Archive for the ‘customer service’ category

Progressive Management Anything But

August 19th, 2012

As I’ve said many times before, your brand isn’t about what you say; it’s about what you do.  And based on this story (courtesy of Seth Godin‘s blog) of how Progressive Insurance treats its customers, it’s hard to imagine a company doing a more inept job of brand management.

I realize that a lot of people like Progressive’s “Flo” advertising campaign. (I can only assume these people are also big fans of Gallagher and Carrot Top.)   Not only have I never been a fan of the campaign’s low-brow, unsophisticated humor, it’s always led me to suspect that the people running Progressive’s marketing department have questionable judgment.  Sadly, those suspicions have been confirmed by this story of how Progressive has treated the family of Katie Fisher.

This story tells you two things about Progressive: they’re heartless, and they’re stupid.   Heartless because of the way their actions have dumped salt on the emotional wound that Katie’s death caused her family.  Stupid because the $75,000 they’re trying to save pales in comparison to the cost of the deservedly horrendous publicity they’ve generated for themselves.

Here’s hoping that Progressive’s management will wake up and not only decide to make good on the money they owe the Fishers, but throw in an extra $100,000 or $250,000 as payment for the badly-needed wake-up call.

It would certainly be the progressive thing to do.

Beekman 1802 Customer Service Absolutely Fabulous!

May 6th, 2011

My current criterion for judging someone’s hipness, taste and sense of humor is whether they’re a fan of The Fabulous Beekman Boys, a high-class reality TV show now in its second year on the Planet Green network.  This highly entertaining show chronicles the adventures of  “city boys” Brent Ridge, an MD and former executive with Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, and his partner Josh Kilmer-Purcell, a Manhattan-based advertising executive, as they renovate and try to make a living from their recently-purchased, 209-year-old Beekman estate  and farm in upstate New York.

Their company, Beekman 1802 (1802 being the year the estate was founded), sells a variety of interesting products–many of which are produced at the farm–such as goat milk-based soaps and candles, as well as unique foods and decorative items.  This past Sunday evening, I ordered several items from their website as Mother’s Day presents for my wife, who’s a huge fan and who–along with our daughter–had met Josh and Brent during a recent appearance on Michigan Avenue in Chicago.  About an hour after placing my order, I decided to order a few more things.  As I did, in the “special requests” section I asked that they combine these items with the ones I’d previously ordered so as not to incur a second shipping charge.

Amazingly, about an hour later–on a Sunday evening, no less–I received an email from Maria Vought, the company’s Director of Resources, explaining that she’d be happy to help me if I would call her on Monday.  Then, at 5:41 Monday morning, I received another email from Maria saying she’d gone into work early and had already taken care of everything.  She added, “I just wanted to write to you to let you know that it wasn’t necessary to call me today as I’m sure Mondays are busy for you.”

It gets better.  After I read Maria’s email, I immediately went on the Beekman 1802 website to leave a message complimenting them on the wonderful customer service Maria had provided.  Within 30 minutes, I received a response–from Brent.  He thanked me for both the business and the compliment, and added a classic line:  “Maria is pure awesomeness.” This didn’t really surprise me; over the prior few months both Brent and Josh had responded to other messages my wife I had had left on their website.

Smart companies find a way to make you feel like you know them not as an impersonal, faceless entity, but as a collection of individuals who care deeply about you as a customer and as a person.  Beekman 1802 had already made me feel like I have a connection with Brent and Josh, and now I have a connection with Maria as well.  As the company grows and achieves the mass market success for which they seem destined, it’s going to be increasingly challenging for them to maintain the personal connection they have with their customers today.

But if anyone can find a way to to this, it’s Brent and Josh.

And Maria, of course.

Jimmy John’s Ads: So Focused You’ll Freak

March 26th, 2011

The first time I ate at a  Jimmy John’s sandwich shop, I was disappointed.  For some reason–probably the sound of the  brand name–I had expected the sandwiches to be pretty tasty, but in fact I found them pretty nondescript.  But if you listen to their radio commercials, you’ll realize that Jimmy John’s is not about tasty sandwiches; they’re about fast sandwiches.

These commercials make no promises about how juicy, spicy, toasty or succulent their sandwiches are; they just promise you that they’ll be delivered to you in a hurry.  That’s something no other national sandwich chain has ever promised before.  And promising something your competitors don’t is a good idea–provided it’s something customers want.  And it doesn’t hurt to make that promise with a very good sense of humor.

Michael Treacy’s The Discipline of Market Leaders was one of the first books to make a compelling case for not trying to excel at everything, but to instead excel at one thing and be “good enough” in other important areas.  Jimmy John’s has clearly decided to excel at customer service (i.e., delivery time), and–almost as important–they’ve had the wisdom to have their marketing communications focus on that story.

That kind of marketing discipline is certainly refreshing.  In fact, it’s almost–sorry, I can’t help myself–freaky! Customer Service Way Off the Mark

January 9th, 2011

Over the years I’ve generally been a big fan of Target, particularly the ambience of its stores and its product selection.  However, I just had the type of disappointing experience with that makes me wonder if things are starting to unravel as this well-respected retailer.

Our son, who recently moved to China, gave my wife a e-gift card for Christmas.  Redeeming it this afternoon, however, proved to be a major ordeal. First, when when I tried to enter the payment information, I got a message saying that e-gift cards can’t be used on–even though the email announcing the gift made it clear that e-gift cards can only be used on  After wasting several minutes of my life trying to figure out what was going on, I stumbled upon some fine print informing me that the problem was that we were doing the transaction as a “guest”, and that e-gift cards can only be used if the recipient has a account.

So is this a ploy by Target to force people to create online accounts?  Or, worse yet, is it a ploy to frustrate gift recipients and induce them to help Target’s bottom line by simply giving up on redeeming their e-gift cards? I don’t know the answer, but I know it’s not good for Target to have its policies create such questions in the minds of its customers.

Anyway, I then created an online account, but the site wouldn’t accept the password I created–and didn’t tell me what, if anything, I was doing wrong.  So I had to call their toll-free number, where a very nice–but very hard-to-understand–telephone rep was finally able to set up a password for me that worked.  (What had I done wrong in trying to create the password on my own?  Nothing, according to the rep.)

Home free?  Not quite.  When I placed the order, the cost of the least expensive shipping option was $17–or 4 times what had charged me an hour earlier for a heavier and larger shipment.

So now I’m left wondering if Target has suddenly become greedy, incompetent, unethical, or some combination thereof. I know they and the financial analysts following them have been disappointed in their recent revenue trends, but whether this is resulting in pressures to cut corners on customer service in order to boost the bottom line is impossible to me for say.

What I can say is that, in my mind,  the service I received today has served to replace Target’s red bullseye with a red flag.

With Southwest, Bags–and Gags–Fly Free

October 6th, 2010

Today I enjoyed the services of one of my “hero companies”:  Southwest Airlines.  Hero companies are those that do virtually everything well:  great products, great service, great people, great marketing.  There aren’t many companies on the list; Apple and Starbucks are definitely on it, and so is Southwest.

Southwest is one of the most underrated businesses of all time in my opinion.  For them to be the most (and often the only) profitable airline year after year after year is nothing short of amazing, particularly when you consider that they do it despite charging extremely low fares.  I also love the fact that they’ve further separated themselves by refusing to charge for bags while their competitors nickle and dime their customers–and their brand equity–to death.

But what might best differentiate Southwest from the competition is not only the way they motivate their employees, but the way the leverage their employees’ morale to enhance the customer experience.

I shot the above photos today with my Blackberry in the jetway  of my plane as I was boarding a flight from Chicago to Denver.  The life-size photos of Southwest employees smiling and waving at you made for a very warm and surprising welcome.  And what was particularly impressive was how genuine the smile was on each and every person.  I found myself thinking, “Man, these people really love working for this company.”  And then I found myself smiling too, which is not something I’m used to doing when I board an airplane.

And it didn’t stop there.  From takeoff to landing, the flight attendants and the flight crew were engaging and smart…and very funny.  After reciting the mandatory instructions about how to use the flotation device in the event of a “water landing” (my all-time favorite euphemism, BTW), the flight attendant added, “So you can just paddle around until the Coast Guard arrives.”  He then took us through the oxygen mask drill, telling us that if you’re traveling with a child, you should put your mask on first before putting the mask on the child.  He then added, “And if you’re traveling with two children–(dramatic pause)–pick whichever one you think has the most potential.”

Both jokes were delivered with impeccable timing.  And both were non-politically correct, which fits perfectly with the image of a company whose brilliant former CEO Herb Kelleher was known for chain-smoking, swigging Wild Turkey, and publicly arm-wrestling his fellow CEOs.  This is a company with an attitude–and a very infectious one at that!

A big part of making customers loyal to your brand is getting them to think of the brand in personal terms, to feel like they know and like the people behind the brand, and to believe that those people care sincerely about their happiness.  That can be hard to pull off when you’re a manufacturer, but when you’re in the service business, you have hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of opportunities each day to have your employees build your brand equity with every customer encounter.

Unfortunately, very few service companies get that, but Southwest Airlines certainly does.  And that’s why their brand equity continues to fly as high as their shareholders equity.

Audi Says “Haudi!” to Excellent Customer Service

June 1st, 2010

Your brand is much more a function of what you do than what you say about yourself.  And there’s no more powerful way to affect your brand–either positively or negatively–than through your customer service.

I’ve been driving my Audi A4 Cabriolet–very happily–for seven years.  When I bought the car, the dealer–The Audi Exchange in Highland Park, IL–asked if I wanted my license plates on the front and back or just the back.  I hadn’t realized that the latter option even existed, but they pointed out that front plates weren’t required in Illinois.  As someone who generally prefers a very clean look, I took the “back only” option.

Unfortunately, at some point over the past several years, the city of Chicago–where I often go for both business and recreational reasons–started ticketing vehicles without front plates.  But when I recently asked the Audi Exchange to install my front plates, I was initially told that the installation bracket that would be required would cost about $280.  When I explained my situation to the service manager and pointed out that I wouldn’t have been charged for the bracket had I had the front plates installed when I bought the car, he smiled and said, “That’s a fair point.  Okay, the brackets are on us.”

That was it. No haggling.  No complaining that I’d bought the car seven years ago.  No running to the general manager for approval.  He simply did the right thing and treated a customer fairly.  In a perfect world, that wouldn’t be newsworthy, but in an age when so many companies fail to empower their employees to make decisions that will make customers feel truly valued, this experience was a very refreshing.

The result is that I’m more loyal than ever to Audi in general and The Audi Exchange in particular.  In fact, I’m so loyal I might even write a blog post about it!

The Times, They Are A-Changin’–for the Worse

November 22nd, 2009

I live in the Chicago area, but my wife and I subscribe to the Sunday New York Times. To me, it’s the second-best newspaper in the country, trailing only the Wall Street Journal. A Sunday without the Times–and particularly without their crossword puzzle–is like a Sunday without….well, without CBS Sunday Morning. It just isn’t Sunday!

So when my Sunday Times didn’t arrive last week, I immediately called their toll-free number to alert them to this impending catastrophe. I was assured by the automated voice at the other end of the line that our paper would be delivered by 9:30 that morning. Whew–Catastrophe averted! Or so I thought. When the paper had yet to arrive at 10:30, I called again, but this time the previously cooperative recorded voice informed me that I was out of luck: they would not be able to deliver the paper to me. I left a “firm” (“firm” being a euphemism for “irate”) voicemail message, naively hoping I would get a return phone call the following day. When that didn’t happen, I called again, and eventually succeeded in reaching a live body. The woman I spoke to was quite cordial and said she would send me a copy of the Sunday paper by second-class mail. Finally, I thought; somebody there understands the concept of customer service! The only downside to my conversation was that it took her about 15 minutes to take care of my paperwork. That should have been a clue that this heart-wrenching story was not to have a happy ending.

The good news: the paper did get delivered. The bad news: it didn’t arrive until Saturday. The worse news: we were sent two copies of the front-half of the paper, and no copies of the other half–the half that would have included my crossword puzzle. I know what you’re thinking: Oh, the humanity!!!

It’s no secret that the newspaper industry is in huge and irreversible trouble. While there are many reasons for this, one could argue that the biggest reason is that newspaper publishers simply lost touch with their readers’ needs, habits and desires. (Surely anyone who has witnessed the Chicago Tribune’s utter disregard for its readers under the insensitive and inept ownership of Sam Zell can second that motion.) In an age where I can get a phone call from Apple’s customer service team within five seconds of submitting a request for service on their website, the kind of customer service exhibited by the New York Times is as antiquated and useless as a Gutenberg printing press.

Loyal customers are hard to come by in any business, and especially in the newspaper business. Failing to make loyal customers feel appreciated is a sure and sad sign of a company whose best days are behind it. That’s clearly the case with most newspapers, and I fear it’s also the case with the New York Times.

I’m not sure that qualifies as news, but I at least hope that it’s fit to print.

An i-Opening Experience

March 16th, 2009

My daughter’s iPhone locked up yesterday, so I went to to see if I could troubleshoot the problem. After a few minutes of trying to find the solution, I saw that I had the option of speaking to an Apple Expert. I provided the requested background information on the problem (which took about a minute), and clicked on “Submit”.

Miraculously enough, within 15 seconds, I was called by my Apple Expert! And no more than 2 minutes later, the iPhone was up and running, and I was a hero to my daughter.

To call this a refreshing experience would be an understatement of monumental proportions. Not only did I get to speak to a live human being, but it was within seconds of submitting the request. Oh, and the fact that the problem was solved quickly didn’t hurt, either.

According to Michael Treacy’s The Discipline of Market Leaders (one of my favorite business books), a company must excel at one of the three core strategic disciplines–Product Leadership, Operational Excellence or Customer Intimacy–and just be good at the other two. Those showoffs at Apple must have neglected to read the book, as my experience would suggest that they’ve decided to embrace all three.

To again quote from one of my other favorite business books, Andy Sernovitz’s Word of Mouth Marketing, “Marketing isn’t what you say; it’s what you do.” As if there were any doubt, Apple’s handling of my little problem reaffirms its position–in my mind, at least–as the world’s most formidable marketer.