Archive for the ‘Customer Service’ category

Social Media – It isn’t news

September 8, 2011

I attended a presentation last night at the University of Chicago Marketing Round Table.  The presenter, Jonathan Salem Baskin, made some interesting points about social media that I wanted to share.

He recently wrote a book where he traces social media throughout history.  With many major technology innovations in the past, our ability to connect with others has increased.  The social media concept isn’t new (he gave some great examples in history – the telegraph, the radio, the telephone, television, expressways built in the 50’s – all things that allowed us to connect with others in a new way).   Facebook and Twitter were the most recent examples.  And there will be others in the future that we can’t correctly predict now.  Technology innovations will always be developed to help us connect better with others.  In other words, technology change is a constant. 

While I didn’t agree with everything he said, I do think the part of his discussion that was impactful was the reminder that since technology changes will always be there, we should be focused more on the messages we give to our customers and less on the technology

We need purpose driven content – something that is meaningful to our audience. 

We need to consider who we are targeting and how they want to hear from us.  Finding your most receptive audiences and have a conversation with them if it will enhance the relationship.  If not, do not waste their time.

And I would add that if you are delivering a stellar product or service and doing it in a way that provides awesome customer service; your customer will reward you.  Great marketing – social or traditional – cannot make up for a bad product or bad service.


Change is a good thing?

March 20, 2011

Did you catch the question mark in the headline?  The old saying is that the only thing that is constant is change.  And I agree that companies must continuously find ways to provide better products and services and to keep up with their competition.

But I also have to say that change for change sake is a waste of time.  Leo Burnett said (and I am paraphrasing here) that companies should talk to consumers when they have news.  So brand companies go off and try to create news and excitement.  And that is fine, when it is meaningful news and excitement.  Unfortunately, a good portion of the time, the changes have little consumer benefit. 

Take for example a product I used to love (and those who know me personally can attest to my love affair with this product) – Wrigley’s Big Red Gum (r). 


I was a major purchasor of this gum for probably more than 10 years.  And over the years they have made several changes to this product.  Here are a few that I can remember as well as my thoughts on the benefit:

Flavor changes:  They change the flavor on this gum about every 18 months.  And each flavor change gets worse.  I don’t know what they are doing to taste test this stuff, but they need to go back to ground zero.   (Need I remind you of the New Coke debacle?)  BAD CHANGE.

Removing the paper that separated the sticks in multi-packs:  This was to reduce waste and be more environmentally friendly. Now the sticks fall out of the packaging, which stinks.  But I will give on the environmental issues. GOOD CHANGE.

Adding Aspartame to the Product: Aspartame makes the product cheaper as they have to use less to attain the same level of sweetness.  It is also cheaper to transport.  Did they pass on any of the cost savings to customers?  Nope.  Did they reduce the calories on the gum at the same time? Nope?  Was this the only gum on the market without Aspartame or other artificial sweeteners in it before they made the change?  Yes.  Did it make the taste better?  No.  BAD CHANGE

Switching to paper wrappers from foil:  Again this was to help the environment.  GOOD CHANGE.

Package design changes: A big waste of time.  No consumer impact what so ever.  BAD CHANGE.

Switching from 18 piece multi-packs to 15 piece multi-packs:  They covered this change up with a new multi-pack design that opens like a cigarette box.  The pack is really not that great and the value decline was made worse by an immediate price increase on the product. BAD CHANGE.

I used to work for a brand company and I understand when you have profit targets to meet and demands from the retailers for more margin.  I get it that companies have to find cost savings and periodically have to raise prices to increase shareholder value.  And I know that  they do the math to estimate how many customers they will lose when they make these changes and they do the changes anyway because the results are still net additive to their bottom line.

But seriously, these companies need to find more innovative ways to accomplish these goals.  Because if you don’t, in the long run, the only change these companies are going to see is a continuous decline in buyers.

Customer Service AND Product

October 18, 2010

Many companies have been working on improving their customer service.  Some do this activity well.  Others give you the appearance that they are concerned about your experience and value your business, but really do nothing to improve their service.  I recently had that experience with AT&T.

I had some strange charges on my phone bill and an increase in my monthly charges that I didn’t understand.  The customer service person was friendly and quite helpful.  He couldn’t figure out why I had the charges, so he refunded them.  When I decided to discontinue one of the services I had, I asked him to make sure I wasn’t charged a fee for removing the service.  At the end of the call, he read from his programmed script to ask if there was anything else he could do to give me satisfactory service.  My only thought was “don’t put miscellaneous charges on my bill and don’t randomly increase the charges for my services so I don’t have to call in the first place.”  But alas, this customer service person can’t control or impact that.

I am not a fan of AT&T, but I also try to be impartial in my posts.  So in my best effort to be impartial, I will say that AT&T has totally missed the point.  It is great that they are trying to deliver better customer service.  BUT, if the underlying product is not good or does not offer good value for the money, it doesn’t matter how good your customer service is.  (Come on guys, charging people to add and remove services – please find another way to make money.  These fees are an insult).  You have to deliver on BOTH customer service and product.

Hiding from Consumers

April 18, 2010

As I have written before, transparency is the new buzz word in social media for companies.  What information and how much they share with their customers and competitors is definitely up for debate.  But with this trend and all the social media activity we see, I was shocked when  I came across 2 companies there were actively avoiding contact with customers.  I can only wonder how much loyalty and revenue they are losing because they do not listen.

Here are my 2 sad examples:

TCF Bank

I was riding the bus past their River North location and noticed an attractive interest rate sign in their window.  But the print was too small, so I couldn’t see the details.  When I went to search for a phone number to contact that branch, I could not find one.  The only number was a central 800 number.  Even the White Pages do not show the local branch numbers.

It took 2 tries to get through the maze of their voice automated system to get a human being.  And then she could not tell me which branches were participating and put me on endless hold while she tried to find out.  She also refused to give out the local number (“We’re not allowed to.” she told me).

For the life of me, I cannot figure out why TCF would hide the branch number.  Why not encourage a relationship with the local staff?  Banking has become a commodity – why not try using your people to gain some loyalty?  It is not like there are customers lined up down the block to get service.   When I arrived to find out more details and sign up, the bank was empty and 3 bankers were standing around talking to each other.   After signing up, my local banker agreed to give me her card so I could contact her if I had an issue.  But if I hadn’t asked, she probably not have given it to me.  Such an easy change and they are totally missing it.

Aldi Food Stores

As my friends and readers know, I love a good discount.  So I have become an Aldi shopper.  The food quality can be hit and miss, but the deals make it worth the risk to try something new.  I happen to like their yogurt.  But at my local Aldi, they do not stock a blueberry flavor.  In March, when I asked the check out person if they could request a new flavor, she told me “They don’t listen to us.  You will have to contact them directly.”

When I searched the Aldi website, I could not find an email address or phone number.  Since the day I tried to contact them, they have added an email address and a mailing address, but still no phone numbers.  I had to search the White Pages to find a local corporate location.  And when I called, no one answered.  I had to leave a voice mail and wait for them to call me back the next day.

So while Aldi is slowly moving their way into ’90’s by adding an email address, they are losing 2 great opportunities to connect.  One by listening to their store personnel and making them feel empowered to listen and respond to customers.  And two, by making it easier for the corporate folks to listen to consumers and possibly grow revenue by responding to their ideas.

In both of these cases, I eventually spoke with someone who could listen – but they were powerless to change the situation.  I definitely have a poor impression of these companies and am disappointed that it was such a hassle to deal with them.  I am hesitant to give my loyalty to a company that doesn’t value the consumer’s voice as part of their everyday procedures.  And I think others will feel the same way.