Category Archives: Customer Experience

Dealing with a customer service disaster – the NerdGap way

One of the basics of customer service is (or at least should be) honesty. If a problem occurs in a customer service scenario three simple rules should be followed:

  1. Admit the problem.
  2. Find the root cause and fix the problem.
  3. Move on.

While this should be fundamental to all customer service situations, all too often something gets in the way. Whether it be a fear of liability or simple ego too many service providers fail to own up to a problem when it occurs.

Author of the fabulous Evernote Essentials ebook, Brett Kelly, had a customer service disaster and quickly identified a problem that resulted in a lot of customers (and non-customers) getting incorrect emails indicating a purchase had been processed. Brett quickly fixed the problem and has today posted on his blog about it.

Brett goes into detail about the cause of the problem (spoiler alert: human error) and its effect. He offers an apology, and then learns from it.

The moral of the story is summarized nicely by a proverb I’m going to get tattooed across my frickin’ forehead later today: Measure twice, cut once.

This is a good example of a customer service problem being turned around. I suspect he might even gain sales from his honest approach.

Great Customer Service from Apple

Over the past few years, I will have to admit to becoming quite the Apple fan! I enjoy the technology, but I really think the thing that keeps me coming back is the way that every experience, in product and when in contact with Apple staff, is so positive.
One of my favourite Apple gadgets is my iPad2, which I pre-ordered, and have had since the day it was released! Along with this iPad2, I ordered and have been using a leather SmartCover – red just like the one in the image.

The SmartCover is fun – it adds an interesting versatility to using the iPad2, as well as protecting the screen when not in use, and providing a convenient stand on-the-go.

Lately, its been fraying around the edges, noticeably. So I was in the Bondi area today, and thought I’d pop into the Apple Store and see what they’d say. The staff I spoke to all thought that the fraying was more than what they would call acceptable, and with a 12 month warranty, thought something should be done. They just weren’t sure what, and how (given that I’d ordered it online, not through the store).

Clearly this was a bit outside the normal situation the staff faced, so I was pleased that Apple’s customer service story reigned supreme when a team leader simply went to the shelf, grabbed a new cover (identical), took it out of the box, and gave it to me. He said to leave it with them – they would work out the rest. They didn’t even ask for a purchase receipt, Apple ID, etc. Of course, it is less than 12 months old, but I left a happy customer.

The moral here is that clearly the staff were empowered, in the event of a novel problem, to simply fix the issue from the customer’s perspective, and not bring them into background paperwork and procedural “stuff”.

Well done Apple. I think its far more than the products that make Apple successful in this day and age – its a customer service philosophy that empowers staff to fix problems, and work out the details with dragging the customer into that process.

Brand Trust: Easy Come, Easy Go

I was shopping at a Woolworths Supermarket in Sydney recently, looking for a peanut butter that is 100% crushed peanuts – the Sanitarium product I had like has not been on the shelves for a couple of months.

In the health food section I noticed a range of products under the “Macro Wholefoods” brand. Previously Macro had run a chain of wholefoods supermarkets, and had been a respected brand for people wanting to make healthier choices. Macro Wholefoods was bought by Woolworths and the stores closed, although the brand is now making its way onto Woolworths’ shelves, in their health food section.

Happily I found they had a peanut butter that met my desire for 100% peanuts. I also needed tomato sauce (similar to ketchup for American readers), and knowing that tomato sauce is generally quite high in sugars, grabbed a bottle of the Macro Wholefoods Organic Tomato Sauce.

When I got home, I compared the nutritional information on the Macro product with that on a bottle of the Heinz brand “Big Red”. I was quite shocked to to find that on all counts, the Macro product is less healthy than the Heinz.

Compare the following stats for nutritional information per 100ml, comparing the Macro Wholefoods Organic Tomato Sauce vs. Heinz Big Red

  • Energy 656kJ vs. 395kJ
  • Sugars 32.2g vs. 18.2g
  • Sodium 540mg vs. 355mg

I had implicit trust in the Macro brand, and now my trust in that brand is zero. Of course, caveat emptor (“buyer beware”) applies here, but there is a caveat vendor as well. As a marketer its difficult to gain the trust of your buyers, but its very easy to lose it. Lets discuss this concept of Brand Trust.

The important question here is: “why is brand trust an important factor in the relationship between a business and its customers?”

In the example above, Woolworths appears to have bought the Macro Wholefoods brand, at least in part, in order to take advantage of the upsurge in interest for healthier eating options. Knowing that the Woolworths brand itself is associated with mainstream products, it cleverly decided to buy (in this case) an alternative brand to gain the trust of its customers looking for healthier options.

Not only does the new brand associate with key terms like health-consciousness, wholefoods and organic foods, it is also a premium brand, for which Woolworths is charging a premium price.

A premium customer, however, is often one that is likely to check up on facts. Finding that the Macro Wholefoods brand does not necessarily mean healthier, I no longer have trust in that brand. It is no longer a premium brand in my mind, and I am not likely to pay a premium price for the brand. In fact I am likely to go elsewhere for my health food needs. Woolworths has lost the opportunity to prove to me that it is a viable alternative for healthier food choices.

If a company is going to invest in a brand, it needs to provide quality control to ensure that the brand promise is delivered upon, otherwise it will be a commodity (at best).

A business develops a brand, but the value of a brand is no more than that placed in it by its customers.

Lessons for the Customer Experience

So how does a business protect a brand? Its a simple concept thats not always easy to implement:

  1. Establish brand values and ensure that all product attributes reflect those values
  2. Establish a quality management process to make sure the brands values are being delivered upon
  3. Listen to your customer. Social media tools provide a valuable opportunity to communicate with customers and learn about their needs, wants and aspirations.

As Jay Ehret said in The Marketing Spot post “What Makes a Brand Awesome“:

The path to branding awesomeness is 1) a promise 2) a personality and 3) unwavering focus on that promise

Having looked at brand trust, we know that brand trust an important factor in the relationship between a business and its customers because without it a brand is doomed to commodity value at best, and that brand values have no value if a customer doesn’t trust them! Ensure that as you build a brand you know your brand values, and deliver on them consistently, and listen to your customers constantly.

The Opportunity of Complaints

Australian airline Jetstar recently got media attention when a gate attendant apparently acted rudely to a customer, actually several customers, while they were boarding a flight from Sydney. The fracas was apparently over carry-on luggage. When the customer, a Ms Mesha Sendyk, proved the carry on was within limits, the gate attendant started to rant on, and ultimately had the passenger kicked off the flight even after she boarded. Other staff stood by powerless, as the police were called!

Ms Sendyk then had to pay for a last minute flight to her home destination, and then sat down to write a letter of complaint to Jetstar. A psychologist by training, the letter outlined Ms Sendyk’s perspective, and was backed up by independent accounts by other passengers!

Jetstar’s response was prompt but unacceptable. In essence, the letter offered to refund the original fare, but did not offer any compensation for the alternate, more expensive, airfare on another carrier. The response further threatened her with a total ban from flying Jetstar in the future.

To Ms Sendyk’s credit she didn’t drop the fight, and an article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald. Publicity was not good for Jetstar, especially given other customer service complaints against Jetstar in the media.

To Jetstar’s credit senior management has taken stock of the issue at hand and taken positive action. A senior Jetstar executive personally phoned Ms Sendyk and apologised to her. She was advised that the gate attendant in question was suspended pending an investigation of the incident.

A good response from Jetstar in the end, but the incident should never have happened in the first place. I wonder how many customers who witnessed this incident will think twice before choosing Jetstar next time. Certainly Ms Sendyk and her family!

As Ms Sendyk said: 

It hasn’t been pleasant but I’m happy with the response.

For the other 5999 Jetstar staff, thank you for looking after us in our travels, a good flying experience really is important.

I’ve personally flown Jetstar a number of times, and can honestly say I’ve only had good experiences. This shows that one bad apple can have a major effect, publicly!

Customer complaints are an opportunity to engage in a dialogue with the customer. By complaining the customer has volunteered to talk with you, and a positive response can enhance your image.

Customer Experience Lessons

  1. There’s rarely benefit to be gained to arguing with a customer, especially publicly.
  2. Create a culture that ensures other staff stand up and do something one when staff member is doing the wrong thing
  3. Respond immediately and ensure that you have all facts before leveling accusations at customers.
  4. Be prepared to say sorry when a mistake does occur
  5. Look at complaints as being an invitation from the customer to engage in a conversation. Its a golden opportunity.

T-Mobile: A Good Customer Service Experience

In November I travelled to the US for DEMA 2009 in Orlando. During a stop over in LA, I signed up for a T-Mobile HotSpot account so that I could get access to wifi at a range of locations around the States. I signed up for the month-to-month advanced payment option.

Today I logged into the T-Mobile website to de-activate my account, and found that there was no way I could terminate my account in the “Account Management self serve” area. Thumbs down to T-Mobile – they seem happy to make it easy to take a customer’s money, but they have no easy was to terminate an account.

I found the contact section, intending to send an email, and instead got onto a web chat. I was quickly connected to an operator named Cavin, who was polite and helpful. I explained my situation, and he advised that I would have to call and speak to an operator. Reminding him that I was in Australia, he took the initiative to contact the hotspot team on my behalf, relaying the questions using the webchat. In a few minutes I had a confirmation number and confirmation that my account would be terminated at the end of the current (pre-paid) month.

Thanks to Cavin and T-Mobile for being customer focused. Thumbs up for your customer service.

Customer Experience Lessons

  1. If you offer an account management self service area on your website, offer a full range of option for customers to manage their account.
  2. Empower your customer service officers, like T-Mobile did with Cavin, to actually serve customers, especially when they fall outside the normal rules
  3. Be polite and helpful. Customers appreciate this!

Build Walls To Keep Customers Out

At the recent DEMA 2009 Show in Orlando I spent a fair amount of time walking the floor of the tradeshow looking at the various exhibitors. Apart from looking at the products and toys on display, and meeting great people, I paid attention to the marketing and branding exercises taken by many dive industry players. Over on the New Scuba Marketing blog, Nick Bostic has provided an excellent appraisal of the excellent marketing efforts by PADI and the DEMA organisation itself. There were other good examples, but I also saw too many examples of the way our industry can be a bit cliquey, and push customers away.
As an underwater photographer, I found myself back at the Imaging Resource area of the show floor most days. I wandered by the various stands and booths, looked at products and talked to the people manning them. There was one elaborate stand that I never went into, and after walking past it a number of times, I wondered why?

The company at question is a leading supplier of entry level and midrange underwater cameras that has been around for a long time, and apparently has a good product range. I didn’t find out, because I kept walking past the stand (see picture at right).

In the last few hours of the show, I realised why – the construction of the stand had placed a series of walls around the stand that had the effect of keeping me (and others) out. In the middle were a number of tables where you could sit and meet with an attendant.

The very closed setup of the stand built a wall between the company and its customers and potential customers. I, and others I talked to remarked on the same thing, felt like you had to be invited in. So many of us kept walking past.

Now sometimes having an elitist feel can be part of your marketing strategy, but for a producer of midrange and entry level products, I hardly think thats the approach they were aiming for.

Compare this with the PADI stand (left) which was open and inviting and drew people into the stand. Notably DAN and Oceanic also had similarly open, inviting stands.

These are obvious examples of designing exhibition stands to be open and inviting. The photographich company above is an example of building walls to push your customer away from you.

Take a look at various businesses in all industries. Do they build walls to keep customers out or do they attract and welcome people to come in and be customers!

Lessons for the Customer Experience

  1. Look at your business and see what walls you’ve put up between you and your customer. Does your counter or display setup push people away, or draw them in?
  2. Look also at virtual barriers. Do your opening hours, website or advertisements attract people in, or push people away. In the dive industry, too often advertising is designed to attract divers, but pushes away snorkelers. The snorkeling market is substantially larger than the diving one.
  3. Consider carefully how you might change your setup to openly invite people in. Think of various ways you can make people feel welcome, actually and perceptually.

Customers Do a Banana Split on Westpac

One key theme that resounds in customer service is that there is rarely any benefit to be gained from telling a customer that they’re wrong.

I have to add another to that list – there’s rarely any benefit to telling the customer that they’re stupid.

In the last week, the Reserve Bank of Australia has boosted interest rates by 25 basis points (0.25%). The first bank to act on this was Westpac, which boosted its rates by 0.45%. Hailed as a widely unpopular move, especially just before Christmas, people are calling Westpac out as being an uncaring monolith that cares not about its customers, but only about profits.

In a disastrous PR move, Westpac released an add comparing banking with banana productions. Check out this condescending ad.

The ad was quickly panned by people everywhere. Even Australia’s Prime Minister blasted Westpac over the “banana slip”. Westpac has pulled the ads.

Of course, citizen journalism being what it is, there are response ads that send a clear message to Westpac exactly what people think of it.

It’ll be interesting to see how Westpac sets about rebuildings its customer image. A very clear message has been sent to customers by the bank telling them first that they’re not important, and second that they’re stupid.

Customer Experience Lessons

  1. Put thought into how your customers are likely to react when you make a decision.
  2. Be ready to say sorry and admit a mistake
  3. Don’t talk to your customers like they’re idiots

 

Dealing with Complaining Customers

I had an experience recently where I had cause to complain about a product to its manufacturer. This particular product is an iPhone Twitter application, and its maker it a prominent Twitter user. I emailed them with my comments and got no reply. Next day I saw a tweet from them thanking a mentor who was “instrumental in the products success”.

I replied to the tweet with a simple comment that perhaps customers were also instrumental and that I (along with many others) want a particular feature.

Again, the silence has been deafening.

All businesses have customers (hopefully), and sometimes customers complain. Lets face it, things go wrong, and a complaining customer is one that is willing to engage in a conversation with you about your offering. In other words, dealing with complaining customers is a key moment of truth and can be a great opportunity to delight the customer!

This leads me to ask a key question: what are three ways that businesses can respond to a customer complaint? While there may be other possibilities, in my experience businesses tend to deal with complaints in one of three ways.

  1. They acknowledge the complaint and work with the customer to rectify the situation;
  2. They ignore the complaint and hope it will go away; or
  3. They deny the problem and argue with the customer, telling them that they’re wrong.

Of the three ways of dealing with a complaint, it should be fairly easy to see that there’s one approach that is markedly better than the other two! Yet the two poor responses are quite common.

Generally customers tend to understand that problems and issues can occur. They can get frustrated very quickly when the issues aren’t acknowledged, or when they happen repeatedly without being addressed. On the other hand, if customers believe that a business listens to them and takes action to address the issue they may actually have a positive experience.

Sometimes (possibly often) a customer’s “issue” may be because of a lack of knowledge, misunderstanding and/or misuse. There is rarely, if ever, any benefit to be gained from telling a customer that they’re wrong! Working through the problem with the customer may be the best approach. A business can learn a lot about how people use its offerings if they learn from these encounters.

The second approach – ignoring the complaint and hoping it will go away – is often successful! The complaint often does go away, usually taking the customer along with it. In my case, I now use a different Twitter client for both my iPhone and my Mac desktop (I use and recommend Echofon)

Denying the problem, or labelling it one of customer misuse, is poor form. Customers often use products in ways different to how a business may have designed it. While it might be technically correct to label this is as a non-issue, a business misses a golden opportunity to discover new features and products that might lead to new business. Customers generally don’t buy products for their design, but because they meet their needs.

Lessons for the Customer Experience

  1. Acknowledge customer complaints and work hard to resolve the issue
  2. Communicate with the customer to let them know you care
  3. Explore the complaints for new opportunities

There are three ways that a business can address customer complaints, with one of them being the positive response that acknowledges the complaint and sets the scene to address it. See any complaints as a golden opportunity to communicate with your customer and learn more about how you can serve them.

Irasshaimase: Welcoming the Customer

Yesterday I had lunch at a sushi bar with a colleague. Having lived in Japan, many of the sights, sounds and experiences of the Japanese culture are second nature to me.

Thus I was a little surprised when my colleague asked me what all the staff were calling out every time a customer walks in the door. I explained that the expression is “irasshaimase”, and is a welcome that you hear in all Japanese restaurants, and in Japan in almost all shops and shopping areas. Its almost like there’s a competition among staff members as to who can welcome a customer first and with the greatest spirit!

Go to a Japanese shopping mall, and the sounds can be amazing as you hear this constant din of welcome.

Its a fantastic experience to be made to feel welcome, instantly, as you walk into a restaurant or shop. The staff are welcoming you, showing you that you’re valued. With the welcome over, the great customer service continued right up to when we paid. As we left, shouts of “arigato gozaimashita” (thank you very much) could be heard.

After our sushi lunch, we decided to continue our conversation over a cup of tea. We walked up to a nearby coffee store, part of a large Australian franchise chain. The front door was partly blocked by 2 staff members putting up Christmas decorations – at lunchtime! We stood in a queue, with 1 customer in front of us. That one customer was being served by the other 2 staff members. No-one even acknowledged our presence in the store.

After four minutes (yes, I timed it) finally someone looked to me and said “what can I do for you”. I looked at my watch, then placed my order. The service was offhandish, and the teas were ordinary. The experience was poor.

Too often western businesses get offhandish, and take their customers business for granted. Customer service is a hit and miss affair in many western countries, and we could certainly take a lesson from the Japanese when it comes to welcoming and acknowledging a customer into our business. This should apply equally to customers in front of you, those on the phone, and those doing business with you over the web.

Lessons for the Customer Experience

  1. Acknowledge your customer immediately when they enter your business. Make them feel welcome, and let them know that they are important to you. Make it a game among staff as to who can greet the customer first. A welcome should occur within 10 seconds, if possible.

    Establish an “irasshaimase” culture in your business.

  2. If you’re unable to attend to your customer immediately, inform them of how long they can expect to wait.
  3. Ensure the “irasshaimase experience” continues throughout the customer’s visit. Remember to thank them for their business.

The Customer is NOT Always Right, But…

There’s an old saying in the marketing world that suggests that “the customer is always right”. Since no-one can be right about everything, this saying is clearly fallacious.

In fact, as a general rule, companies that produce products and service have probably invested a great deal into understanding their market. Market research, feedback from a wide variety of customers and research and design from experts are powerful tools. Chances are that a company is more likely to be right than any individual customer.

Although I believe that a company is more likely to be “right” than an individual customer, I strongly believe that there is rarely ever any reason for a marketer, sales person or other company representative to tell the customer that they’re wrong!

A very popular Twitter client for the iPhone has recently been upgraded to quite wide acclaim. I was a user of an earlier version of this application, and only crossed to something else due to a couple of features that more closely met my needs. I was interested in the upgraded product, and so had a look at the Twitter stream about it.

As expected, there were many happy users, but there were also quite a number who expressed a dislike for the way the new version handles Retweets. In defence of the developer, the new version handles retweets the way that Twitter itself has implemented the function.

However, many users of Twitter (and of this Twitter client) are not happy as the new function does not allow them to add comments to their retweets. Historically, retweeting was not something introduced by Twitter or any individual developer, but was developed by a community groundswell. In this case, crowd-sourcing led to the development of the function.

While an individual customer is less likely to be right than a knowledgeable business, the collective wisdom of a crowd suggests gives a great likelihood of a group of customers being right.

So whilst individual customers may not know more than a company, the community groundswell has a high level of collective wisdom. So for a developer to make this comment provides us with several important marketing lessons:

Vocal minority have problem with change – no doubt once they try it they’ll realize how awesome it is. No more RT spam!

Firstly, the “vocal minority” refers to a crowd of thinking users who have a want. Although it may not be the feature as envisaged by Twitter or the developer, users have the choice of either compromising their wishes, or of taking their business elsewhere.

Secondly, the developer has basically told his customers that they are wrong, and that he is right. This type of behaviour can be polarising, and can make many customers question whether they continue to do business with a company.

Thirdly, the developer is also criticising the way people use his product. “No more RT spam” refers to their additional comments users put into retweets. In my experience, this is not “spam”, but additional comments that give an insight into the retweeters opinion of the original tweet.

In my opinion, this one tweet from the developer shows poor marketing on several levels, and provides us with some key marketing lessons.

Lessons for Marketing

  1. Although the customer may not be right, informing them of that “fact” is rarely beneficial. Especially publicly.
  2. Customers have needs, wants and dreams. If these do not map to your products, forcing the customer to compromise is a tricky prospect. At least listen to them, and don’t lecture them.
  3. Individual customers are less likley to be “right” than a business with strong market research. However, “the wisdom of crowds” means that a collective of customers might have a good chance of being right.
  4. Listen to your customer using the “facial ratio”. You have two ears and one mouth!

Its ironic that the popularity of this particular app started from a groundswell. Hopefully the developer will listen and consider the wishes of the user base. The customer may not always be right, but it would probably be best if they stayed as customers.