If you’re gonna suck, do it with service

I do like pushing things with headlines, which works with this little rant on customer service. Which will get a Part Deux, Uverse from Hell Boogaloo .. once I’ve calmed down. Anyhoodle.

Customer Disservice FTW 

Despair Demotivators® “don’t work even better” because they get it. But companies like Netflix with the plethora of blog posts telling them how to right their ship STILL cannot buy a clue.

Shit Happens. 

A year ago I begged my – former! – dry cleaner to suck less.

Another trip to the dry cleaner prompts a different kind of customer service and PR horror story: screwing up the right way. After ruining a nice beaded evening jacket, the owner:

  1. Apologized.
  2. Didn’t have the nerve to try to charge me for the cleaning.
  3. Immediately offered to replace the damaged item.

All of this done without my having to throw a fit.

What’s in it for them?

  • My business. No guarantees they’ll keep it but we’ll see how it goes (still shopping). Are they willing to pay cash when I find a comparable item? Or give me a store credit (more likely)?
  • My silence. It didn’t matter to the other place, but I did downrate them on sites like Yelp and Google. If I’m satisfied with how this gets resolved, I doubt I’ll be taking the time.
  • My praise? Doubtful in this case, but for many small businesses this could be an opportunity in disguise. Turning a mistake around, finding a solution and showing your value is how you can turn someone not only into a loyal customer, but a brand advocate and nice PR too.

It’s said all the time: mistakes will happen, no matter how much planning you do. It’s what happens next, after the screw up – THAT is what separates the starting lineup from those riding the pine. When you’ve made a mistake, bring your A game and make it right.

Have you ever made good on a mistake and lived to tell the tale? Do tell.

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Of Facebook, Freebies and Fan’s Choice

I’ve liked movies and bands, TV shows and websites as part of establishing my Facebook ‘profile’ – a means of letting friends see some of my current interests, the stuff I like, places I’ve been. I don’t however spend a lot of time (read: ANY) on brand fan pages, but do see their activity in the scroll.

Two updates caught my eye, both from brands I’ve “Liked,” both offering ‘deals’ that came dangerously close to separating the money from my wallet.

The Fan’s Choice

  1. Clinique has an online only special that is very tempting, which adds a twist to their in-store “free gift with purchase” special: I decide. I get to go through and select a series of options, customize it to be exactly what I want. Wicked tempting.
  2. Despair has been letting the fans decide new Demotivators for a while and just when I thought my latest choice won out, they wrinkled that twist with a new one: put your money where you vote is. See the top vote getters in the latest poll were thisclose so they’ve decided to let us cast a final vote with our product orders, then get our ‘vote’ as a free gift with that purchase. Sneaky little shits.

Give to Get

Discussion of freemium business models, play to pay, loss leaders and other marketing ploys, I think SMBs sometimes forget the most simple of option: listen to the customer. Give them the choice, let them decide what is of value, what’s a gift or have them participate by selecting the promo or latest product they want to buy.

One of my favorite wine shops has free tastings during the week, often sponsored by the wine distributors. By giving out free samples not only does the shop owner make money as most people like something and therefore buy, she gets valuable market research data: a more accurate profile of her customers’ preferences so she knows what to keep in inventory. Smart.

Pay to Play

I’m still not sold on Facebook as a ‘must’ for all brands, think giving away services for free sets a bad precedent and yet the “Free with PURCHASE” is something different. I’m buying something I like and feeling I’m getting a ‘deal’ because of that gift, I’m assigning greater value to it based on that perception.

Thoughts? Anything you’ve bought because of the ‘freebie’ that came with it? Some way you can add that to your marketing mix?

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Shit Happens. Now what?

My email went down this week. Grr.. arrgh. Not good. EMAIL is not just back, not just how you send your newsletters. EMAIL means business.


I’ve always liked my web host well enough. Hardly any technical problems, they’ve helped with some WordPress issues beyond their scope and have good uptime or whatever it’s called. They have staff right here in the U.S. via a toll number that is plain spoken, skips the technical jumbo and listens to your requests. If you have already tried steps 1-8 and no success, they will go off the script. Usually.

Shit happens.

So the email isn’t working, happens.

A login to my hosts website revealed nothing, no warning or “we are working on it.” A (toll) call to the support line revealed nothing during the LONG hold time about a “known outage.” There wasn’t a system in place to deal with the problem, no follow ups afterwards.

When I called I was surprised by the customer disservice. For the first time, the technical unsupport person did not go off the script, instead making me wait and explain before finally admitting that there was a known issue effecting some customers.

No warnings, no updates, no ETA. Do not pass go, straight to fail.

Admitting mistakes is tricky, not just legally but from a service standpoint too. It will depend on the customer on what approach is best, but hiding your head in the sand or ignoring the problem won’t make it go away.

Example Bad: If you’re Groupon, you “explain” yourself.. and get railed for your crappy non-apology. *facepalm* Then listen to the feedback, pull your ads and apologize for real.

Example Good: If you’re Eidia Lush shoes and you mess up someone’s order, you respond to someone’s social complaint with a real apology. You turn a problem into an opportunity, winning a loyal customer, advocate, influencer (Mmm.. buzzwords, tasty) in the bargain.

Small Business Takeaway

Don’t fear mistakes. Work out a plan ahead to prevent them and when mistakes do happen, empower employees to improvise, adapt, overcome. You will screw up. There will be technical difficulties. It is what you do – or DON’T do - next that counts.

Examples, anecdotes, advice for handling mistakes? Do tell.

Photo credit: one of my fave DIY Despair posters I’ve seen on the Interwebs.

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Rant Alert: Dear Dry Cleaners, Suck Less Dammit!

I rarely use my professional blog for a personal story or diatribe, but when something crosses over to my world of marketing and public relations, it’s fair game.

Long story short: a local dry cleaner (misnamed “Dependable Cleaners” of Smyrna, GA) shrunk an older but still nice, wearable silk and wool blend cardigan of mine. Here’s what happened next:

  • I had to go into the store, show them the length of the sleeves (still normal) vs. the body of the sweater (at least 3 or 4 inches shorter than the sleeves, now hitting me above the belt line).
  • After some hemming and hawing about IF the sweater was damaged and NO APOLOGY, they tried and failed to unshrink the sweater.
  • Their only concession: it’s older, a bit worn so they will refund the cleaning fees. That’s it.

Customer Service #Fail

Mind you that last exchange was prefaced with the manager telling me she “wants to keep my business.” Fat chance of that happening lady. You read all the time about how to deal with negative issues, but it boils down to Suck Less.

Annoying me even more was the fact I could not get the woman off the phone. As many times as I said “we’re done,” she kept coming back with “it’s an older sweater” like it’s a reasonable excuse. Doing what many a PR or social media pro would do, I’ve turned my frustrations into a Code Yellow blog post.

Where to turn? Social Media of course.

I’ve been a big user of TripAdvisor for years, always show the love as well as the hate as the experience arises. When and if appropriate, I’ll do a Like on Facebook or Epinions. Many social networking sites, especially local channels mostly all require unique registrations, and I’ll admit to being too lazy to take the time.

Facebook Connect to the rescue. I’ve spent a cathartic 15 minutes negatively yet honestly reviewing this establishment on sites like Kudzu, Yahoo Local and Google Maps (sorry, CitySearch but FB connect would not work). If that makes me a poor sport, I don’t care.

They had their chances to make this right: apologize, refund the money, and make even an token offer to make up for the value of the sweater. BTW, would I even trust them again had they given me a store credit? Doubtful but then I’d also not be out here ranting either.

Mistakes happen. It’s what happens next that matters most.

Do you use social media when you get bad service? Great service? Just asking.

Photo credit: Despair makes awesome posters and calendars. You can buy them.

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Personal Service: Marketing and Public Relations Secret Weapon

For all the chatter about branding, reaching out, building relationships and making connections, I wonder how much of it really cuts through and matters to the paying customer.

Service and the X Factor

If two businesses are selling the same thing for comparable prices, what’s the difference maker?  That little something extra: an unexpected gift or special touch, Lagniappe we from Louisiana call it.

  • I don’t do fast food that often, but Chick-Fil-A (and their evil Chicken Minis) has always been one of my favorites. Chick-Fil-A may not have a dollar value menu like other fast food chains; it’s the employees that make an impression. Everyone is polite, well spoken, friendly and professional about doing their jobs.Just because it’s fast food, does not mean they cannot go above and beyond. During their Labor Day promotion last year, the service was fast, and then some: our food was delivered to our table, no waiting.

When Service gets Personal

What will make someone drive an extra five miles out of their way in Atlanta traffic (See also: the 6th circle of Hell) to go to one business vs. another? Quality, service and price certainly play their parts, but it’s the X factor.

Wine-RedWhiteI shop two wine stores in the Smyrna Vinings area of Atlanta.

  • Smyrna World of Beverage. Large, varied selection with competitive pricing and solid service from owner Jay Wang.
    He makes great recommendations for affordable, second-label wines and new varietals.  More than that, Jay really likes and knows wine, and makes an effort to remember my face and my tastes when I visit.

    It’s a great shop just up the street, next to my local Publix and so convenient.

  • The Wine Cellars. Limited but impressive niche selection, focusing on quality wines at reasonable prices, and outstanding personal service. Owner Renee Rowe offers free wine tastings some days to give her customers a chance to try before they buy.Going a step further, Renee is developing relationships beyond the store. The other day she emailed me to let me know a couple of my favorite labels were back in stock. A simple example of personal service that will get me in my car, making more trips to see her…and spending more money in her store.

For small businesses in a harsh reality of price squeezes from big chains and competition from the Internet, the little things–the personal touch with a quick, easy and free email–make the biggest difference.

What’s your favorite example of personal service that keeps you going back for more?

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