Archive for the ‘customer intimacy’ category

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.

The Amazing Amazon

February 26th, 2009

I just read a Business Week article saying that Amazon is the highest-rated company in any industry when it comes to customer service. As a long-time loyal customer, I couldn’t agree more.

Michael Treacy’s classic business strategy book, “The Discipline of Market Leaders”, holds that an organization must excel in one of three disclplines: product leadership, organizational excellence, or customer intimacy. While Apple is a great example of a company focused on product leadership, and Wal-Mart and Southwest Airlines clearly excel in organizational excellence, Amazon embraces the concept of customer intimacy like no other company I know of. (For what it’s worth, one could make the case that Amazon also excels at organizational excellence.  How many companies can you think of that excel at two disciplines?  Heck, how many can you think of that excel at one discipline?)

When I think of Amazon, I think of a company that knows me inside-out, which makes me feel like I know them inside-out. They have such a great understanding of what I like that they can predict with impressive accuracy what new musicians and authors will appeal to me. Such personalized treatment actually gives me a real warm, fuzzy feeling about Amazon, and what’s truly amazing is that I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to an Amazon employee.  Relying totally on online communications, they have managed to cultivate an extremely intimate relationship with me–and with millions of other loyal customers.

As a result, they have developed extremely powerful brand equity, and they’ve done this with little or no conventional advertising over the years. Because, at the end of the day, your brand image isn’t the result of what you say about yourself, but about what you do. And not many do it better than the amazing Amazon.