Archive for the ‘Consumer services’ Category
Two days ago my water heater tried to kill me.
It started with a leak last week. Fortunately, our water heater sits in a drain pan in the attic, so the leak wasn’t dripping through the ceiling. But it was a leak nonetheless, and needed fixing.
So we placed a phone call and the plumbers came, put in a new water heater, and left.
Then they came back a couple hours later because we noticed a growing water stain on our ceiling and a steady drip-drip-drip onto the kitchen floor. Turns out someone had jostled a valve loose in the installation process. Whoops.
Then the plumber asked my wife if she wouldn’t mind just keeping this leak thing between them rather than getting his boss involved. Clearly this guy was one misstep away from getting fired (which always inspires confidence). He reassured us that once the ceiling dried, the sagging would disappear and a quick coat of primer would cover up the water stain.
Then on the way out the door, the plumber mentioned “hey, you might want to have someone take a look at the plug on that water heater, it looks a little corroded.” In other words, I just fixed your water heater but there’s something wrong with your water heater and it’s not my problem any more, good luck and see ya!
Over the weekend we discovered that the water heater was a bit too aggressive for a house with young children, so I headed up to the attic to adjust the thermostat. By this time we’d already placed a call for the corroded wire, but in the meantime I needed to turn the heat down.
If you’ve never adjusted your water heater temperature before, it’s a five-step process:
- Safety first: unplug water heater before opening panel to adjust temperature.
- Note with concern that the water heater plug seems stuck in the outlet. Maintain precarious balance on beams while trying to jostle plug loose.
- Make slight progress in removing the plug halfway from the outlet, observe with greater concern that one prong seems to have separated from the plug, then yank hand quickly away as SPARKS AND FLAMES begin to shoot out from the outlet.
- Scream obscenities at aforementioned SPARKS AND FLAMES while frantically trying to pull the plug completely out of the outlet without falling through the ceiling.
- Go back downstairs, turn off the water heater circuit breaker, and run the dishwasher before all the hot water cools off.
So why am I using a plumber who left behind a water stain on our ceiling and a fire hazard in our attic? Two words: home warranty.
The home warranty is also why it took several days and two followup calls from the time the corroded wire was originally reported until an electrician showed up at our house. In an unmarked truck. After not calling to set an appointment.
I’m not too pleased with my home warranty right now. Surprised?
Whatever your business, there’s a lesson here. When you make a promise to your customers and depend on someone else to keep that promise, you are vulnerable. Your brand is in someone else’s hands. Maybe it’s an installer, or a contractor, or a consultant, or a marketing agency, or a research firm.
Stop thinking about your suppliers as suppliers and start thinking about them as ambassadors for your company and your brand. If that scares you, you may need to rethink some of your relationships.
I sure wish my home warranty provider would.
And the award for the best commencement speech of the year goes to…
David McCullough Jr!
Mr. McCullough, an English teacher at Wellesley High School in Massachusetts, took to the stage a couple weeks ago with an extraordinarily blunt reminder for hundreds of high school graduates. It’s a 12-minute address (and worth it!), but here’s the gist:
The reaction has been amazing. It’s a message that resonated with many – parents, college professors, employers, curmudgeons, you name it. The address has garnered over a million views (and plenty of colorful comments) on YouTube. And while some view it as unnecessarily harsh, most seem to see it as a healthy dose of tough love.
But what happens when we take that message to our customers?
If you think we don’t, you’re wrong. We do it all the time…
Airlines and hotels treat you well when you reach Platinum or Diamond status. Fail to keep up your activity, though, and watch those upgrades disappear. You’re not special anymore.
Some software companies offer “white glove onboarding” or unlimited technical support to their new customers for a limited time in order to encourage adoption. Try calling months later with a problem and you’ll get a different reception. You’re not special anymore.
Pretty much every renewable service (Netflix, magazines, lawn service, bug service, cable, etc.) doles out generous promotions for non-customers, whatever it takes to get you to sign up. Once you’re a customer, though, regular rates apply. You’re not special anymore.
This isn’t to say that those aren’t perfectly valid promotions. Yes, customer acquisition is important. Yes, good customers should be recognized and rewarded.
This is just a reminder that at some point, your customers are going to wake up and realize hey, I’m not special anymore. And when that time comes, it’s up to you to cushion their fall.
Preferably without taking cues from Mr. McCullough.
I’m over at Eli Rose Social Media today talking about customer education. Gas stations and hospitals do it… so should you!
It’s always fun to watch movies from the pre-9/11 era that have an airport scene. Talk about simpler times… a couple airport cops and a metal detector set so low you could walk through wearing medieval armor.
Nowadays, we’ve got the good old TSA to deal with. Personally, I think the agents get a bum rap a lot of the time. I like to give them the benefit of the doubt and imagine they’re just as unhappy about enforcing stupid rules as we travelers are about following stupid rules. Of course, there’s always a few bad apples in every bunch, and yesterday I found one. She was finding it difficult to stifle her disgust for the cattle she was herding through the checkpoint, and this gem slipped out:
“People! Stay with your items until YOU push them into the machine. YOU have to push them in. The belt doesn’t go automatically like at Kroger. It’s called manual labor, folks!”
Wow. Thanks for that.
Pretty impressive sarcasm, especially coming from an agency that claims to provide “world-class customer service.” Not that TSA really cares about customer service. Sure, they have to pay lip service to the idea, but as long as they have a monopoly on airport security, they can do pretty much whatever they want.
Still, as I reflected on that experience, it got me thinking about the rest of us (who do want our customers to like us): is it ever okay to be insulting when you communicate? When are sarcasm, snark, or even outright rudeness appropriate?
It seems obvious that a company shouldn’t insult its own customers. Very few companies have the right mix of brand, communications, and customer base to pull it off… although the stars do align occasionally. Take Woot, one of many deal-a-day sites on the Internet. They’re equal opportunity snarkists, splitting their time between making fun of the products they’re selling, making fun of themselves for selling the products, and making fun of their customers for buying the products. When you call your “grab bag” special a Bag of Crap, and your customers crash your servers trying to buy them whenever they’re offered, you know you’ve got a match made in marketing heaven.
Clearly, though, Woot is the exception. For the typical brand, insulting customers (even in fun) is too risky.
What surprises me, though, is how readily companies insult their prospects. Like…
- Samsung’s new ad for its Galaxy S II phone. It’s a direct bashing of iPhone users, who would seem to be a good target group for conversion.
- Apple’s “I’m a Mac/I’m a PC” ads. Sure, they were funny, but as a PC guy myself, having a smug hipster point out my nerdiness doesn’t make me want to buy a Mac. And if Apple doesn’t sell Macs to PC users, where’s the growth coming from?
- Miller Lite’s “Man Up” campaign. Because if you’re drinking any other light beer, you might as well be wearing a skirt. Boy, I sure am thirsty after having my masculinity questioned!
In general, if you want someone to buy from you, it’s not a good idea to insult them. So when does snark work? When you’re not insulting them. When you’re insulting yourself. Like Ally Bank’s smackdown of banking. Or Domino’s Pizza and their “we sucked, then we got better” campaign.
Want your customers to feel good about themselves? Want them to feel good about you? Then ditch the snark and stick to something genuine.
On the other hand, if you don’t really care about your customers… I know just the place for you!
“Mr. Logue, I need you to do something for me.”
I was standing in the service bay of my local Ford dealer, after paying sixty bucks for an oil change, tire rotation, and a patch on a leaky tire. That apparently did not count as “doing something” for them.
He pulled out his clipboard and flipped to a tattered page – a sample customer satisfaction questionnaire.
“Ford sends these out randomly. If you get one, I’d appreciate if you would give us all fives.”
Ford’s not alone. Other car dealerships do it. So do hotels, and hospitals, and other businesses. Sometimes it’s as blatant as the service manager above. Sometimes it’s a more subtle “If you can’t rate us a ‘10’ please call me directly. Signed, Manager X.”
But my experience at Ford was especially bothersome, for two reasons:
- As a customer, I don’t appreciate being told what to think or what to say. I have a pretty good handle on whether I’m satisfied with an experience, thank you.
- As a researcher, I’m disappointed that companies dedicate so many resources to collecting and analyzing bogus data. I’m annoyed that the reputation of my industry is tied to a broken system that is being gamed by the people who are supposed to benefit from it. And I’m disturbed that, as a result, so many companies miss out on an important benefit of a tracking study: to identify weaknesses and turn them into opportunities.
There’s plenty of blame to go around. The corporate side messed up as soon as they started tying incentives to satisfaction scores. The managers messed up when they started trying to skew results to get better scores. The customers messed up when they started doing managers a favor rather than being honest in their feedback.
So now what?
If any of what I’ve written bothers you, if any of this makes you think “gee, I wonder if my numbers are legit…”, here’s a few ideas:
- Find out if your sample has been tampered with. Add a question or two to your questionnaire to find out whether anyone brought up the survey at the point of service, and whether the customer was asked to rate the experience highly. (Customers might inflate their ratings as a favor to a nice manager, but they are unlikely to deny that they were asked to do so – favors only go so far.) Remove respondents who were specifically asked to give high ratings, and see how your scores look.
- Get a different perspective. Use a different company to conduct a different survey on a different schedule among a different group of customers. You’re not out to do an apples-to-apples comparison. You’re out to see whether fresh oranges smell different than stale apples… or rotten apples.
- Hold a negativity scavenger hunt. Encourage employees at every level to hunt down complaints, to sniff out negative experiences, to push angry customers up the ladder instead of out the door. Recognize that you have as much (or more) to learn from a dissatisfied customer than a satisfied one.
Want a bigger change? Stop rewarding high satisfaction and start rewarding high participation. What does that get you? More data, better representation, greater variance, more robust analyses, better insights, and more significant “aha!” moments.
You know, all those things you wanted when you started doing research in the first place.
Now if you’ll excuse me, a survey arrived in the mail today… and I need to decide how much I like my service manager.
When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. When life hands you Comcast… write a blog post.
Monday afternoon my cable modem gave out. This is the magical box that provides both internet service and telephone service to our entire house. My home office might as well be a cave right now, with me banging rocks together to make fire.
But in an attempt to be positive about all this, I’m using it as a learning experience. As in, how not to treat your customers. Comcast has plenty to offer in this department, starting with a visit to their local office to swap out my modem.
Lesson 1: Waiting in line breeds tension. Don’t make it worse than it has to be.
There’s a universal waiting-in-line face that says…
- What’s taking so long?
- Try to cut in front of me and I might punch you.
- I don’t like you. Any of you. And who is wearing that awful perfume?
- Seriously, what’s taking so long?
Inconsiderate behavior is magnified in that environment. So when all four employees behind the counter are chatting, laughing, and flirting with a single customer… the rest of us are gonna get grumpy. It’s not our fault we’re not as good-looking as Mr. Charming von Pinkshirt.
Lesson 2: Don’t expect me to sympathize with you.
If a Comcast phone rep told me that your office swaps out modems, and your office doesn’t swap out modems, don’t roll your eyes, sigh, and say “I really wish they would stop telling people that and sending them here.” I don’t want to be your problem. I want you to solve mine.
Lesson 3: Don’t undermine your own service channels.
What’s the first thing I did when I got back from the Comcast office? I called their help line to see if I could get a better appointment. When that didn’t work, I started tweeting. Why did I do that? Because Comcast has trained me to keep asking, and eventually they’ll change their story. In other words, they’ve taught me to not believe a word they say. And yes, my wait time was cut from 3 days to 1 day. Sure, I appreciate the faster service. But I’d also appreciate being able to trust them.
This was further established by two separate instances I witnessed in the Comcast office, in which one employee openly contradicted two others and made arbitrary policy exceptions. In the long run, no one wins when you do that.
Lesson 4: Communications channels shape expectations. Plan accordingly.
My first tweet to Comcast was answered quickly by a nice guy who asked for my account info, then disappeared and didn’t respond to further tweets for the next 10 hours. Apparently his shift ended and he decided not to pass my info along to anyone. I had to reinitiate contact the next morning with a second rep to get things moving again.
The thing about Twitter is, you expect a fast answer. Even if it’s a fast “no.” Twitter is not a “thanks for your inquiry, please expect to be contacted within 24 hours” kind of medium. Shift changes aren’t exactly unpredictable… you can figure out a good way to transition service calls.
~ ~ ~
In the big picture, these are all very little things. But they are the little things that make or break relationships. At this point, it’s relatively easy for Comcast to fix my equipment problem and restore my phone/internet service. It’s much harder for them to fix their customer service problem and restore my goodwill.
But it’s better to learn from someone else’s mistakes than from your own. And we all do our customers a disservice if we don’t learn from experiences like this.
So thanks, Comcast, for being such a good teacher.
(Note: No Comcast employees were harmed in this process. Or cursed at. Or even openly scowled at.)
“They’ve got their marketing all wrong.”
I was standing in the pre-boarding mosh pit at the Memphis airport. The Delta gate agent had just announced a delay, then reassured us they would get us there as quickly as possible.
“It’s wrong. All wrong.”
It was one of those comments that gets thrown out there like a worm on a hook, and he waited patiently for someone to bite. I couldn’t resist.
Me: “Hmm, what’s that?”
Him: “I said they’ve got their marketing all wrong. I teach marketing at [name withheld]. Why are they telling us they’ll get us there as quickly as possible? It should be ‘as safely as possible.’”
Me: “That’s interesting. Why do you say that?”
Him: “It’s much more important to get there safely. Whenever there’s a delay I always tell them, take your time and just get me there safely.”
As I was flying (safely) to Atlanta, I thought about how many people listen to that advice: Talk about what’s important. Seems right, right?
See, there’s two types of importance. There’s the important things you expect and the important things you value.
There’s a reason that airlines don’t compete on safety, or banks on security, or grocery stores on cleanliness. Those things are basic expectations. Do them right or don’t bother showing up. But don’t promote them, because you’re probably on a pretty level playing field.
On the other hand, if you focus on the important things that matter (and no, that’s not redundant), you can develop powerful messages that really resonate with people.
Take a look at your marketing. Are you talking about the things that are important, or the ones that really matter?
You can learn a lot by watching a game.
Last night, the Memphis Grizzlies came very close to winning their first-round playoff series against the Spurs. I won’t recap the whole game… either you’re an NBA fan or you’re not. Suffice it to say that, with about 7 seconds on the clock, the Grizzlies had a couple chances to grab a loose ball and protect their lead. Didn’t happen.
I don’t know why it didn’t happen. Maybe a poorly timed jump, a badly aimed swipe at the ball, a Spurs elbow to the ribs. Who knows. What I do know is that this entire game came down to those couple of inches that separated the Grizzlies defenders from that loose ball.
In business, we talk a lot about how important it is to “go the extra mile.” But sometimes it’s not a mile that separates success from failure. Sometimes it’s an inch.
- If you’re an electrician, maybe it’s not the years of education and experience, or the licensing and bonding, or the quality tools and components. Maybe it’s the five minutes you spend at the end of the job cleaning up drywall dust before you leave.
- If you’re a doctor, maybe it’s not the friendly front desk staff, or the comfortable exam room, or the drug samples, or the correct diagnosis and treatment. Maybe it’s the 60 cumulative seconds of eye contact that make the patient feel like you’re really listening to them.
- If you’re a car manufacturer, maybe it’s not the horsepower, or the fuel efficiency, or the safety ratings. Maybe it’s the cup holders.
Find out what those make-or-break moments are (that’s what market research is for!), then figure out how to go the extra inch.
The Grizz are headed back to Memphis with 2 more chances to close out this series. That’s a luxury they have with a 3-2 lead in a best-of-seven series.
How many chances will your customers give you?