, I understand that Heelys can create some liability issues for retail businesses, and so I don’t have a problem with store managers and personel asking customers with Heelys not to roll down the breakfast cereal aisles like two-wheeled slaloming kamikazes.

I get that.

And I even don’t have a problem with store managers asking shoppers whose kids have Heelys to remove the wheels from their shoes while they are inside the store – as long as it is done gracefully.

A better solution would even be to simply welcome their customers to their store, and politely (that’s with a smile, thank you) ask them to not roll around in the store – for safety reasons: “Hey, cool shoes. You can wear those in here, but please don’t roll around, okay?”

That’s all they have to say.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the case in most stores that choose to enforce anti-Heelys guestapo tactics. Case in point: Publix. I was in there last week with the family unit, when a store employee or assistant manager or assistant meat department manager or whatever intercepted us in the middle of our shopping to inform us that Heelys were not allowed in the store and that our children would have to either change their shoes or wait outside.

Excuse me?

This is probably the place in this post where I should make a point to say that my progeny wasn’t rolling down the aisles. They were just walking. They were simply guilty of wearing a particular brand of shoes.

Here’s the thing: It’s bad enough that we have to take our shoes off to go through “security” checkpoints at our nation’s airports, but I sure as hell am not about to take my shoes off to go shopping at Publix. It isn’t like we carry an extra set of shoes for the kids just in case some asshole in a store has nothing better to do than play shoe cop instead of doing his job – which, by the way, essentially consists of being friendly to customers and making sure what I want to buy is waiting for me on the shelf.

Oh, and make sure his green apron isn’t streaked with greasy Dorito crumbs. That would be nice.

So here we are, in the frozen foods aisle, with this jackass standing in front of my wife – blocking us from going any further, telling us that our kids (who were just walking, mind you) aren’t welcome in the store because of the shoes they are wearing.

He isn’t saying this with a smile. This moron has a frown on his face and a fist on his hip, and a finger shaking at our kids’ feet.

“But they aren’t rolling,” we answer.

“It doesn’t matter,” replies jackass.

Well, okay then. We handed him the contents of out shopping cart (literally), and informed him that we would be going across the street to their competitor’s store… which we did.

Discovering that the grass is greener elsewhere

I wasn’t happy about this, because until then, I enjoyed shopping at Publix (clean aisles, friendly cashiers, nice layout, etc.) To make matters worse, I wasn’t a big fan of the shopping experience at the competitor’s store across the street. But whatever. We needed to buy some vittles, and anywhere was better than Publix – so across the street we went.

And that’s when I realized the full scope of Publix’s error of judgement.

Until our encounter with the Heelys Nazi, I had no reason to look for alternatives to Publix. In my little grocery shopping universe, it sat squarely at the top of the heap, save perhaps the Whole Foods and Fresh Markets and other “premium” grocery store brands in my general area. Other local chains like Bi-Lo, Super Walmart and Ingles were – at least in my mind – dirty, gloomy, unfriendly places where I hated to shop.

Yes, hated: I would rather pay 30% more for my gallon of skim milk at the posh and happy Publix than have to suffer the long checkout lines, unfriendly cashiers, and sorry-looking produce sections at the other stores.

But guess what: The Ingles across the street from Zig-Heil Publix had enjoyed a makeover since the last time I visited its tired, gloomy aisles, and what I saw shocked me: The gloom was gone. The produce section was twice as big as Publix and much nicer. (The produce was super fresh and bountiful too, which I didn’t expect.) Everything I could get at Publix was there as well, and then some. Ingles’ bread selection was broader. Their deli section had some stuff that Publix didn’t offer, which was a nice surprise.

But best of all, the prices were unbelievably low compared to Die Shiltzenfuhrer Publix.

$1.59 for a couple of hot, juicy, delicious giant chili dogs? $2.59 for a humongous chef salad? $4.99 for a whole rotisserie chicken? Is this possible?

It wasn’t until we got home that we realized that not only was Ingles’ store-made stuff cheaper, it also tasted better than anything made by Publix. We’ve been shopping there for the last week, and so far, haven’t missed Publix one bit.

I have come to the conclusion that I am an idiot for having been such a snob about Ingles over the last few years. I should have given it another chance a lot sooner. We could have saved a crapload of money in the process.

Autopilot purchasing habits vs. habit-busting triggers

The point of this post isn’t to sing Ingles’ praises or rub Publix’ nose in it, or even defend shoppers’ rights to wear Heelys inside stores and malls and other places of business.

Nope, the purpose of this post is to remind businesses that their customers choose to shop at their stores. They don’t have to. They choose to. If customers have a pleasant experience, they come back. If customers have a bad experience, they go somewhere else. It is that simple.

Whenever a business does something to make a customer feel disenfranchised, that customer is going to find an alternative to that business before you can even say “refund”. Bad service at Jiffy Lube? Hello Grease Monkey! Sprint dropping calls and screwing up your bill every month? Hello Verizon! Someone giving you attitude at Office Max? Hello Staples! Welcome to the wonderful world of competition and free markets: If you don’t value a customer’s greenbacks, someone near you will be more than happy to do so.

Maybe in the grand scheme of things, losing one customer’s business isn’t all that important to a company with hundreds of stores across a large portion of the US. But hey, one family is easily worth $5,000-$6,000 in revenue per year, which is nothing to sneeze at for any single store. To make matters worse, Publix can probably expect to lose a few more households to their across-the-street neighbor over the next few months, thanks to our opnion’s impact on many of our peers’ purchasing habits. By next spring, we’ll probably have moved close to a dozen families from Publix to Ingles. Hopefully more.

Yep, that’s right: Mr. Dumbassistant manager’s self-righteous bullying has probably cost his store $60K in revenue per year, just by virtue of having turned off one customer.

Imagine his impact on his store if he chases away one customer every day… Or even just two per week, if you want to give him the benefit of the doubt. He could be chasing away millions of dollars of revenue per year, just by being a dick.

The point is that we’re all set in our little shopping habits: We have our favorite gas stations, our favorite restaurants, our favorite dry cleaners, our favorite car washes, our favorite bookstores, our favorite electronics stores, and our favorite grocery stores. We are creatures of habit. It takes a trigger to get us to change our purchasing habits.

A recommendation from a friend or peer is a trigger (Yey to WOM). A special sale is a trigger. A grand opening is a trigger. A clever bit of signeage is a trigger. Effective marketing can be a trigger.

And, as Publix may or may not be aware of, a bad experience can also be a very powerful trigger.

Here’s a tip: Don’t ever let a customer leave your store angry.

Here’s another tip: Don’t ever treat a customer like a criminal when they haven’t broken any laws or caused mayhem in your store.

What the Publix Nazi did went far beyond making me angry. In truth, I would have probly gotten over it in time, and within weeks, I would have been right back at that Publix, settling into my old habits. What he did was give me a reason to go discover what his competition had to offer.

That was his mistake.

That was the outcome of his moronic decision to put aside common sense, politeness, and the values of his store, and choose instead to be a complete asshole.

If you’re a store owner or manager, let this be a warning to you: Prohibiting kids from rolling around in their Heelys inside your stores makes sense. Prohibiting kids from wearing their Heelys inside your stores is ridiculous. Worse yet, treating them and their parents like criminals when they do the latter is both bad form and bad business. They’re shoes, people. Move on. Find something better to do, like taking good care of your customers instead of policing them.

Unless you just want to hand over your best customers to your competitors, free of charge.

For shame.

Judging by how many of my kids’ friends also have Heelys, I hate to think of the volume of business being lost on a daily basis by stores more interested in mindlessly enforcing unnecessary “rules” than handling their customers with a modicum of tact and professionalism.

Kneejerk policies = Bonehead customer experience disasters.

Okay, rant over. Have a great Monday, everyone.

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