Disappointing customers without remorse – until the handouts begin

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could ignore, abuse and ridicule your customers and still make money?  Usually, the ability to “ignore” the economic realities of doing business is limited to giant corporations who keep running in spite of themselves.  However, a recent phenomenon is for these giant corporations to come begging for taxpayer money because they’re just too important to our economy to allow them to “go under”.

Reuters reported yesterday that GM has issued a HUGE “mea culpa” to the “American People” in yet another effort to secure more money from the government.   In the article at Reuters, GM says it “disappointed” and “betrayed” consumers:

General Motors Corp on Monday unveiled an unusually frank advertisement acknowledging it had “disappointed” and sometimes even “betrayed” American consumers as it lobbies to clinch the federal aid it needs to stay afloat into next month.

The print advertisement marked a sharp break from GM’s public stance of just several weeks ago when it sought to justify its bid for a U.S. government on the grounds that the credit crisis had undermined its business in ways executives could never have foreseen.

It also came as Chief Executive Rick Wagoner, who has led the automaker since 2000, faces new pressure to step aside as GM seeks up to $18 billion in federal funding.

GM has been making repeated trips to the government hand out trough.  Briggs Armstrong in a post at the Ludwig von Mises Institute blog points out:

It should not be forgotten that in September of 2008, Congress gave the “big three” automakers a loan totaling $25 billion. Now they are back. This time they say that with a mere $50 billion they can turn things around and become profitable in the future.

I can’t remember a time when GM cared about their pleasing their customers.   In the words of just about every business analyst on the planet – the reason GM isn’t making any  money is they aren’t making cars anyone wants to buy!

I love working with small business owners and this is why – because small business owners “get it”.  If they don’t, they’re bankrupt and broke in no time.  Meanwhile, it is going to literally take an act of Congress for GM execs to get it through their collective thick corporate heads that they need to start building cars people WANT to buy.

Remember the blockbuster movie, Transformers – released way back in 2007?  Remember the ultra HOT Camaro featured in the movie?  Remember?  Gosh – I remember.  I haven’t been passionate about a car in DECADES, yet I really wanted to own a new Camaro when I walked out of that movie.  It’s a good thing I couldn’t walk out of the theater and buy one because there would be on sitting in my driveway right now if GM had played their cards right.

Instead 2009 is almost upon us and  you may be able to finally drive one next spring.  That’s right – spring of  2009.   Oh, and instead of featuring the 2010 Camaro in another blockbuster action movie (been there, done that) , the dolts in charge of marketing are giving you a sneak peak during a third rate network television show “My Own Worst Enemy”.  (Is that show still ON television?  Hasn’t it been cancelled yet?)

Can you imagine Naomi Dunford promoting her Online Business School and then waiting two YEARS to release it for sale?  If Naomi were to adopt such an idiotic marketing strategy, you’d seriously doubt her marketing acumen – yet that’s the rule rather than the exception over at GM.

Long live small business!  Long live the small business owners who “get it” and who product products and services that people want to buy!

Do You Measure Customer Service By Satisfaction or by Complaints?


When it comes to business, measuring is an integral part of success. While measuring sales, marketing even web visitors is common, many businesses fail to recognize the need to measure customers service… and with good reason.

Measuring customer service is hard and quite honestly, most businesses are not created with customer service as part of their business DNA.

Customer service as part of a company’s DNA is the absolute best description of what it takes to truly deliver on the customer service front… and it’s so not mine. That phrase totally belongs to Ben Yaskovitz. It’s in Tip #4 of his latest blog post Using Great Customer Service as a Differentiator.

What an elegant, descriptive way to describe the perfect delivery of exceptional customer service.

Ben goes on to tell of his own customer service testimonials from his start up Standout Jobs.

Exceptional customer service has earned him not only testimonials but also new sign ups for the service. Obviously customer service is part of the Standout Jobs DNA.

This really contrasts with my own experience with another start up. However, a more recent and horrible tale is tole by Marketing Pilgrim Andy Beal who writes a tale of customer service gone bad with his blog post Office Depot Joins the Reputation Deadpool.

In a nutshell, Office Depot put out some ATTRACTIVE bait to capture a new customer by offering a great limited time offer of a special low-low price on a Toshiba Laptop. That’s the way it works. A a business, you entice a customer to try your product or service with an offer that is too good to resist. Office Depot even sweetened the already sweet deal by offering next day shipping. You can’t build a successful business on profit margins this thin, but it’s necessary to win new customers.

Then, as you fulfill the order, you amaze the customer. You meet or exceed their expectations with the hope of winning that customer as a steady customer for life… or at least, the next few years.

In Andy’s case, Office Depot was trying to woo him away from his “steady” office superstore, Staples. At the very least Andy expects flowers, a nice dinner and a movie. Poetry, a moonlight gondola ride and ridiculously expensive champagne would have sealed Staple’s fate as soon to be “used to be”. Instead, Andy was stood up and then sent a bill for flowers he never saw and a dinner he never ate. Andy’s devotion to Staples has grown ten fold as a result of the experience. Meanwhile, Office Depot’s brand is being drug through the streets after being tarred and feathered.

Obviously customer service is NOT part of Office Depot’s DNA.

Kelly over at Maxiumum Customer Experience writes:

Your customers are skeptical. There are customers who want you to provide delight, and then there’s this lady. Depending on your industry, there may be thousands lined up behind her. At this point she’s not looking for delight. She’ll take a discount or some other special offer, but what I heard in her voice says it’s not what she’s looking for.

She wants to know somebody at this company cares.

BRAVO Kelly!!! That’s a hit the nail square on the head kind of observation!!!

Does anyone at your company care?

Trust me, if there isn’t anyone who cares, it’s going to show. It’s surprising how a truly sympathetic ear can take the edge off of the burning rage that builds when you feel you’ve been reduced to a number.

How do you measure customer service?

Leadership Tools offers these as ways to measure customer service quality.

  • Customer Attrition Ratio = number of customers leaving / total number of customers (for the same time period) – the higher the ratio, the less likely it is that your company is consistently delivering quality customer service.
  • Sales Growth – your reputation precedes you. If people are still buying from you, and referring others, chances are they are happy with the service and they are loyal to your organization.
  • Customer Survey Results – directly asking customers to rate the service level they receive is by far the best way to measure service quality.
  • Customer Complaints – be thankful for each complaint that comes to your attention. You can only provide a thoughtful response to customer issues once you are made aware of the issue. When customer’s complain they represent not just their issue, but perhaps an issue that is affecting others.

However, it’s all for naught if customer service isn’t part of your company’s DNA. It’s cool to care about your customers. Pass it on!

An Important Lesson from Amazon on How NOT to Treat Your Customers.

GRR!!!!! I hate it when people get so FOCUSED upon the bottom line that they lose sight of the long term consequences of their actions!!!!

Angela Hoy is the publisher of the Writer’s Weekly which she uses to promote her POD publishing business, Booklocker.com. On Friday, Angela launched a firestorm when she reported that Amazon is putting the squeeze on POD publishers.

So here’s the deal… Amazon executives are doing their best “Tony Soprano” impression by threatening to remove the “buy” buttons from POD (print on demand) titles listed on the site that ARE NOT printed by Amazon’s own Book Surge POD. “Do this and nobody gets hurt,” is the implication. The problem is, someone is going to get hurt and my guess is it will be Amazon.

Amazon was the first hog to the internet book selling trough. In the early days, when you signed up as an Amazon affiliate, you could choose to be paid in “books” instead of dollars. I know that is how I still choose to be paid for my Amazon affiliate commissions. The thing is, authors are readers by nature. Angela confesses to spending over $1500 last year on Amazon.  That may be a bit above “average” but maybe not.  I just realized the figure I gave my CPA was only for the books I bought, not the ones I “bought” using my affiliate earnings!

So, authors are big book buyers… and Amazon was a pioneer in the whole internet affiliate marketing model. By removing the “buy” button for POD works on the site, Amazon is not only going to lose their author /customers.  These authors may not be buying copies of their own book from the retail giant, but I’m sure they are buying other author’s works through the site.  However, in addition to peeving off their biggest spending customers…. Amazon is  also going to lose a portion of their affiliate sales network as well.  My guess would be that those affiliates are probably part of the productive 20% of the old 80/20 rule which applies to affiliates and their sales in SPADES.

My mother used to refer to such actions as “cutting off your nose to spite your face”.

There’s a HUGE firestorm brewing over Angela’s revelation. So far over 60 blogs have weighed in to comment and I’m sure that Monday morning… more will join the cause. The very NATURE of Web 2.0 is for this type of story to go “viral”. (I hope Booklocker’s web hosting company is ready for this onslaught!)

POD authors who link to Amazon to sell their books will be changing those links and they probably won’t wait until the buy button is removed. Once they go to the time and effort to “switch” the links promoting their book from Amazon to Barnes and Noble… THEY WILL NOT take the time to switch them back to Amazon if Amazon backs down from this stand.

Now, Slashdot has picked up the story… suddenly this fight will extend BEYOND authors and into regular book readers who will be outraged at the “Big Bully” tactics being employed by Amazon. Nobody likes a bully… and until now, Amazon didn’t look like a bully.

Amazon loses all around. They lose the sales… they lose the links… they lose the relationship with thousands of authors… A.K.A. their customers!!!!

It’s obvious that the long term consequences of this action have yet to dawn on the executives at Amazon. Perhaps they thought no one would speak up. Looks like Amazon needs a lesson in Web 2.0.  You know the old saying… “there’s no such thing as bad publicity”?  I think this may be just such a case.

Here is a list of other bloggers (from Angela’s article page) taking up the fight. If you want to add your post to the “cause”… the post a comment to this post. If you’ve got your own blog, copy this list and post it on your blog as well. The more links to these posts… the more “traction” this cause will get.

My Gym Gets an “F” for Customer Appreciation

Sixteen years ago, I purchased my first “The Firm” work out tape. I was introduced to the product by an ad in SHAPE magazine.  I paid $49.95 which was a LOT of money for a video tape, even back then.   It marked the beginning of my personal quest to restructure my body without the aid of a surgeon.

I was an AVID home exerciser until I gave birth to my third child the same week we moved into a new home to accommodate our growing family.  For some reason, that series of events threw me into a tail spin from which I have yet to recover physically.  In other words, I fell off that horse and haven’t been able to get back on for any serious stretch since.

Fast forward 13 years later. Over the past decade, I’ve made multiple “false starts” at regaining my “the Firm” physique.  Thanks to my hyperactive dog, I had slain the “I gotta exercise” monster but I wanted to add weight training to my cardio vascular walking work outs. After six months of false starts….last December, I joined a gym.. . hoping to achieve the goal to the left!

I told the gym’s owner up front that I was was joining for much needed accountability. THIS IS IMPORTANT: I was assured that if I went MIA, I would get a phone call from them.  We’re grading on a curve and they’re the ones who set the standard. I didn’t set up a false expectation… they did that for me.

In February, I contracted the Bataan death flu that was going around. Because I suffer from some kind of sick mental defect, I found it IMPOSSIBLE to stop working and rest … which meant my recovery took longer than anyone else’s on the planet.  Needless to say, I haven’t been to the gym in the past month.

Not only did I not get a phone call… when my birthday came and went this week, I didn’t even get a birthday card from them.

I used to get cards when I lived in Indiana from my insurance agent on my birthday. My husband would get them too and I have to admit… its only in retrospect that I recognize what a powerful marketing tool it was.  I never would have imagined that something so small would have such a HUGE affect on my loyalty to my agent. In hindsight, those silly birthday cards actually kept me from rate shopping on my insurance! I realized that as I begin to “rate shop” for the third time since moving to the Sunshine State. I’m ready to jump ship. The agent with whom I worked isn’t in that office anymore…. I have no connection… no loyalty… no reason to remain other than getting the lowest rate possible. It’s an ugly position from which to try to do business.

Back to my gym… it’s not that they’re not trying to grow their business.  After all, they are having a drawing next week to present a 50″ plasma television to one lucky member.  The way to enter the drawing is to either renew your membership (1 entry) or bring a friend who joins (2 entries). The problem is… a chance to win a television isn’t enough to get me to renew my membership OR bring a friend. On the other hand, the guarantee of a warm, personable staff would be MORE than enough… and that’s not what’s happening there.

The friendly faces I saw behind the counter in December when I signed up are no longer there. The helpful personal trainer is gone and replaced by a young man whose disgust and disrespect for the middle aged woman with whom he was demonstrating the proper use of the equipment was glaringly obvious.  The pleasant, friendly older woman behind the counter when I joined has been replaced by a surly teenager who sneers as he hands me a bottle of overpriced water.  Snowbird season isn’t over…. what happened to the friendly staff?

Because of what I do… I’m conscious of what’s going on. I’m taking note.  The other morning, I found myself watching an infomercial for The Firm. I find myself thinking, “You know… I could pull out my old tapes and try to get back on that horse again.”

OOPS!!!   Not only am I NOT bringing friends and family in to join “my” gym… I’ve already checked out myself. They may have gotten 12 months of membership fees out of me… but they won’t get a renewal at this pace.

The thing is… the gym owner and staff “set the tone” for the gym.   They set my expectations by assuring me they’d stay involved… but once my check cleared… they were on to “more important things”…. like recruiting new members.

I tell clients over and over again…. you can not build your business exclusively upon new customers.    If you don’t have repeat business… you’re dead in the water.  Whether it’s a gym… or a blog… repeat customers are the LIFE BLOOD  of any business!!!

When the shoe fits… I get flamed.

Well, my last blog entry inspired a nice little flame from the designer in question.

Despite the fact that I didn’t mention him by name, he recognized himself in the post and sent me an email taking me to the wood shed. He dressed me down thoroughly and instructed me that had I followed the instructions on his web site and “contacted him in the specified manner” that he would have gotten back with me sooner.

Here’s a news flash for ANYONE who thinks a potential customer is reading every single word you write… whether it’s a blog, a brochure or an ad that runs in print….


The semi colon used on the about page instead of a colon is not going to tip the scales and make someone NOT contact you to hire you for your services…unless you’re offering your services as a proof reader or editor.

As a matter of fact, I’ve seen typos in one place or another on almost every “successful” web site.  It’s the new world order of marketing… “Get it out quickly… mistakes be damned…. make corrections later!”

I’ve been telling clients for a decade now… “The absolute BEST email you can get in your in box (aside from the “I’m interested in hiring you” one)  is the one where the reader corrects your typos!”  Why?  Because that means people are READING your content!!!!  That is the sign that the content featured on your web site/brochure/ad is indeed compelling content and that readers care enough to share their observations with you.

If you’re going to use your Facebook/Myspace/LinkedIn account as your primary web presence… check it daily.

I know… there are people who advise you to ignore your email.  However, I think Steve Pavilina hit the nail on the head with tip #6 on “10 Business Lessons From a Snarky Entrepreneur

Become so organized it disgusts people.  You’ll never achieve perfection, but you’ll be far better off than your peers who spend two weeks every year looking for things they misplaced.  If you aren’t chronically well-organized, punctual, and dependable, rest assured you’re competing with someone who is.

In the end, no one likes to be “dressed down”… however, you must remember…your best customer is not the one who quietly slinks away… and then complains to 15 people about your business.  Your most treasured customer should be the one who voices a complaint.

Kristin Zhivago writes in her post A buyer’s hellish experience

Understand what people want to do on your website. If you’re not mapping out every step of what everyone wants to DO on your website, you’re bound to be frustrating people. This is vitally important. It is also seldom given half the attention it deserves. There is no substitute for getting input from users and watching users try to use your site. Yes, it’s an extra time-consuming process. It’s also one of the most important things you can do to increase revenue.

I contrast that designer’s response with the ABSOLUTELY classy response to a customer service mis-step which appears on the Ingram Micro blog, First Impressions are Hard to Overcome.

So what do you do when such an issue comes to your attention?  The best defense is not defensive at all.  Own up to your mistakes or shortcomings, pledge to try harder and resolve the concerns, and ask that the offended party give you another chance.  Sometimes they will.  Often they won’t.  In either case its an expensive and humbling lesson.

Excuses and deflections will never fly.  Honesty and perseverance might.

My apology to the designer mentioned previously:

I did NOT intend to humiliate you or dress you down.  I intentionally did NOT mention you, our shared client nor my other client by name.  No details were shared which would identify you and that was by design.

I’m sorry your feelings were hurt.  Your work is inspired.  Take my blog post for what it was… insight as to how a potential customer uses your web presence to contact you.

I’m most disappointed that I will not be able to offer your services to my constantly growing list of clients.  I hope my comments will enable you to refine your web presence so it can become a powerful catalyst in building your business.

Oh… and sorry it took me so long to cook that crow so I could eat it!