15 June, 2012

Skip Down for the Cluetrain Moment

During the last few days,  I was given a strong example of how far out of sync a retailer could be in the approach with loyal clients.

I have a supermarket close to my home where I am a frequent shopper. The store is close by.  The selection is not huge, but certainly adequate for my needs. The clientele is not always of the noble variety, but there the market is innocent.

The parking situation has become atrocious in our neighborhood lately. After a certain time in the evening, it has become impossible to find a parking spot. One evening, out of pure desperation, I left my car in the store’s parking lot, knowing there was a risk tied to this decision.

I went out in the morning to find out that my car had been towed away. Certainly this is not a good way to start the morning, but I accepted the risk of leaving the car in this parking lot overnight. I called the city department responsible for towed cars to find out that my car had been towed by a private company and was promptly given the number of the business. The private towing service was very friendly mentioning they are open 24 hours a day and even gave me instructions on how to get to their establishment.

At that point in time, I started thinking this situation where a local supermarket hires a private business to tow people’s cars from an empty parking lot in the middle of the night (the car was towed at 1AM), knowing full well how desperate the situation is with parking and that a car overnight can only be from someone in the neighborhood. Isn’t it correct to assume that the owner of that vehicle could very well be a customer of the supermarket?

My next step was to enquire where the customer service for this supermarket chain is located with the objective of talking to them about the situation. I was clearly guilty and had no intention to hide this. My question to them concerned a perceived treatment a loyal client had received. What is more important for this supermarket, the receipt of a towing charge (which I’m sure they don’t see much. I actually found out through discussions with others that this actually a racket where I live. I wouldn’t be surprised if the towing company does not pay the supermarket for the privilege to tow cars from their property!) or the continued patronage of a loyal customer? The objective had nothing to do with the charge I paid to get my car back, but rather this ideal I have of customer service….and what is right. I have developed a theory which basically states that those who pride themselves on customer service are the most indignant clients you can ever have. They will not accept poor service and will let you know. They will also explain WHY the service is poor. This is all tied to an obsession we have about process improvement.

That evening, I went home and started going through my receipts to calculate how loyal a client I had been. I was surprised to uncover a spend of over $1100 over less than a 6 month time period conducted within 28 visits. My daughter was astute enough to note that the figures I had calculated did not even take into account the cash payments, where we save no receipts.

Now here comes the Cluetrain moment! I drove down to the customer service department of this supermarket and went to the reception. I mentioned to the receptionist that I would like to speak to someone in the ‘customer service’ department

Receptionist: Do you have an appointment?

Me: No. I assumed under the name ‘customer service’ that the intention is to help customers with issues.

Receptionist: Did you write an email?

Me: No. I made the effort to visit you with the intention of settling matters

The reservationist was perplexed but called the customer service department and handed me the phone.

‘Customer Service’: Sorry, I am the wrong contact for your query. Have a good day

Me: I have difficulty understanding this definition of ‘customer service’. I just wanted to let you know that I felt your supermarket should be aware of the perception certain loyal customers can get from that of what happened to me. The question is not of guilt or blame. I am guilty of the infraction but feel that your business should work with the community, not against it.

‘Customer Service’: Well, I’m sorry. I can’t help you. Have a good day.

Me: I brought my documents along to show you how loyal a customer I am. Can I please show them to you?

‘Customer Service’: I am alone, and besides I told you already I can’t help you. Will you please leave?

The receptionist noticed that the conversation was getting heated and tried to intervene, to her credit. Unfortunately, the best she could offer was to talk to a regional sales representative, who might be able to offer me a gift certificate.

They all didn’t get it!

The real problem was not with the receptionist, or even the bureaucratic ‘customer service’ employee, but the corporate culture that instills in their employees that the customer is the enemy. OK, I’m sure it’s not every day that you have some crazy customer who is actually trying to help you in improving the service. Instead of saying  “terrible market. I won’t go back there again and will let everyone else know how bad it is”, I made the effort to visit them to explain matters. With that of what I experiences, they made a bad situation infinitely worse!

06 June, 2012

Customer Service is Just a Conversation Under Another Name

Following my recent posting tied to the Cluetrain Manifesto, I have been thinking about the the concept of conversations and its various facets. Discourse is conducted between individuals, and one shouldn't forget that service is also managed (for the most part) by human beings.

Maybe due to a pride I have in offering the same customer service I would expect myself, this has caused me to lament recent experiences where apparently others do not necessarily hold that same benchmark. Maybe such people expect no more than they offer themselves. 

Here the intention is not to spell out why a customer is experiencing bad service, but what impressions a customer receives when being served improperly. After careful thought, these  four categories below summarize my experience, and I welcome any suggestions to enhance the list below.

  • Intimidation - "How dare you ask for a refund"
  • Avoidance - After staring at a clerk for over 20 minutes behind his desk, the person finally acknowledges your presence and says "Is anyone helping you?" The only reason the clear responded at all is because he inadvertently looked up and mistakenly made eye-contact with you
  • Lethargy - How often have you been 'serviced' by an individual, where you know full well they could care less about you and/or your wishes. When I run across a situation like this, my biggest wish is restart the scenario like rebooting a computer, hoping that I land at any other counter that the one I'm at right now.    
  • Lying - The worst is when you know more about the product than the employee, and that person tells you anything expecting you to believe it. I've noticed lying is rarely a singular act but comes in multiples.

I feel better already just by performing this cathartic exercise...

21 May, 2012

Cluetrain Revisited

Cluetrain Revisited

Maybe it's my search for my digital happy days, but I have just finished reading again one of the most seminal pieces of literature to come out of the go-go 90's, The Cluetrain Manifesto. Looking at the contents 13 years after its first publication, three concepts immediately jump out:
  • Belletristic foretaste of our times
    • Clients are having conversations directly with employees and are finding out what is really going on within corporations. Some companies have even tried to take advantage of this dialogue to foster customer loyalty. Crowdsourcing has been applied by certain enterprises to create vastly more meaningful products and services for their clients. Applications such as Twitter enable companies to turn negative feedback into a vehicle by which a corporation can show they care about their customers.
    • Those companies who either do not conduct open and honest dialogue or do not see the importance of such conversation described in the book eventually learn to regret their stance.  The examples are numerous and have become a daily occurance.
    • The transparency discussed in the book is more prevalent today. The combination of exponential growth within the technological realm with a universal use of social media has ensured that nothing is secret anymore. The ugly flip-side to this scenario does not require description.
  • Revolutionary zeal as a 90's zeitgeist
    • The irreverence in Cluetrain's writing style was partially representative of the time the book was written. Many of us felt the power of something new being created and took liberty in a certain bravado. Such cockiness was lost in the dot-com bust, and we are continuously reminded to be wary of such exuberance today. The Facebook IPO, in spite of the hope that Zuckerberg might be our economic white knight,  is a good example of such caution.
    • The description of the primary means of communication back then such as eMail, mailing lists and websites seem very quaint today. Based on the current and future growth of mobile (here) in comparison to the computer (near), one can say that the bespoke had their better days behind them. eMail is actually viewed somewhat negatively today.
    • Unfortunately, one can question how open the web's architecture is today. Big money has taken this technology over, which is a good segway to my third point.
  • We lost the war
    • What happened to the conversations? Yes, we do have social media to converse with the near and far, but are we really conversing? I see plenty of comments being made daily, but they are primarily asynchronous and are very often of the lowest common nominator variety. 
    • Does the web imitate life, or is it the other way around? One can find a correlation between  the constant need to profess ones opinion, a societal polarization based on ones individual stance, and the manifestation of this state through media moguls such as Fox News. This malady reminds me of how the Communists ruined a great architectural style (Bauhaus) through cheap mass-production
    • Neil Postman wrote about our attempts to amuse ourselves to death, and we see that we have just changed the media. 
    • The biggest loss we have had with the development over the last 13 years is the lack of ability to consume any detailed analysis. Instead of a written document, reports are prepared exclusively within PowerPoint. All development is expected to be intuitive as accompanied material stays unread. Mood boards have replace concepts or strategies. Although I possibly  run the risk of appearing to display Luddite characteristics in public, it has to be said. I find this development regrettable. 

12 May, 2010

Does such a creature exist?

The strategy of the company will become a mantra where every employee will know the plan. Goals will be set and everyone will know their role. Results will be measured and performance pay will become a reality. There will be no surprises and communication will be consistent and constant. A seed of trust will be sown and it will quickly grow and flourish as each employee begins to believe that he and she is a valued member of the team.

18 December, 2009

I found this quote on the net and just want to share it

' get involved in things to help find or create your next passion. Keep a sense of movement and growth in your career and you will always be ready for your own next step.'

22 November, 2009

Locks Keep the Employees from the Office

Late in 2008, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. sought to engage employees by launching the Global Access initiative, partnering with Grameen Health (an affiliate of Grameen Bank) in Bangladesh to improve access to health care through rural clinics. As soon as the initiative was announced, project leader Ponni Subbiah was swamped with expressions of interest. “Employees wrote to me from all functional divisions within Pfizer — research, marketing, manufacturing, operations, auditing — telling me how happy they were to see Pfizer involved in this area and how it made them proud to be part of this company,” he says. Employees were so eager to contribute that many offered to volunteer after working hours or on weekends

16 April, 2009

Backlash: How Early Adopters React When the Mass Market Embraces a New Brand

A well-established principle of product development holds that a small group of early adopters can spur mass-market acceptance of a new product. What is less well understood is how those early adopters react when that product or its brand is accepted by the mass market. As Wharton marketing professors David Reibstein and John Zhang explain in this video, the company could experience a backlash as early adopters move on to other new products. A case in point: Porsche saw a decline in sports car sales after it entered the SUV mass market. Research by Reibstein and Zhang discusses reasons for the backlash and suggests a strategy for dealing with it.