Archive for the ‘customer satisfaction’ category 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.

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.

The Brilliant Marketer You’ve Never Heard Of

January 31st, 2009

This morning I read an obituary about a man named Harry “Bud” Hildebrand, who owned and ran a sporting goods store for over five decades in a less-than-fashionable suburb of Chicago. By all accounts, the store enjoyed tremendous loyalty, and the reason seems clear:  Mr. Hildebrand understood that he was in the business of making customers happy.

While I suspect he would never have described himself this way, he was also a brilliant marketer who knew how to build a brand. There are three things in particular about the way he ran his store that fascinate me. First, he kept his desk in the middle of his store so he was accessible to his customers. Second, the back of the store featured pool and poker tables–for use, not for sale–that made the store “a place to hang out”, in the words of one long-time customer. And third, whenever a child visited the store for the first time, he would talk to them about their interests, disappear into the back room, and soon return and present them with a trophy that had their name engraved on it.  
I can only imagine how many times those children returned to that store over the years, or how many of their friends they told about the nice man who gave them their first trophy. I only wish I had had the good fortune of being a satisfied–and loyal–customer of Hildebrand Sporting Goods.
And isn’t it ironic that the last syllable of this brilliant marketer’s name is “brand”?