24 hours of customer service fails

Note: This article first appeared on TheCustomer.net and is re-published here with permission.

Last week, I experienced four customer service fails in less than 24 hours. What was interesting was that none of them were human error – and every rep that I interacted with seemed friendly, (somewhat) empathetic, and professional. Instead, it was clear that each case involved a process and system breakdown – clearly none of which were installed with the customer in mind.

My day started with a call to Ikea. I had just taken a couch out of storage and put it together the night before. Unlike when you usually build Ikea furniture and have pieces left over, I was missing the feet. These are seven plastic cones that screw directly into the couch. I looked up the items on Ikea’s website but you can’t buy them online. So, I called the call center and spoke to a service rep. I told them that I had misplaced them and inquired whether it was possible to purchase new ones. Bizarrely, Ikea wouldn’t sell them to me because I didn’t have my original order number from when the couch was purchased. I asked if I could go to the store or whether there was another way to get them, but there was no way for the rep to override the system, and it left me out of luck.

Next up, I called Varo Bank. Varo is one of the fast growing “fintech” banks that are supposedly different from traditional banks – it’s digital-first, there are cool features that you don’t find at traditional banks, and everything is supposed to “just work.” Until it doesn’t. I had sent a check to someone via their app – a neat feature that negates the need for a checkbook. Although it would be even better if the check arrived in the 3-9 days that the bank promised. I called the bank to figure out when I could let the recipient know it would arrive – the money had already been removed from my account.

It started with trying to navigate an IVR that didn’t have any prompts that remotely met my needs. There was also no way to go back in the IVR menu, so I kept hanging up and starting again. Eventually, I picked the closest prompt I could find, and was told that my wait time would be more than 60 minutes. There was no opportunity for a call back. And, they were right – after an hour and twenty-three minutes somebody answered the phone. I explained my issue, and the rep told me that she wasn’t the right person – she worked for Varo Money and not Varo Bank, and she put me on hold to transfer me to someone. else. After another 15 minutes on hold, I had to hang up for a work call. I sent an email to see if I could get the question answered and was told that I would get a response in 4-5 days. So, the next day I tried again. After being told once again that my wait time would be more than an hour, I sat on hold for two hours and eight minutes. This time I got someone from Varo Bank who told me that the check should arrive in the next two days. After almost three hours of hold time, I received an answer in less than 2 minutes – although I’m still waiting to see if the check gets there as promised.

That afternoon – since obviously I hadn’t had enough punishment or enough of frustrating financial institution experiences – I ran out to do some errands. I had been sent a check for a speech that I had given, and even though it was issued in US dollars, the issuing bank was in Canada so I couldn’t use the phone app to deposit the check. So, I went to a CapitalOne branch where a very nice teller explained that it would take up to 14 days to clear, and gave me a photocopy of my check in case I needed to prove that it had been deposited, which didn’t exactly fill me with confidence.

And, then I went to Bed Bath & Beyond to pick up a BOPIS (buy online, pick up in store) order that my wife had ordered earlier that day. I arrived about 20 minutes after the recommended pick-up time, but the item wasn’t ready so I went into the store to inquire. A really helpful young store associate earnestly set off to investigate. After about 15 minutes, he came back to say he was still working on it, but that they had a lot of orders. I wasn’t the only person standing there waiting for their BOPIS order. After another 10 minutes, he came back with the manager and two alternative products in his hands that I could pick from as they didn’t have the item my wife had ordered – and paid for – online. It took them another 10 minutes to figure out the refund and charge for the product that I was then going to purchase instead. To rub salt in the wound, the very next day I received a generic coupon in the mail for 20% off any purchase at BB&B —addressed to me or the household — despite the fact that my wife is a Beyond+ member who gets 20% off every purchase.

As I mentioned, all of the people that tried to help me were very professional and seemed to want to help. Unfortunately, they were hamstrung by their employers’ systems and policies.

Entitled customers don’t want to wait two weeks for an international check to clear when they can send money around the world in seconds – and are even less inclined when the check is issued in the local currency. They also won’t accept a company’s absurd policies – I went elsewhere to get feet for my couch and Ikea lost the potential for that (minor) sale and the possible loss of future sales, since I’ll be less inclined to shop there in the future. And, entitled consumers who measure every company’s experience against the best experiences that they receive elsewhere now consider failures of supply chain to be failures of experience. Companies are left with nowhere to hide – it’s too easy for us as consumers to see through the system, policy, and process failures, and to take our business elsewhere.

Put yourself in your customers flip-flops

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Every now and then, I’m fortunate enough to have a client engagement close to home. During one recent example, I was on my way to meet a client at The Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach. My Lyft driver was a retired college professor who had taught business strategy at Drexel University for many years. He shared a wonderful anecdote about the first time he came to the Breakers in the 1970s with his wife. They were co-teaching a course, and the agenda was fairly light. In fact, they didn’t need to show up in the mornings until 10 a.m.

Unfortunately, for them, The Breakers was building an upscale condominium complex on the property, now known as Breakers Row. Every morning, the jackhammers and cement mixers would start up at 8 a.m. jolting them out of their illusions of paradise.

One night over drinks, one of the course members commented to my driver on the hotel’s beauty. The driver agreed and said that everything had been wonderful, but that he regretted how early the construction noise started every morning. When they got back to their room that night, they found a bowl of chocolate covered strawberries and a note apologizing for the inconvenience caused by the construction, and letting them know that for the remainder of their stay, construction would not start until 9 a.m.

A waitress or bar tender had overheard their conversation, noted their room number, informed their manager, and someone took the time to call the construction company, figure out a solution, and put themselves in their customer’s flip-flops.

As we’ve mentioned before, we get pushback from marketers when we use examples of USAA, Amazon, and Disney. Some marketers believe that it’s easier for them because of the resources at their disposal. But we always point out that customer-first behavior starts with a mindset. Without that, any investment in technology or process is going to be wasted. The Breakers didn’t use fancy listening platforms or big data solutions – just respectful empathy and a desire to deliver a world class experience to every customer.

Sephora’s customer focus is simply brilliant (and, at times, brilliantly simple)

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I get pushback when I point to Disney, USAA, or T-Mobile as examples of companies that excel at consumer-first marketing or customer-centricity. People argue that these companies have some sort of unfair advantage or extenuating circumstance that somehow makes focusing on the customer easier for them. But, even if you’re not trying to be the next Disney or USAA, every company can improve – and that starts with a mindshift, and doesn’t have to involve spending lots of money upfront.

To make the point, I usually turn to Tom Boyles, former SVP of global customer managed relationships at Disney Parks & Resorts. Tom spent most of his career in banking, and would point out that his opportunity to connect with customers at Disney was no greater than at any other stage in his career. He once told me that people would look at him and say, “it’s easy for you to connect emotionally with customers. You’ve got everything from Mickey Mouse to Johnny Depp at your disposal.” But, Tom would turn that around and ask them, “what’s more emotional than the roof over the head of your family, your ability to send your children to college, or your ability to afford your retirement?” Mortgages, 529 accounts, and 401Ks could be boring products to promote, but if you put yourself in your customer’s shoes and understand their emotional connection, it makes it a heck of a lot easier.

I’m not naive. I know that Disney spent more than $1 billion upgrading the customer experience at its parks. But, one of the reasons I point to Disney as a great example of a consumer-first business is because of the small things that it does. Look back at Tom’s title. He wasn’t running the CRM team. It was CMR – Customer managed relationships. Why? Because they believe that the customer owns the relationship and not the company. In Marketing to The Entitled Consumer, we reference the story of a security guard at a Disney park asking little girls that were dressed as princesses for their autographs.

I love finding small examples that demonstrate a firm’s commitment to being customer-first. Last week, on LinkedIn, I posted a picture of two stacks of shopping baskets in a Sephora store. The baskets are in two colors – one indicates that the shopper would like to be assisted and the other that they would like to be left alone. The response to my LinkedIn post has been tremendous. Thousands of people have viewed the post and hundreds have liked or commented. As I said in that post, customer-centricity and customer experience start with a mind shift – by putting yourself in your customer’s shoes.

Sephora is another one of those companies that I point to as an example of a consumer-first business. They’ve shown over the years a commitment to understanding and providing value to their customers. But, what I loved about this example was its simplicity. You don’t have to invest a billion dollars as Disney did to overhaul your entire process and system. Instead, you can change your outlook – truly consider what is valuable to your customers and make small, incremental changes that can have major impacts on your customer’s experience.

What causes hostility towards brands?

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When my former colleage Augie Ray posted recently that he has “given up on Amazon until they become a better employer and corporate citizen” it set me thinking. I realized something about how I patronize different brands. When I favor a brand, it’s often due to aligned values — I’m willing to spend more at Patagonia, for example, than at many of their competitors. Yes, they produce a quality product, but I also respect, and am willing to compensate them, for their principles.

I once commented that some companies seem to engage in “concerted acts of hostility” rather than “random acts of kindness.” And, unlike Augie’s principled stand against Amazon, I realized that when I have blacklisted brands, it’s almost always due to negative customer experience – or concerted act of hostility. There are companies that I refuse to patronize. For example:

  • I once rented a car from Hertz to drive to Miami airport. When I missed my flight, I ended up driving back home. I went back to Hertz, was given the same car, which hadn’t even been cleaned yet, and they charged me for two one-way rentals (which was significantly higher than returning it to the same rental center, even though I ultimately did).
  • Avis isn’t any better. They recently charged me for an extra day when returning a car that was 20 minutes late. They failed to take into consideration the fact that I received it late — waiting in line for more than an hour to pick it up — two days previously.
  • Uber has pissed me off in so many ways, but the final straw was when I ordered from UberEats when my son was in hospital. The driver drove in the opposite direction for 20 minutes to deliver a different order, and took more than an hour to actually get our food to us. When I spoke to customer service, initially they hung up on me. When I dialled back, they denied that he dropped off another order, finally admitted that he did, and then told me that our food was delivered within their permitted window. The food was cold and congealed. The customer service was just cold.
  • I live two doors away from a hotel in Palm Beach – The Tideline. It has a beautiful outdoor patio which we should love to frequent. We used to go their occasionally for breakfast or lunch, but the service is so bad that it was hard to keep going back. The final straw was when my son and I were sitting at the Sushi bar eating dinner, and were informed that we wouldn’t be able to order for 45 minutes because they had just received a large order. This had happened to my wife and I previously (although not in the middle of our meal). Beause it had happened before, and we had previously been told the cause, I asked them if it was because the owner had put in the order. And, they confirmed it. So, the billionaire owner of the hotel would rather interrupt a patron’s dinner so that he can be served. I’m not spending any more of my money at his establishment.
  • I once drove more than an hour for an appointment at the Cleveland Clinic. After waiting another hour to be seen, I was told that the doctor I was waiting to see was not an ENT specialist – which is why I had set up the appointment to see him. The RN was pleasant about it, but we canceled the appointment. I pointed out to the receptionist what had happened, and she didn’t seem to care. Nobody ever followed up with me either to apologize or to schedule with an actual ENT specialist.

To complicate matters, I do know that my expectations are higher for the Cleveland Clinic than for other hospitals. This is mainly due to having heard from their executives while I was at Forrester, about how much emphasis they place on customer experience. When they failed to meet basic courtesy, yet claim to value CX, I gave up on them.

I had a similarly nuanced experience with JetBlue. I used to hold them to a higher standard due to the experiences that I had enjoyed. When they let me down, badly, on a subsequent occassion, I stopped flying them for a while. Then, when I began to fly with them again, I changed how I thought about them. I now think of them as just another uncaring airline. They’re no worse than the others, but I no longer think of them as better. And, then there’s brands like Comcast, that I’d love to avoid, but I live in a condo which has a monopolistic relationship with the company. I live with them, but loath them.

I don’t have the answers on this one, but I’m intrigued to explore further. Do shared values lead to higher loyalty, while negative experiences lead to hostility? Certainly for me, that’s the case, but what’s your experience?

 

Good customer support can instill loyalty

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Although I own a lot of Apple products, I don’t consider myself a fan-boy. If anything, I’m constantly on the edge of giving up. Every time my Apple products don’t work the way they’re supposed to (isn’t ease-of-use a big part of the promise?) I start thinking about giving the Pixel phone a go or trying to work with a Surface or chromebook.

Usually, inertia takes over. I realize the effort it would take to manage and migrate my photos and music, and there’s the need to re-learn which way to scroll and which corner to click to minimize a window. None of it is insurmountable, but the magnetism of the new just isn’t strong enough to overcome the habits of the present (with a hat tip to Jobs to be Done research for this description).

But then I had a great customer support experience that guarantees my loyalty for the foreseeable future and raises the bar for the support team of every other company that I ever interact with. Without boring you with the technical challenge, I contacted Apple’s customer support team and, after some time, my case was escalated to a manager. As well as regular troubleshooting, at a couple of stages I had to send logs for him to forward to engineers.

When we first spoke, he told me that he would remain on my case until it was resolved. It took several days, but he was true to his word. What shocked me was his communication and tenacity. He told me exactly which days he was working and when he would follow up. He arranged specific times to call me and then called me at those times. He explained as much technical detail as I wished to know – and didn’t overwhelm or bore me with the rest. In short, he owned my case. He wouldn’t let go until it was resolved and I was satisfied.

My expecations of every company’s support are now so much higher, and my appreciation for Apple has pushed thoughts of Google, Microsoft, or Samsung to the very back of my mind.

adidas shows how to demonstrate shared values

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I’m not exactly a fan of (American) Football. But, when you live in Florida, you can’t avoid the hype – especially as it relates to college football. This weekend the University of Miami will kick-off their season against LSU, which ordinarily wouldn’t interest me in the slightest. However, one story that caught my eye is that the Miami team uniforms will be made of repurposed and recycled materials. 

The uniforms were created by adidas in partnership with Parley For The Oceans – a partnership that began a few years ago with a limited edition sneaker, and has grown to include other partnerships with Stella McCartney, iconic European (round ball) football teams such as Manchester United, Juventus, and Real Madrid, World Cup national teams, and now, the Miami Hurricanes.

I first became aware of the adidas-Parley relationship last Christmas. My son wanted a pair of their sneakers, and I honestly thought the recycled plastic thing was a gimmick. But, at the same time, I was happy that he thought it was important. And, we had told him he could pick his own pair.

Since I saw the Hurricanes news, I clicked through to a few other articles and was really impressed with adidas’ strategy and commitment. This is no gimmick. Some of their shoes built with recycled materials are highly rated by serious runners and magazines. In 2017, adidas sold 1 million pairs of these shoes, is aiming for 5 million this year, and hopes to only use recycled plastic in its shoes by 2024

This is actually a really impressive demonstration of aligning with customer values. There’s so much bluster about straws and plastic bags in the news these days, and here’s a major brand quietly making a difference. In June and July, more than 900,000 runners participated in adidas and Parley’s “Run for the Oceans” – completing more than 12 million kilometers, including at events in 15 major world cities. adidas also put its money where it’s social consciousness is and matched the first million kilometers run with $1 per km in funding for Parley Ocean School initiatives.

In Miami, after the game, the adidas x Parley A1 jerseys will be auctioned off, with proceeds to benefit the world renowned University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (RSMAS).

In Marketing to the Entitled Consumer, we advocate that brands should “align company values with your consumers’ values.” adidas gives a perfect example of how to execute on this principle.

Enjoy the long weekend – and, if you’re into it, enjoy the game!

What’s your whining channel of choice?

Screen Shot 2018-08-28 at 9.33.58 AMI was listening to a podcast this morning when the interviewee mentioned that his twitter account had just been verified. If you didn’t know, Twitter verifies “accounts of public interest” so that the public can know that each is an authentic account. The interviewer, who already has a verified account, quipped that the best thing about that was that the interviewee’s complaints would now be dealt with more quickly by companies.

I laughed, and then I realized the inherent message. Some communications channels are better than others for whining. And, I know I’m guilty too. I’ve shouted into the Twitter ether (tweether?) at Comcast, US Airways (now part of American), Avis, ProFlowers, Starwood Hotels, JetBlue, and countless others.

For sure, there’s something cathartic about firing off a tweet in the moment to bitch about some shoddy service or deplorable experience. But, there’s more to it than that. Generally, you’re far more likely to get a response via Twitter than calling a service center (many of which have caused the present consternation in the first place). The social teams at most brands are really quick to respond to questions and complaints on Twitter. Of course, it helps that they know that your followers, and their followers will see your tweet and their response.

Few social teams are empowered to resolve your concern, although I have had some success with teams helping route me to the right people to resolve an issue. But, the cynic in me would say that a major part of their role is to remove the conversation from the public view, and prevent the negative story from gaining traction.

Let me take the example of ProFlowers. In May, my wife received flowers from a friend which were dry and shrivelled when they arrived. My wife called the customer service team who sent a new bouquet. This happened three times. By now, they were sending free vases and had refunded my wife’s friend. I took to twitter after the third screw-up, and the ProFlowers team responded within 15 minutes. They were apologetic, and gave me an email address that I was expected to contact to come to a resolution. Since, I didn’t expect anything to change, I didn’t email them. But, they succeeded in making it look like they were concerned and responsive. However, I will never buy anything from ProFlowers. I will never recommend ProFlowers. I will be an active brand assassin every time I tell this story.

What ProFlowers, and most other companies, fail to realize is although they quashed the public conversation, they didn’t resolve my issue. They never followed up. They lost my trust. They showed that they are not consumer-first. And, they’ve earned a brand assassin as a result. It’s not enough to deal with and try to limit or hide the whining. Understand the customer’s real concern, and do everything you can to make it right. That’s consumer-first. And, it’s critical when seeking to engage and build relationships with entitled consumers.

Crocs and boors and friends, oh my!

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A couple of weeks ago, I bought my son a pair of crocs. Typically, I’d buy something like this from Amazon, but the size and color he wanted wasn’t available so I bought them directly from the Crocs website. Since then, I have received an email every single day from Crocs. The first one – apart from the order confirmation – was a welcome email thanking me for my support and promising to keep me posted on all their “best sales events, new product releases, unique discounts, and special offers.” I had no idea how diligently they would deliver on that promise to keep me posted. And, not that I buy crocs very often, but so far all they’ve done is train me that paying full price is a really stupid idea because I’m likely to get a 40 or 50% off email every day.

Except that I won’t get that email. I unsubscribed. I don’t want to get their lunch special, or to ‘stay connected and share the crocs love’, or even to ‘get comfortable with 50% off.’ Crocs has acted like what Nick, Josh, and I call a loudmouthed boor. We compare these boors to someone that comes to your house and won’t shut up –  talking about what’s important to him, without making any effort to understand what’s going on in your life. And, once a boor thinks he knows you, he’ll text you, email you, show up in your Facebook feed, and follow you all around town. If that sounds like your company’s approach, unfortunately, you’re not alone.

The alternative is to act like a friend – someone who considers what’s going on in your life and how they can help you. We interviewed Susan Fournier –  who next week will become the next dean of the Questrom School of Business – for Marketing to the Entitled Consumer. Together with Jill Avery of Harvard and John Wittenbraker of market research firm GfK, she penned a great HBR article that dives deep into the different types of friendships that people have with brands. We provide a synopsis in the boook, but the full article is well worth a read if you’re trying to shed your boorish ways.

The changing face of malls, and retail success

IndochinoI don’t go to malls very often. But I went yesterday with my wife and son to get some back-to-school gear for my son. I was struck by two things. First, there were very few empty spaces. I keep reading about how Amazon will lead to the death of retail and how malls are suffering. And, maybe they are. But, I expected a far more depressing experience than the one we had. And, yes, some of that might be related to my low expectations.

The bigger surprise for me though was the number of brands that I think of as online brands that had their own storefront – I noticed Casper, Untuckit, Peloton, and INDOCHINO. Maybe, I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, we interviewed INDOCHINO CEO, Drew Green and featured the company’s success in Marketing to the Entitled Consumer. According to Drew, brands like INDOCHINO are opening physical stores because:

  • The aforementioned retail apocolypse makes real estate more affordable;
  • Employees, known as Style Guides at INDOCHINO, focus on helping the consumer get what they want – and not just selling whatever inventory is in stock at the time;
  • Style Guides also provide expert measurements to ensure customer’s clothes fit perfectly;
  • Retail is a marketing channel – it provides brand exposure, an opportunity to boost customer experience, and customers that start their relationship in a store go on to order more confidently online.

I don’t know if all of these reasons apply to the other brands that I saw – INDOCHINO is a great example of a Consumer-First business. But, there’s no doubt that these businesses are changing the face of malls. Who knows what they’ll look like the next time I visit if my record of once-every-few-years holds up!

Best Buy thrives by delivering value to customers

Best Buy should be dead

Bloomberg Businessweek; July 19, 2018

In Marketing to the Entitled Consumer, we demonstrate how a focus on reciprocal value forges strong customer relationships. We show how companies can gain a sustainable edge by finding new ways to deliver value to consumers. And, we argue that once you have created value for customers, you must build on that value, creating a consistent reputation for giving customers what they feel entitled to—or what they will feel entitled to once they get used to it.

During my Forrester Research days, I always enjoyed speaking to the CRM team at Best Buy and often quoted one of their communications mantras: “give, don’t take.” What they meant was that they tried to find ways to provide value to customers in their communications, and not to focus on extracting value from them. In the years since, like many other retailers, Best Buy struggled. In fact, it almost collapsed during the great recession, losing $1.7 billion in one quarter in early 2012.

Yet, with a new CEO and a significant focus on delivering reciprocal value, Bloomburg Businessweek recently published a feature emphasizing that Best Buy is not only still alive, but thriving. I saw a few of the examples that we recommend companies follow to build reciprocal value:

  • Enhance your product or service. Best Buy introduced the role of “in-home advisors” which it describes as personal chief technology officers. Hubert Joly, Best Buy’s CEO who has led the change at the company, describes how advisors “…can talk about what’s possible, be human, make it real.” And, he adds that it can be “a great way to make a sale, but it’s also the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” We love this way of thinking, In Marketing to the Entitled Consumer, we point out that “a marketer who treats you like a friend is always to going to be looking for opportunities to give you a little bit more of the things you like best.”
  • Reduce consumer effort. One of the things that’s really cool about the advisor role is how they seemlessly coordinate with Best Buy’s Geek Squad team which helps with repairs and installations. In the Bloomberg Businessweek story, an advisor identifies a customer need to connect their electronics and she is able to arrange for a Geek Squad member to show up within the hour. No hassle. No battery of phone calls. No effort on the customer’s behalf.
  • Solve the consumer’s broader problem. The in-home advisory program grew out of Best Buy’s strategic growth office, which the article refers to as “a safe space for ideas.” The program has three rules: no job is too small; we will come to your home for free; and we will be comfortable not closing a deal. Advisors are tasked with, and trained to, identify a customers need and to speak with the customer in terms of value. They set out to help customers achieve a broad objective, such as making their home “smart” or connecting all of their disparate technologies.

If this all feels too daunting or too far above your pay grade. Don’t despair. Pick ideas that you can implement and start small. One of my favorite aspects of the article is a theory that Joly refers to as the bicycle theory. He points out that “If you try to direct a bicycle at standstill, you fall. The key is to get moving,”