Is your business marketing-proof?

Apple is not “Apple” anymore.

Let that sink in for a second.

One of the most successful brands in the world (allegedly) isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. They report earnings that stretch from here to Saturn and back – with stops at Starbucks, bathroom breaks and day trips to the galaxy’s biggest ball of yarn – yet they fall short of expectations.

You are not Apple

It’s my reply to a ton of would-be FAQs. You dream of ‘failing’ so well. No brand is infallible, above reproach or the slings and arrows of a tough economy or negative customer feedback. And yet, some businesses seem to be.

Netflix. Before they flip flopped on Quikster, they got a lot of crap by alienating customers and investors with confusing strategy and bad PR. Yes they lost subscribers, but 1) it wasn’t as mass an exodus as the hype made it seem and 2) they stood to make more money in the long run.

Dry Cleaners. Liquor Stores. Restaurants. One of my local cleaners is crap, but they have the location so it doesn’t matter. One of my favorite wine stores is on a busy corner, doing fine without even a website to pimp their libations.

  • Friend: “Grr…this place always messes up my order, takes too long, whah whine gripe.”
  • You: “Then why do you keep coming here?”
  • Friend: “It’s close/convenient/cheap.”

Uverse. See also, almost any utility that provides phone or cable or power. The service they provide might be nice, but when they don’t work, their so-called support is an insult to customer disservice abominations.

What does it take to be marketing proof?

  • You’re made of Teflon. No amount of bad press, angry tweets or ranty Facebook posts seem to stick. Angry customers don’t scare you, even if they talk more.
  • What down economy? You and your ‘too big to fail’ banker are laughing together, as you’re raking in the cash no matter what.
  • Is that a problem? No ‘PR crisis‘ – real or imagined – lasts in stakeholders memories more than a nanosecond.
  • You’re the only game in town. You’re where customer service goes to die, be reanimated via some hoo doo rituals, tortured then killed again. But there are no alternatives, no Pepsi to your Coke.
    • You’re oxygen. You sell toilet paper, food, gas, utilities – the stuff everyone HAS to have; customers are a given.
  • You’ve cornered location. “No one beyond a 30-mile radius probably knows [you] exist, and [you’re] happy that way,” says Shakirah Dawud on web-proof SMBs who can ignore Yelp and Google.
  • You’re the BIG BOX BRAND. Everyone will assume bigger is better, even if it’s not. You might lose one customer with your terrible customer service – and they may tell all their friends – but there’s plenty more where they came from.

No matter what you do or don’t, what’s said or not, your phone is always ringing, your website always clicking, a line of paying customers waiting outside your door. Is this your business? I probably doubt it. 

Thoughts on a marketing-proof business, real or mythical? 

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Raising the bar on expectations, one customer at a time

Since I’ve been on a tear the last few posts, time to switch gears. Central theme, customer service expectations blown out of water.

Chick-fil-A 

Not too long ago, I tweeted that “Chick-fil-A is the Disney of fast food.” Because they are.

One busy Saturday morning I waited for my chicken minis. Which really, they need to make available all day b/c they’d be my #1 all time favorite snack, right there with the Checkers fries. Ahem.

I hadn’t complained, wasn’t put out by the wait. Without blinking the manager handed me a card for a free chicken biscuit for my next visit as she handed me my food.

Atlanta Bread Company

One of my favorite coffice joints with the yummy soups and free WiFi is ABC. I had joined another woman at a big table – because all the small ones were full.

A while later a manager asked if we would mind moving, since they had a group meeting coming up and needed the big table. We said sure, happily got up to back up our tech toys as there were now open tables. Without hesitation, she gave us each tickets for free lunch on next visit.

My dentist and mechanic

Not sure the names are important, they’re not major brands or anything, but my dentist and mechanic get customer service, online and off. My mechanic has WiFi in the waiting room. The dentist offered use of Bose headphones for my iPod, to cancel out the noise during the wisdom teeth extraction. Both use email, other e-tools to stay in touch with their customers. I mean, I ‘liked’ my mechanic on Facebook the other day, so happy was I with their service.

What do you expect, anyway?

Maybe it’s the Gerber Baby Syndrome or ‘champagne taste, beer budget’ thing but consumers do feel more entitled to exceptional service at outlandishly low prices. Could be more Groupon backlash, everyone hunting the next BBD? I don’t know.

What I DO know is this, this is what you want: people talking about your company, praising what you do. This is what growing small businesses need, positive word of mouth. What you don’t want is to hear someone to say ‘you are the Uverse of your industry’ – that’s bad. FWIW.

In a world when Apple can’t even outdo Apple, how do you raise the bar on expectations?

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A Day in Customer Disservice HELL

Oatmeal knows from customer service pain. Well, I lived this the other day and am gonna try something different.

Pre-Ramble

I’m barely two months into my Uverse service and so far, I like the features: more TV shows to distract me, faster downloads to make slacking off multitasking easier, the phone works, and love: I can set up the DVR via my iPad app, from anywhere! So that’s good. Now for the very bad.

Dear Customer Service of the World, this is what NOT to do

09:45 a.m. Cable TV, phone and Internet go completely out.

09:45:27 a.m. This techno-junkie has 34 different heart attacks, refills the coffee and digs in.

09:55 a.m. After my self-help does NADA, I break out the number and call from my cell, since the land line is dead.

10:04 a.m. First call to AT&T Uverse is placed, goes unanswered in the hold queue – with no updates of any kind – for about 12 minutes.

10:16 a.m. Second call is made, more automated unhelp nonsupport. Finally get through to a person, who blames the power outages in the northeast for my long hold time. Excuse me?! Unusually high calls means you call up your 2nd shift in Bangladesh and get them on the phone already. I am disconnected. Uverse 1, Me O.

10: 21 a.m. Third call, actually reach a person who, while yes their English is probably better than my Urdu, is less than helpful, but at least we found the problem (faulty equipment). I get disconnected trying to reach someone who can help after 31 minutes. Uverse 2, Me O.

10: 53 a.m. Fourth call and this one is a doozy that lasted 28 minutes. At which point I get transferred to the manufacturer of said faulty equipment and am told to work it out. With. Them.

Seriously, making ME fix YOUR mistakes? WTH?!

This is Groupon blaming viewers for not ‘getting’ their ‘clever’ ads. This is Netflix dissing its members, pawning the solution to their problems off on the paying customers.

So yes the equipment is under warranty and the company will replace it. In 5 to 10 business days. Because sure, I can go without Phone, TV and INTERNET for almost 2 weeks???!!!!!

11:21 a.m. Feels like call 3,492 but it’s only the 5th try. In which 1) I make it clear I need more help 2) stress the disconnect problem and the fact they need to call my CELL phone in the event we are cut off as my land line isn’t working. After explaining the whole “your equipment, YOU fix it” issue in a 14 minute call, I am yes.. put on hold and eventually, disconnected. Uverse 3, Me O.

11:36 a.m. Call #6 was the lucky one, reached a nice lady who goes by “Cindy” who by noon did agree to send a technician out. Then it was the old four-hour window of service wait, in which I did sneak out for lunch and quick hit of WiFi and the solo PR chat.

03:15 p.m. A very nice, helpful technician replaces the bad doodad and all is right in my wired, wired world.

Biggest Lie in Customer Service

I put this on Google+ before: “A good number to call you back in case we are disconnected?” If that’s not the biggest bunch of bullshit, it’s gotta be top 5.

Normally I don’t call out brands like this, but THIS is why companies get a bad rap. See above, I’m actually liking Uverse. When it works. It’s the support after the sale, when something gets messed up, that needs fixing. What’s worse, it’s highly fixable.. they just don’t seem to try. FWIW.

Thoughts, other stories to share, like why we put up with this crap? 

Photo: used this Despair before but don’t care as it is PERFECT for this rant.

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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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