Friday, May 22, 2009

I'm Sorry...Very Powerful Words in Customer Service

How many times have you returned an item to a store and the employee said, "I'm sorry." How many times have you returned an item and the store employee took care of your business and did not utter one word of regret? Today I was at Lowe's of Fernandina Beach Florida to pick up a set of custom order blinds that, before my discounts, cost $200. They were Levolor blinds. I've had a bit of a saga with these blinds - this was my second set of the same blinds.

I ordered my first set of blinds in early April for in-store delivery in late April. I took the blinds home and a couple of weeks later started installing them. I got all the hardware on the wall and then took the protective packaging off of the blinds and discovered that they were damaged and bent in the middle. I was shocked because it appeared that the packaging was quite good and should have prevented any damage. I thought, "No big deal. I'll just leave the hardware on the wall, return the blinds and when the new blinds are delivered, the rest of the installation will be quite easy."

That night, I went on Levolor's website and informed them of the problem. I never heard back from them.

I took the blinds back to the store on May 10, 2009 and endured an hour of four employees and a manager trying to figure out the right way for me to return my blinds and receive a new order. I started out at the return desk. The woman there was very empathetic and likely one of Lowe's best employees. She called back to find out if they should return my money and reorder the blinds or just have me go to the blind department to order the new blinds there. She called back to the blind department and was told to send me back with the blinds. Once I was there, the woman called another employee to ask what she should do. The two of them called a manager and he told them to send me back to Customer Service for a refund and the place a new order. Remember the game Pong? Twenty minutes of my life was not gone.

I went back to the customer service desk and my money was refunded by the nice woman who had helped me before. After that, I went back to the blind department. Once the order was placed, the two women and a manager spent the next 25 minutes trying to figure out how to adjust the price to match the 10% discount I received under an earlier promotion. Not one word was said to me, not even an I'm sorry this is taking so long. Little did they know, I planned to buy a leaf blower that evening. I'll be buying that leaf blower from Home Depot or Amazon. All it would have took to make that sale was for one person to say, "Feel free to look around the store for 10 minutes while we figure this out for you." After 25 minutes, everything was taken care of and I was sent back up to Customer Service to pay for my new order. No one said I'm sorry about your order or I'm sorry that took so long.

I paid for my new blinds and was told they would be here on May 29th. I got a call May 20th saying the blinds were in. I was excited. I thought, "That was fast, this makes up for all of the hassle I've had to endure at Lowe's."

Tonight, May 22 and my Wedding Anniversary, I went to Lowe's to pick up my blinds. I walked in the store and was treated with no special attention. The woman at Customer Service called to have my blinds brought up to the front of the store. My blinds were brought up to the front of the store by one of the ladies who helped with my return and reorder. The Customer Service woman wanted me to sign the paperwork to receive the blinds and I informed her that I wanted to inspect them first. The woman who brought the blinds quickly added that my blinds were damage last time. We opened the box and much to my dismay, the blinds were damaged again. I stood there for about a minute while three employees talked amongst themselves about what to do. I interrupted, with disgust in my voice, and told them to reorder the blinds, have every phase rushed, and call me on Tuesday after they speak to the manufacture to let me know when my order will be in. I walked out. No one said I'm sorry.

So how should have this situation have been handled.

There are three ways to deal with dissatisfied customers - two are wrong and one is right.

  1. Wrong - You anger the customer in some way or refuse to address the complaint. This is often the case with an inexperienced sales person or a experienced person who does not want you as a customer. It can be an effective strategy to remove barnacles (customers who cost you more than you make off of them), but there are better and more strategic means of getting rid of these customers.
  2. Wrong - You simply address the complaint or exchange the item to make the customer whole, usually apologizing. This is what most businesses do. The problem here is that you have satisfied the immediate need of the customer, but you've done nothing to entice the customer back to ensure you can wow the customer with your product or service again.
  3. RIGHT!!! - You address the complaint with an empathetic apology, but don't overdo it. Then you offer the customer an incentive to come back to your store again. You exceed the customer's expectations. For example, if you are a restaurant and a customer's food is not correct. Apologize and don’t' shift the blame to the kitchen. Fix the problem with a new dish and while the customer is waiting, give him something eat so his companions do not feel guilty about eating while someone is still waiting on his food. Offer a dessert on the house or a free drink. Then, to top things off, offer something for free with purchase on the next visit within a month. Get the customer back in your store quickly and don't let them linger about with ill feelings.
I've posted to Facebook and Twitter to see what others think about how to handle customer complaints. I'll post any thought provoking ideas.

How companies are using Twitter

I'm always interested in seeing how companies are using new product platforms. Today, more than ever, we can see first hand how they are using Web 2.0 platforms because the platforms are used to communicate with us, the consumer. Here is a link to how many banks are using Twitter.

Wells Fargo tops the list with the most followers and are using Twitter as a Q&A Platform. Here is what I got when I searched for Wells Fargo's name on Twitter. The Ask Wells Fargo Tweet helps customers with answers and tries to connect them with the right banker. The next two Wells Fargo accounts are just holding the names and not being used. The Team Wells Fargo Account (Wells Fargo Advisors) is an account for bicyclists.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Dawn Direct Foam TM

I just got back from Target and was surprised to see that Dawn Direct Foam has reduced the size of their bottle and kept the price the same. Instead of 250 pumps, you now only get 190 pumps. The price is roughly still the same $2.50. I went to Dawn's website and nothing addressed this issue. My first thought was, "I'm going to have to buy this product more often, so I should start looking around for a cheaper replacement."

In these tough economic times, Dawn made the decision to do a disservice to their customers by reducing the amount of the product it gives them in exchange for some cost savings. Cut costs when times are bad...sounds reasonable, right? Maybe, but will it help the company over the long term?

What else could have Dawn done to save or make more money? These lessons apply to many businesses. Let's look at what I'm teaching my students at Florida State College of Jacksonville. These notes come from Gary Armstrong and Philip Kotler in their text book titled Marketing, an Introduction.

First of all, Dawn is taking a cost based pricing approach instead of a value based pricing approach. They see the consumer pool as limited and shrinking instead of expanding. This product has the capability to expand their market rather than replace their current line of dawn dish soaps. We have a dishwasher in our house and try not to wash anything in the sink (because I'm lazy that way). However, we had a baby a year ago and I have to wash her bottles and sippy cups on a daily basis. We did not have dawn soap in the house before, but now we have the Dawn Direct Foam and love it (others do too). It is convenient and a real time saver. About a quarter of a squirt goes in the bottle and I can use the bottle brush to clean the bottle. So my advice to you and to Dawn - KNOW THE VALUE YOU BRING TO YOUR CUSTOMERS.

Second, they could have raised the price. Like I mentioned above, this is far superior to any dish soap on the market and we love it. We buy it about once a month and are not likely to buy anything else, because there is little that compares to it next to the shelves.

Third, if they were worried about price comparisons to products next to it on the shelves, they could work with Target to have it moved to another location in the store. Move it by the paper plates to position it as convenience. Move to to the baby isle to illustrate its worth to new parents.

Fourth, they could have expanded this line of the product. Sure, the Direct Foam expands their dish soap line, but why not deepen their Direct Foam line. Make it anti bacterial and put it next to the hand soap as a combination hand/dish soap. Put it in a stainless bottle and push the refills to be more environmentally friendly.

I hope you are starting to see you don't have to cut prices or disservice your customers when these economic times are bad. Take care of your customers and they will take care of you.

p.s. Follow the link to the Dawn Direct Foam website and they often have coupons.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Nader's Pest Rader's

A couple of weeks ago, I was spraying weed killer on all of the weeds in my St. Augustine Grass yard. After going through two and a half gallons of weed killer, I decided I'm not going to do this anymore. Here is my story of hiring a Yard Weed and Pest Control company in the Jacksonville/Yulee Florida area. I hired Nader's Pest Raiders to do the job.

I had used Bug Out a few years ago and they over promised and under delivered. My in-laws had used Enviro Pest Control and they fired them and hired Bug Out. They are happy with Bug Out, but I would never hire them again.

I came into the house and opened up the yellow pages. Ideally, I wanted to hire a Gardner or a company that would at least do all the weed and pest control and I could have them mow the lawn if I did not have the time one week. The only one I could find was CB Murphy, but I could not find any information online about them. The Yellow Pages were a bust because all the companies looked the same except for the size of their ad.

Next I went to the Internet and looked at the Better Business Bureau's website. I searched on Pest Companies in the Yulee/Fernandina area and two came up - Nader's Pest Raiders and another business that had an F rating because of a non-response. I chose Nader's because I had heard of them before and they were a BBB Accredited Business. This just means that they meet BBB Standards and pay the BBB a fee to get this accreditation. I went to Nader's Website and read a few pages and went to the contact us page. I filled in a form to request an appointment. (This was Sunday Night).

Monday morning, I received a call from Nader's for an appointment. They came to the house the next day, without me needing to be at home, and gave me an estimate. It was about $500 for a year of yard pest and weed control and an extra $100 for the Fire Ant Control.

I asked the sales person how they handle problems in between visits and he said they would come out any time to address problems and consultations. (I had problems with Bug Out in this area. Bug Out would not come out until 3 weeks after an application.)

I asked the sales person if the fire ant control covered the whole yard or just the grassy areas. In my experience here in Florida, if you put fire ant bait down in the yard, the ants just move to the flower beds. He said he did not know. He called a co-worker and called me back less than a half hour later to confirm that they will get rid of the ants no matter where they are in my yard.

I told him I would talk to my wife and get back with him. My wife and I figured out how much it would cost us each year with putting down all the chemicals ourselves. Doing the four weed and feeds a year, 3-4 lawn fungus treatments, a bug treatment, a few fire ant treatments we figured out that it would cost us about $300-$350 a year. So that means that their service would be an extra $20-$30 a month. I figured that this would pay for us not forgetting to apply the chemicals and my time involved (and hopefully less weed pulling). My wife added that she would not have to nag me about doing it either...priceless.

We could pay monthly, after each application, or yearly. We decided to pay yearly for a few reasons.

  1. We received a 3% discount.
  2. We would be less likely to cancel the contract mid way through the year like we did with Bug Out.
  3. We always pay extra taxes and would have the money from our tax return this time of year every year.

I was able to fax the contract back signed with my credit card number. It took them about 2-3 days to call me to set the first appointment. I was getting worried, but stayed patient. They made the appointment for the following week.


The first appointment is today. I received a call from the technician when he was leaving Ponte Vedra and he told me about what time he would be here.

The tech arrived on time and took time with me to go over my yard and talk about the areas that were causing us problems. We had an especially cold winter so he showed me how to check the runners to see if we needed to re-sod the area. He also said he uses centipede grass mixed in in his yard. We explained the mystery of why the grass closer to the house and fence always looked better (it is because the shade helps them hold water longer.)

When he sees problems (such as too many weeds), he said he will write down a next visit in his appointment book in between applications to check up on the yard and apply more chemicals if needed.

So far, I'm very impressed. I'll keep you updated.