Category Archives: Customer satisfaction

CRM for the Holidays… don’t try this at home!

In the spastic miasma of acrimony that is apparently the new normal, one looks back fondly to Holidays past, the one time during the year where it would be possible to unplug, have a holiday movie on the TV in the background, and read cards with personal greetings from friends, with updates on what happened over the last year.

bigstock-Reading-A-Card-6013986sm

Holiday Card

More ambitious senders might include a copy of a family portrait, often taken at a tool and underwear retailer called Sears.  If particularly well-organized, they would manage to get the cards to arrive by Christmas, maybe even a week early.

Sears Holiday

It was exciting to find these hand-addressed, slightly plump cards in the mail, and display them together as a visual totem of amity.  Yes, those were the good old ancient pre-Netflix days.

Addressed CardCards displayed

As holiday activity and accompanying stress levels continued to increase, some people turned to electronic greetings or stopped altogether, but cards remained for many an annual tradition they just couldn’t bear to discontinue.
Over time, the holiday card seemingly lost its soul, with a personal message replaced by an enclosed dossier of achievements of truly exceptional people (“Timmy was accepted into the ultra-selective XYZ Day Camp…”).
Cards became less reaching out to you, more about ‘let’s talk about me’.

Obnoxious letter

Finalist in Most Obnoxious Holiday Letter Competition

Ultimately, obligation overwhelmed the pleasure of friendships as the driving force behind the sending of holiday cards.

Pretentious Card 1

Today, if you can actually find any holiday cards hidden within an endless swamp of catalogs, what you’ll see has become quite different.  These cards, often custom-made for the occasion, are on high quality stock, with stunning retouched photography of a perfect family and a printed identifying caption, maybe addressed with printed labels or even faux calligraphy.  They are beautiful.  And they are coming in hot, ahead of schedule.

Business Holiday Card

Accountants.  Not grammarians.

(Businesses, on the other hand, have kept the same printed card M.O. for decades – often using the exact same printed cards).

There is a name for this perfection:  it’s called Customer Relationship Management.  CRM is an automated way for businesses to keep in touch with their customers, in the interest of maintaining relationships.  CRM uses something called Mass Customization – – the automatic inclusion of your name in a mass mailing – – you get these all the time and are no doubt moved near tears by the thoughtfulness of Credit Card Company X to think of you and include your very own name!

People are now basically adapting CRM for their personal cards.  (“It’s Holiday Card time – – grab the ‘friend’ spreadsheet, upload a photo and let’s check that box and go to Cancun!”)

The problem is that CRM is great for businesses, not so much for actual friends.
While the gesture is admirable, spectacular production values are just no match for a heartfelt greeting – – a personal touch lets the recipient instantly know that they’re not just on your holiday contact list.

Handwriting

If the message is business focused, perhaps to let a coworker or client know you’re thinking of them (in an appropriate way of course), some nice holiday greetings can be found here.

And if you still appreciate the spirit of sending personal cards to friends, we salute you.  And for those fellow scramblers whose cards are not yet out the door, try these humble curmudgeonly tips to help bring back some of the joyful connections of the Holidays (adding these steps will of course put even more pressure on you, but isn’t stress what the holidays are about?):

  • For the friends you actually care about, consider putting some actual ink on the cards – – even if just to write your name.  Typeset names on cards look a lot like “From the offices of…”
  • Deflate the humble-brag notes. Facebook built a multi-billion-dollar business by creating a platform for family highlight reels.  We’ve known for years that your Timmy is special and we naturally extend our deep admiration to you.  But that turf is now taken and your news is old!

Most importantly, above everything else, please please please – no glitter!

JFK signature

1958 – guess who?

Advertisements

Can Technology Be More Human Than an Actual Human Interaction?

I recently had to actually drive to my bank to deposit a check.  Aside from 2 receptionists there wasn’t a single customer service person to be found (you may be familiar with the archaic term, ‘teller’ – – or the archaic term ‘check’).   At any rate, no tellers in this bank.

Video tellers

There was, however, a Las Vegas-style array of video tellers, and my instant reaction was ‘great, this is the bank version of phone customer service hell’.

My actual experience was terrific.

in this case, technology enabled a customer service interaction that was polite, competent, quick and personable.  What everyone wants, but without an actual face-to-face encounter.  Sounds almost blasphemous.

Video teller 2

Of course, this approach started as a way to cut costs, by pooling resources centrally and deploying dynamically based on demand, rather than having to staff a large number of branches.

Bank teller 3

How can what is essentially cost-saving technology surpass the traditional gold standard of a smiling face in front of you?

  • Instant gratification. Because there are a lot of them in one location, a customer service rep was immediately available. No wait = good.
  • Great video quality – – clear enough so that facial expressions were easily visible, in either direction. So a good percentage of the personal interaction was preserved.
  • It happened to be my birthday (yes, and visiting a bank made it even more special) – – and to my surprise my CSR wished me a Happy Birthday.  My account info apparently flagged this on her end, and gave her the opportunity to delight the customer – – which she did, in a very cheerful way.  Sometimes it’s the little things that count, and this one gave my CSR the opportunity to make a personal connection – – which she did.

Compare this with the traditional experience of potentially waiting for a clerk, who then might mechanically take care of your business because he or she does this a thousand times a day.

Bored Teller

Maybe, just maybe, as technology and data use continue to mature, there may actually be hope that we won’t totally have to discard our humanity just to get a little service.

Now let’s see if we can do something about humanizing customer service experience just about everywhere else.

How A Lowly Can Opener is Messing with KitchenAid’s Brand

Posted on

UPDATE TO PREVIOUS POST

We all know that a brand is like the proverbial chain that is only as strong as its weakest link – – all aspects of the brand need to reflect its core value.  Ignoring even a small link can be dangerous to your brand’s integrity.

KA Can opener

Case in point: one of a well-regarded company’s least expensive products is constantly undermining the reputation of its expensive core product line – and management has apparently decided that this is ok.

KA Mixer

KitchenAid makes high quality, and in some cases iconic appliances that command premium prices (a status brand but not as expensive as SubZero or Viking).  We’re all familiar with the classic KitchenAid stand mixers in designer colors.  I recently purchased a KitchenAid double wall oven when my old one died.  A lot had to do with trust in the KitchenAid brand.

KA Product Line

So why would they go cheap on the most prosaic of items – the manual can opener?

can opener

When one of our kids stole our standard-issue metal can opener, we went on Amazon and splurged on a KitchenAid can opener in a designer color – it looks like the Hummer of can openers – a little affordable indulgence but one that should perform great and last a long time.  The Amazon ratings showed 4 stars and over 1000 reviews.  Safe territory.

Except it didn’t work.

06f06c94-bdfb-4455-832a-3b75973f99af
Within a few months, it stumbled, stopped opening cans, capable only of spastic puncture wounds, and we ended up buying a less fancy but perfectly serviceable replacement.

Screen Shot 2018-07-31 at 9.03.23 PM

Here is where you need to be familiar with the ‘Barbell Review’.

While the brand got a 4 star rating overall, the distribution showed about 30% of the reviews were one star.  Had we bothered to read these, we would have learned that this is a product with highly inconsistent quality, and when it goes, it’s completely useless.

Some review excerpts (and there are hundreds of them):
Really disappointed that this was a KitchenAid product that didn’t outlast an off-brand opener.”
…it was defective and I really expected more from the KitchenAid name”
I’m very disappointed. Typically I love KitchenAid brand and that is why I bought this particular can opener. I would not recommend it.

Do not trust the KitchenAid brand on this one.
Unfortunately I didn’t read the reviews first because well…KITCHENAID! You wouldn’t expect to have to read reviews it’s suppose to be a good brand, this thing sucks!!!

If you’ve invested time and money to build your brand, why would you want your brand dragged through the mud?

KitchenAid has outsourced this product (to a company called Lifetime Brands) and judging by the dates on the reviews (going back to at least 2012), they’ve not bothered to change this defective design in years – – despite a lot of disappointed buyers.

So who cares?

Well, if your first experience with KitchenAid was the lowly can opener, and it failed, you will be much less inclined to buy the more expensive appliances from which KitchenAid makes its money.  There are 500 negative reviews on just one version of this product on Amazon.

The lesson here: rarely, if ever, does it make sense to market a lower quality product under a high quality brand name.  (Cadillac Cimarron, anyone?)

This goes beyond product to every encounter a consumer has with your brand.  Whether your brand stands for premium, economical, effective, snarky, eco-friendly, high-tech or whatever, it all has to be consistent. Branding 101.

In a classic demonstration of good money chasing bad, we’re sending our crippled can opener back to Lifetime Brands, which has promised to replace it.  This is all in the interest of science.  Stay tuned.

can opener mailing

$10.62 to replace a $15 product

Moral of the story – keep your brand strong and consistent, and be alert to any potential ‘can openers’ in your organization.

blue can opener

And beware the dreaded barbell review.

Is This Any Way to Treat a High Value Customer? Ask My Mother.

Posted on

Do You Know Your Most Valuable Customers?  Do they know that you love them?

ecommercecrm

It’s 10 times harder to get a new customer than to keep an existing one.  Loyal customers are more profitable and have the highest Lifetime Customer Value. They love your company already.  They have already been acquired, qualified and taken through the funnel – – you have them where you want them!

So why, with today’s sophisticated customer management systems, are loyal repeat customers too often just an afterthought?  Or missed entirely?

In today’s post we will try to demonstrate that marketers must make extra effort to identify and appreciate these great customers.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) data-based systems have given marketers the illusion that they not only know everything about their customers, but that their email outreach perfectly motivates everyone.  This is not always the case.  They don’t always get it right.  Customer targeting algorithms written too narrowly can miss the bigger picture.

Case in point: my very own Mom.

  • Mom’s primary indulgence is periodically taking her 5 kids and their families (20-25 people total) to an all-inclusive resort. Club Med has been the most frequent (but not exclusive) beneficiary. (Yes, I chose my mother extremely well). Her aggregate investment is well into 6 figures over the past 20+ years she’s been doing this.

ClubMed1

In the case of Club Med, the algorithm failed.  They were focused on the last 3 years only.  And they completely missed the fact that she’s a long-time customer who brings a group. Mom turns out to be a mere Turquoise!  A rookie in their eyes!

ClubMed2

ClubMed3

———

ClubMed6

  • Mom selects the location, makes the reservations and all expenses go through her. She has 99% of the decision-making power on where we go. She should be a Big Kahuna to Club Med. They should make sure she’s happy, show their appreciation, and make every effort to acknowledge her loyalty.

ClubMed5

————-

ClubMed4

  • Yet Club Med scores loyalty on a per-person visit basis over the last 3 years. So despite influencing a lot of spending, Mom is classified as entry-level Turquoise, with the same status as a 10-year old who goes along with her parents. There is no acknowledgement at the corporate level, and none at the local Club level – – no one has told them who this is. No bottle of wine or fruit in the room. No upgrade. No ‘thank you for your continued loyalty’. Nothing.

ClubMed7

  • Small victory!  But it took a lot of effort.  Shouldn’t have to.
  • What defines your best customers? Longevity? Frequency? Cumulative $ spent?  Early adopters of new products?  This is really important to figure out.

Club Med of course doesn’t want to ignore their best customers. It’s just that their system isn’t set up to recognize them all the time.  To their credit, they handled my email rant with grace – – and came through in the end.

ClubMed8


ClubMed9

——–

So figure out who your best customers are and take care of them!

Right after you take care of your mother.

 

Too Many Surveys? We’d Love your Opinion

I just finished a lengthy (20 min.) survey regarding a recent vacation, only to have my input erased due to technical issues. Getting a lot of this lately.

Restroom Survy

Not elbow-friendly buttons

Marketers have become entranced by the ability to survey consumers at very low cost. This is a seeming game-changing alternative to custom studies that can easily get into 4 or 5 figures or more. Technology has made it possible to survey via email, phone and even in restrooms!

What’s not to like?

Well, as a consumer, I’ll tell you what’s not to like. We are getting surveyed to death.  Ironically, more surveys might be leading to lower quality insights.

Survey montage

If, like The Armchair MBA, you use your inbox as a de facto filing tool, search for ‘survey’ or ‘what do you think’ or ‘your opinion’ and see what you get.

The answer is: lots. In addition to follow-up questions on every Amazon purchase, flight segment, taxi, Uber or car rental you take, everyone is getting into the act.

The dangers of over-surveying are:

  • Response rate/burnout.  The more surveys people receive, the fewer they’re likely to fill out. This reduces the number of qualified respondents.
  • Bias. Just as you don’t want to use the plumber who’s always available, you don’t want to hear just from respondents who always have time to fill out online surveys.
  • Response quality. More surveys = less time per survey. Responses that are rushed are more likely to be cursory and of low quality, particularly late in a survey.
  • Annoyance. A company that always has its hand out for info is going to wear out its welcome, or minimally get diminishing response.

All of these things can result in worse, rather than better, information.

So here are a few things you can do to maximize the usefulness of your surveys.

  1. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.   In short, don’t survey if you don’t need to. Make the surveys you do conduct meaningful. Maximize use of info you already have. If you’re tracking attitudes over time, make sure you’re asking in a way where the trends are valid. Again, avoid unnecessary surveying just for the sake of surveying. This makes the surveys you send stand out more.
  2. Keep it short. No one has time for lengthy, repetitive surveys. Promise brevity in your subject line or where it will show as a thinly disguised plea in the preview pane.
  3. Offer something in return. This can be free goods, discounts, a chance to win a prize, whatever. Again, get this across in the subject line or preview area or it doesn’t matter.   Brevity + bribery is a good combination.Survey-brevity

Survey-Incentive4.  Promise to share results of the survey. This is the researcher’s click-bait, especially if it’s something of high interest.  Related, give the respondent some level of belief that the results will actually result in something good being done.

5.  Flatter the potential respondent. ‘We’d like your expert opinion’, etc. As long as Pride is still one of the Seven Deadly Sins, this will have some effect.

Survey-Flattery

And finally, tip #6 – – don’t put a push-button survey machine in a restroom.

Survey 1

The Pain of Not Having Hand

Posted on

Don’t you hate it when you want your money back and have no leverage?  Explanation of this (and ‘Hand’) follows.

This is about companies who put barriers in place to enable them to hold onto your money until they wear you out.  A war of attrition.  Things like unreachable customer service, phone personnel with no names who cannot be recontacted, endless phone wait times, etc.   We’ve all been there.  Some of you are probably on hold with someone right now!

My goal is always to have a ‘So What’ in my posts but other than stopping transacting altogether, I am not sure how to preemptively protect against this!  So I’m open to suggestions.

So that’s your challenge, dear readers.  For the good of humanity, help us find a solution.

The basic model has been around:  exploit human nature.

gift cardskitchen junk drawer

It used to go something like this: you get a gift card and the issuer gets the revenue and records future redemption as a liability. You put it in the kitchen ‘everything’ drawer next to your frequent shopper cards from 1995, never redeem it, company books revenue with no expense. Nice! Called ‘breakage’ in accounting, commonly known as ‘slippage’ in consumer goods.  Coupons are issued, people don’t bother redeeming, etc.

This new version is more insidious and aggravating. As George Costanza might say, we have no hand!  And they know it!

Here’s how it works (examples below):

  • You transact something online
  • You provide payment via credit card
  • Something goes sideways, not due to anything you did
  • Supplier has your money, and very little motivation to give it back
  • You now spend considerable unplanned time and energy fighting with the supplier to reclaim your own money

Case study 1: Booked AirBNB for about $1600 for a week; they (and owner) got payment in advance. Upon arrival, property has significant water leaks, which are being repaired, rendering it uninhabitable. AirBNB is contacted, situation explained, they offer $400 refund afterward and refuse to discuss the matter further.  Boo, AirBNB!

Case study 2: Rented car with GPS. GPS didn’t work. Took over an hour and several emails just to get back the $30.  Boo, Fox Car Rental! 

Case study 3: Moved across the country. $17k total bill, which required payment in full ahead of time (apparently this is standard operating procedure, which is itself worthy of a separate conversation). Move happened 3 days late, which created additional expense for friends who flew in to help with the move, and which technically qualified as a ‘late delivery’ by the mover.  Several items broken. After huge effort and many hours and emails, result was a check for $20 we got in the mail. Zero hand in this one.  Double Boo, North American Van Lines!

Case study 4: WSJ inexplicably stops being delivered one Friday. Go to handy online notification area but service is down. Chat is not manned yet (it’s before 8). Phone line also not available. Paper doesn’t come on Saturday either, make several online entreaties to both email and chat. Now start getting 2 (identical) papers on Monday. Issue finally settled on Tuesday.  Boo, WSJ!

I could go on.  I’m sure we all could.

In fairness, these infuriating episodes are balanced by the transparency and customer satisfaction focus of many excellent online retailers, who understand something about customer satisfaction and loyalty.

In all of the cited cases the supplier messed up, but the burden was on the consumer to spend the significant effort to (maybe) get a satisfactory reimbursement.  There is no Online People’s Court to help resolve these issues.   I personally resent having to spend precious time just to claim what is mine in the first place!

Sure, over the long haul corporate reputations can be harmed, penalizing bad behavior.  But I don’t want to wait for the long haul.

How can we fix this?

Fail your way to customer satisfaction

Posted on

While there are scholarly arguments on both sides of ‘how much service is too much service’ (yeah, HBR, I’m looking at you), The Armchair MBA suggests that in going above and beyond in solving a customer issue, the customer may end up more satisfied than if they didn’t have a problem in the first place!

unhappy

The end result is that you can basically turn that customer frown upside-down, and perhaps even translate that into loyalty – – but it takes effort and commitment.

Net – sometimes it’s the effort – – listening, promptly replying, admitting guilt when appropriate, empathizing with the customer, and making it right – – that makes the difference.  Customers appreciate that you care, even if they don’t get all they want.

A few personal stories illustrate the point.

1) Delta – NOT ready when I was
Recently I was a casualty of the Delta Airlines meltdown, where storms early in the week caused cancellations all week due to Delta’s inability to adjust.

image1-3

The impact on me was that I had to rent a car and endure a nasty overnight drive from Providence to Raleigh NC (there were no other flights available).

delta miles

How did Delta handle it?

  • I got several outreach emails from various Delta departments acknowledging the failure and apologizing
  • Delta immediately (at the counter of the cancelled flight) refunded my fare 100%, no questions asked
  • I subsequently received a goodwill 20,000 frequent flier miles

Prior to this episode I was not committed to Delta one way or the other. But this mea culpa demonstration (without me asking), especially compared to how United dealt with its own PR issue at around the same time, has me leaning positively toward Delta.

2) 360fly, Inc. makes what is essentially a baseball-sized 360° GoPro. I ordered one for work, but it was delivered without one of the camera mounts I had ordered. After a few weeks I brought this to their attention.

360fly

Their response: they immediately apologized for the error, sent me the missing mount, and sent me an additional mount as compensation for my inconvenience.

My impression of them went from ‘small company, not particularly well-organized’ to ‘small company, maybe not so well organized but heart in the right place and committed to the customer’. This translates to my discussing them positively (including this post).

3) 1-800 Flowers. I’ve used these guys for years, with mixed results. When I had flowers and a balloon sent to my mother recently, the balloon, while in the photo of the item, wasn’t delivered.  (the inclusion of a balloon was an inside joke).

1800flowers

I sent a gentle email and the immediate result was:
– an apology from the head of customer service, assuring me that the photo would be adjusted so as to not be misleading
– an apology from someone way higher in the food chain
– an immediate reduction in the bill in the amount of the balloon (even though I hadn’t paid for a balloon separately)
– a generous coupon for next purchase
– a balloon appeared on my mother’s door THAT SAME DAY!  WOW!*

*when this happened, it was hard to believe – – what a great demonstration of making it right!  Turns out hard to believe was accurate.  1-800-Flowers did not in fact send a balloon to my mom- – someone else coincidentally did at the same time.  But still, they did a great job.

I’m sure everyone has an experience where they were ready to go to battle with a company, only to have the company respond with such aggressive goodwill that the complainer was turned into a fan.

The secret, in addition to what’s mentioned above?

To be able to solve a customer issue over and above their expectations, you must screw up once in a while.
Excellence on a regular basis sets an expectation.

On the other hand, periodic screw-ups with excellent resolution makes a more compelling impression.