Category Archives: Customer satisfaction

The Pain of Not Having Hand

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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

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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.

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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.

Peace of Mind as a HUGE Competitive Advantage

Some of you may know that I recently moved from the Chicago area to Raleigh after some 35 years.

While I have moved away from many close family members and old friends, the person I will probably miss the most is Mr. Lee (who, like my elementary school teachers, has no known first name).

Mr. Lee runs a humble shop called North Town Auto, and took care of our out-of-warranty cars, both domestic and foreign, for many years. It helped that he was only 2 blocks from us in Northbrook (convenient to the Metra Station!). And while there are probably mechanics who could do a certain thing for a slightly lower price. I would use Mr. Lee even if it required a drive to get there.

The reason? Peace of mind. Peace of mind that the car would be fixed correctly, that I would not overpay, that I would not pay for unnecessary repairs, that things would be done on time, that if he said I needed to do something, then I actually needed to do it.  That there was service with respect and a smile.  No worries, as they say.

I had complete loyalty to Mr. Lee.  And when it comes to loyalty, peace of mind turns out to be a huge competitive advantage.

Americans spend a lot on lots of stuff. They generally don’t seem to mind spending a lot.

However, Americans HATE the thought that they might be over-spending. And they don’t want to worry about it.

Think about institutions that offer what Mr. Lee does:

  • fair price (not necessarily the lowest)
  • high quality
  • consistency in delivery – no surprises
  • customer focus – great service, you don’t need to be on guard

Here are a few that come to mind that deliver great peace of mind:

unknowntj

  • COSTCO – – once I pass through those portals with my oversized shopping cart, I’m pretty sure that anything I put in my cart is a great deal and great quality (even if in the back of my rational mind I realize that some things are better value than others)
  • Trader Joe’s – – great value, interesting selection, fun experience – 2-Buck Chuck!
  • Amazon Prime – – I know my selections will be delivered on time and at no cost
  • Tire Rack – – awesome customer service, great pricing, instant shipping – – it’s the only way to go
  • Online window treatments – seriously – – it’s so automated and competitive that you’re not going to make a big mistake
  • Spirit Airlines (just kidding!)

Here are a few organizations that seem to fall down on the peace of mind continuum – – you might be overpaying, you’re not sure of the quality delivered, etc. And that bugs you.

chipotle

  • 1-800-Flowers – – sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t
  • Chipotle – – unfortunately moved from the other list – – love their food, but still have a vestige of doubt
  • Car Dealers – – sorry, guys – no change
  • Movers, painters, realtors, various local contractors – – until you build a track record like Mr. Lee, you’re not on my speed dial.

Why is peace of mind so important? Because we’re so stressed with just the basics of surviving from day to day that we need to simplify and eliminate unnecessary decisions.

dog

While Mr. Lee is a small businessman, the Peace of Mind list includes enterprises of all sizes.  We all have our examples of who provides peace of mind and who doesn’t (would love to hear about yours).

In the end, it’s about delivering consistent, dependable value. And that’s good advice for everyone.

Customer satisfaction – the short path often beats the long road

Sometimes we need to be reminded that simple customer satisfaction is almost always the goal of most businesses – and that policies and procedures are merely means to that end.

A recent, hard-to-believe experience brought this to my attention.

Frustrated

While getting my ears lowered at my local chain haircut emporium (whose name still escapes me even after years of visits) a man came in who had apparently booked an appointment online for himself and his son.

The man was called up but asked that his son go first. The employee said that this was not possible; the computer indicated that he, not his son, was in the first position, and that it was corporate policy to do what the computer said.

The man politely but firmly mentioned that the online booking program does not allow one to enter preferences or even names of people; the order of haircut is randomly assigned – – and since it involved two family members (as opposed to two strangers), the order of haircut shouldn’t really matter.

Great Clips

Incredibly, the employee still refused to let the son go first, claiming it was “Corporate policy”.

The man understandably was confused and frustrated, but out of a surplus of good cheer he managed through the situation (after getting a more empathetic but no more satisfying repeat of the message from the store manager – “I’ll be sure to bring this up with Corporate”).

Corporate policy in this case would likely be in place for one of two reasons:

  • to avoid conflicts with two parties who have booked simultaneously
  • to gather information so that strategies and programs can be implemented to enhance the future experience of future customersShortPath

Now, I’m a big believer in insight-driven marketing; as described above it’s what one might call the ‘long road’.

HOWEVER, when the customer is standing right in front of you (or is on the phone, or in an online chat) the opportunity to create satisfaction is immediate – and needs to be taken!

As we enter the high holy season of shopping, this would be good for retailers to remember.