This blog may be monitored for quality purposes…

Consider yourself informed….

Like the tag-line of this blog says, “more often than not it’s the little things that make a big difference in customer satisfaction and brand loyalty”.  And it can be very subtle. Sometimes all it takes is a few words.

I received a phone solicitation yesterday from the local paper I subscribe too. It started like this:

“Hi this is Linda calling from the Times to tell you about new products.  I need to inform you that this call is being recorded”.

Wow, that’s one heck of an opening for a sales pitch!  In just 25 words, really with just the last 11, Linda negatively impacted my previous favorable perception of this company.  Let’s see if I can break it down.

  • Hi this is Linda calling from the Times:  Good start; she identified herself and where she was calling from.
  • to tell you about new products:  And now I knew why she was calling. But bthe Customer Experience would have been much more positive if she had added, “Do you have a few minutes to hear about them”?  By doing this she acknowledges that I may not have time or I may not be interested in hearing about new products.  By doing this Linda would let me know that she respects my time and that I’m a valued customer.

The next 11 words immediately sent things South….

  • I need to inform you:   Linda needed to inform me because that’s what’s scripted and because the company is legally obliged to tell me about the next part.
  • that this call is being recorded:  Boom!  The words came out and my head starts exploding.


Linda immediately launches into her pitch but I don’t hear a word due to the continuing explosions going off in my head.  I finally come out of shell shock and interrupt Linda.  I inform Linda how offensive it is to me to receive an unsolicited call and then be immediately informed that the call is being recorded.  I rant for a few more minutes and end by telling her that since the call is being recorded to make sure whoever listens to the recordings listens to this one so they will hear first hand how offended I am.

To Linda’s credit she asks me to hold on while she gets her boss on the phone.  Within seconds Brian comes on, acknowledges my “concern”, and apologizes. This took courage because by now Brian is aware of all the bombs going off.  Maybe he had a flak-jacket on, I don’t know.

When I asked why these calls are recorded Brian gave two reasons:

  • Reason #1: “For training purposes”.
    • OK I get it. Lots of companies do this because they have large call centers with inadequate training programs and infrastructure.  By having the recordings of their reps screwing up and going off script it makes it easier to fire them.  Sorry for the cynicism but I’ve run call centers and my managers were always in ear shot of their phone reps.  They didn’t need a recording to know when some additional training and coaching was required.
  • Reason #2: “It’s a sales call so if we miss some information we can get it off the recording”.
    • In other words what Brian was saying was, “because our undertrained staff who uses antiquated business systems can’t be trusted to capture all the pertinent information”.

I went on to explain the obvious to Brian.

“Brian, the fact that you record calls for the reasons you’ve stated brings absolutely no value to me as a customer.  Your company has an internal focus; you care about what’s best for the business.  Instead you need to have an external focus; what’s best for me the Customer.  Further, if you think this through Brian – and since this call is still being recorded you can use this for management training – what’s best for the customer is what’s best for the business.”  


Strike Three Looking

In baseball “swing and a miss” means the batter swung but didn’t hit the ball.  If the batter strikes out “looking” it means that the third strike was a “called strike”; the player didn’t attempt a swing but instead just watched the ball fly past home base somewhere in the strike zone.  Batter out!  Even the most casual of baseball fans know that the batter’s goal in most cases is to put the ball into play.  As consumers we want the companies we do business with to go to bat for us put the ball into play. This can’t happen if they stand at the plate and simply take pitch after pitch without swinging the bat.

I recently concluded a prolonged service experience with a national furniture company.  Carrying through with the baseball analogy this “game” had multiple rain delays, ended with several injuries, broke records for longest game in history, and ended up in a tie which is impossible in baseball but all too familiar in the realm of the customer experience.

For simplicity sake I’ll refer to the furniture company as LZ.  I purchased two chairs from LZ and within a few months the fabric began wearing out.  Some parts of the chairs looked ten years old after just four months of normal use.  LZ’s service department sent technicians to my home several times to inspect and replace worn arms, leg rests, and cushions.  LZ was more than willing to continue replacing parts but I wanted a long-term solution.  My pursuit of this long-term solution took me from the service center, back to the store where I originally purchased the chairs, to LZ corporate HQ, back to the service center, and back to store.  Each step of the journey took several days to several weeks waiting for returned phone calls, escalations, consideration, and decisions.  In the end LZ replaced the chairs.

Reflecting on this experience I can’t help but think about all the missed opportunities for LZ.  With each opportunity they just stood in the figurative batter’s box and watched the pitch pass by without ever swinging the bat.  During what was a ten month period I spoke with a variety of LZ employees and managers and it became quickly obvious that there are deep-rooted problems in this organization.  The team is comprised of unmotivated and poorly conditioned players using broken or antiquated equipment; the coaching staff lacks organizational and leadership skills; ownership is disconnected and out of touch.  Three main things come to mind:

  • When I first reported the problem instead of initiating a dialogue about potential root causes and solutions LZ mindlessly delegated the problem to un-empowered technicians with no service or communication skills.  The technicians have no awareness or interest of how their actions impact the LZ brand.  They are only programmed to do one thing: “inspect and replace”.  Swing and a miss!  Strike one.
  • Except for one person I spoke with at the LZ corporate headquarters no one ever acknowledged my feelings, frustration, or in any way attempted to make an emotional connection with me. Instead they gave rote answers, told me the situation was above their pay grade, and offered hollow apologies.  Swing and a miss!  Strike two.

There are now two strikes against the batter.  One more strike and he’s out.  They’ve made two feeble attempts to hit the ball.  The first two pitches could be knocked out of the park by a player of even average skill.  But the LZ player is under-conditioned, poorly coached, and simply over matched.  But wait – the next pitch is a gift:  the pitcher throws a hanging curve ball up in the strike zone (very easy pitch to hit). The result is shameful…

  • The new chairs were delivered three weeks ago and I haven’t received a call. No email.  Not a peep.  Not from the local LZ service center reps who know me by name and have my phone number memorized.  Not from the manager at the retail store who made money off my original purchase and who should be thankful the chairs were replaced instead of being returned for a refund.  Not even from LZ corporate with an interest in protecting their brand by making sure everything was taken care of to my satisfaction.   Strike three  – looking. Game over!

Big Brown Blowing Smoke

I sat in astonishment as I glanced over my shoulder to see a cloud of smoke surround a man in a brown uniform jerking a hand truck full of boxes up the steps to my place of business!  What could be the cause of all that smoke? Was this person delivering dry ice?    Or maybe this guy was moving so fast that the rubber wheels and metal frame of the hand truck scrapping along the concrete steps caused the wheels to catch fire.  Or, on this particularly cold morning maybe the poor soul was working so hard it was only an  “illusion” of smoke and it was simply was an incredibly large frost ball emanating from  his heaving breath?

My company’s main conference meeting room is surrounded by glass windows that face the front of our building into the parking lot.  The tinted glass provides an open view out into the tree lined parking area and point of entry into our building.  It’s a rather pretty view especially with the leaves of the Maple and Hawthorn trees changing colors.  So as I sat there in our staff meeting this cloud of smoke caught my eye and distracted to me to the point where I disrupted the meeting and said something like, “Look at that – that UPS driver is smoking.”  Everyone looked over and sure enough there was  “Big Brown” with a cigarette hanging down from his lips as the lugged the hand truck up our steps.  This guy was a pro.  Pro smoker that is.  I could tell he was a pro by the way the ciggie dangled from his lips.  It reminded me of  your stereotypical Aunt Agnes from past generations with the blue hair, martini in hand, and cigarette bouncing up and down on her lips as she called you over for a kiss and called you sweetie at your 12-year-old birthday party.

I’ve got nothing against smokers.  I don’t smoke myself but I find it perfectly acceptable to be around people smoking if I’m in a bar with a pool table, in Vegas sitting at a black jack table, or at hanging with Billy Bob,  Bubba, and one-eyed Frankie at the Sturgis motorcycle rally in South Dakota.  I do not however find it acceptable for my UPS guy to be smoking while he enters my place of business.

So we watched as Big Brown approached our front door and  to Big’s credit he paused, rested the hand truck on it’s ledge, took one last drag and discarded the cigarette; on our stoop.   He enters the building, drops off our boxes, and heads out of the building.  As we watch we reluctantly give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he will pick up his expired butt and discard it in a more appropriate receptacle.  As we watch (in my mind) I’m kind of rooting for the guy, “C’mon Big pick it up, pick it up”.  Nope – not a chance.  Big walks past the butt leaving a lasting impression of UPS that would, if he was sitting where I was, compell Scott Davis (UPS CEO)  to forfeit a portion of his $9.5 million salary.  So as Big headed to his truck I headed out of the building to give Big a second chance.  “Pardon me”, I shouted.  Big turns and sees me on the stoop.  “Can you please come back to pick up your cigarette?”.  Big grins and says, “oh, yeah…sure”.

So let me replay this brief exchange I had on the stoop with Big.  What we were really saying was this.   Me: “Pardon me”.  Big: Cartoon bubble appears over his head with question mark.  Me:  “It’s probably too late at this point but do you want to come back and take a stab at protecting your brand.  You know the brand of the company that issues you a paycheck each week because customers like me use your services?  Come on you remember the slogan:  What can brown do for you…?  C’mon Big – stay with me buddy….”   Big:  What’s a brand?…”

I go back into the building without watching but I am pretty sure that Big tossed the butt into the planter box next to the stoop.  In fact this morning as I got to work I actually looked around in the planter box to see if I could see it.

You’re right; I need to let this go.  It was an isolated incident right?  I have nothing to worry about, right?  When I ship my company’s products to our customers via UPS I have no reason to worry that the driver and packages will smell like cigarette smoke right?   Right?  Yep, thought so…

It’s all in the grip

From the time I was a small child my father insisted I have a firm grip when shaking someone’s hand.  At five years old, and very small for my age, my hand was a mere acorn compared to the hands of the adults my dad expected me to greet with a “firm” handshake. He explained that a firm handshake was an important expression of acknowledgement and respect.  He wouldn’t tolerate a limp lifeless squeeze-less handshake;  what he referred to as a “namby-pamby” handshake.  To make his point he would say, “put it there” extending his hand to me.  If I didn’t immediately give a firm grip he would squeeze and roll my fingers around in his palm with a devilish, but loving, grin on his face until I begged for mercy .  I quickly learned to initiate a firm grip when shaking someone’s hand.  As I grew into a young man I came to appreciate a firm handshake.

I was at America’s Tire Company yesterday for a tire rotation.  For the past ten years every tire I’ve purchased has come from America’s Tire Company in Livermore.  As I was leaving the store Jose, the service advisor, handed me my keys, looked me in the eye,  and extended his hand.  As we shook hands Jose said, “Thank you for your business Mr. Morales”.  Jose’s firm handshake underscored all the reasons why I continue to do business exclusively with America’s Tire Company in  Livermore.  With that handshake I felt valued and  recognized. It harkened the lesson of acknowledgment and respect my dad had taught me so many years ago as a wee child of five.

As I walked to my car I thought “What a difference that handshake made.  I like Jose.  I trust Jose”.  What was a good experience turned into a great experience because of this simple yet powerful gesture of acknowledgement and respect. So often, as the headline of this blog says, it’s the little things that make a big difference in the customer experience. Merchants and business owners could learn a lot from Jose.  The physical, and even the figurative, handshake  is a powerful tool every service provider should have on the top of their took kit.  Better, like a carpenter it should hang off the side of their tool belt ready to be deployed at a moments notice.

Here is some advice to merchants, business owners, and on-line retailers:  Handing a bag of goods to the customer leaving your store? Be like Jose and extend your hand.  Sending an email to a customer about a recent service interaction?  Close it with a “handshake”. Leaving a voicemail or ending a conversation with a customer about a back ordered item?  End it with a “handshake”.  Oh, and make it a firm one or my dad will track you down you and squeeze and roll your fingers around in his palm while you beg for mercy.

Make my customer experience like my iPod experience

iPod Classic

I was listening to my iPod the other day and every song that came up on the random playlist sounded great.  It was like the iPod could sense my mood and selected songs that perfectly matched that mood. Song after song the iPod complimented the previous tune and gently guided me on a wonderful musical journey.  With over 6000 songs my iPod has a vast selection of genres and artists to choose from. I felt as though each song was hand-picked with care to deliver just the right tempo, melody, and arrangement. The longer I listened the more confident I became that the next song would sound even better than the previous one.

This is how our service experience should be.  When I do business with a local merchant, an on-line retailer, or large national brand I want to feel as though the experience was personalized to my preferences with just the right tempos and melodies.  I want an arrangement and genre that anticipates and matches my needs.  If I am a repeat customer I want the next experience to be even better than the previous.

I love music and listen too it constantly. When I walk into a shop or log-in to buy products on-line I want to feel like I do when a favorite song randomly comes up on my iPod’s playlist.  Maybe fine wine or fancy foods are your thing.  If your service providers could make you feel like you do with that first sip of your favorite Cabernet Sauvignon wouldn’t you keep going back for more?  Or perhaps the joy created by the first taste of crème brulee after a pleasing meal.  Get the idea?

As customers we make an emotional investment when we choose to spend money.  We seek relationships with merchants we can trust and who will appeal to our senses and each preference in their effort to create an exceptional customer experience.  When they are able to do this it’s music to my ears and I’ll be singing their praises.  If they are not able to do this then I will hit the figurative skip button and move onto the next merchant.  After all just like on my iPod, I have a vast selection when it comes to choosing a merchant.