Archives for December 2009

A sign of good customer service

It’s that time of the year.  The time for gathering up gift receipts (or not) and exchanging the pink all-in-one bunny pajamas, complete with floppy ears and fuzzy tail, from Aunt Sue for the new gadget you really wanted but didn’t get for Christmas.  (anyone get the Christmas Story reference? Love that movie!)

So, that’s where I found myself this week; in line at the Guest Relations counter at Target. As I was standing on line, I couldn’t help noticing this sign behind the counter.

Why couldn’t I help noticing it?  Because it was about 8 feet square on a bright Target red background.  It is Target’s return and exchange policy.  When I first read it, I had a negative reaction.  Nothing like putting a big giant sign up telling me all the ways you’re NOT going to help me.  They may as well have made it in the shape of a stop sign (octagon, right?).  But, I had a few minutes to kill in line.  So, while I snuck a picture, getting curious looks from the staff like I was taking photos of the blueprints for a top secret missile defense system, I reevaluated my response.

On further reflection – I love it!  Here’s why:

1. The sign was a clear as day.  Therefore, Target has made it clear as day how we are going to do this exchange.  There is complete transparency, no hidden clauses, footnotes or a single asterisk on the entire board.  I would much rather know going into a transaction, what the Ts & Cs are and be able to make informed decisions before I commit to the relationship.  If I didn’t like the terms I was reading I could have stepped off of that line or at least formulated my response to the exchange staff and begin the negotiation with eyes wide open

2. Mutual expectation setting and management is a key to a long term relationship.  To me, this sign managed my expectations.  And, Target continually exceeds my expectations in this area.  For this is not the first time I’ve returned or exchanged an item at Target.  And, never once have I been required to satisfy all the conditions of this policy.  On this occasion, I returned a Christmas decoration without a receipt, only armed with the credit card with which it was purchase by my wife.  Granted, it was unopened.  But that could have been viewed like trying to return the menorah the day after Hanukkah ended.

The only other suggestion to add even more transparency is to post this sign above each check out lane so folks can be fully informed before they completed their initial transaction.  This effectively, among other benefits, delivers the message that the sale is the beginning of my relationship with Target, not the end.

So, how’s that for a positive spin? (I’m inspired by Terry Starbucker to see more of life as the glass half full)

(In case you couldn’t read the picture, here’s the verbatim:
“A receipt dated within 90 days is required for all returns and exchanges.  All returns must be new, unused and contain all original packaging and accessories.  Some items cannot be returned if opened, including music, movies, video games, software and collectibles.  Some items are subject to a 15% restocking fee, including camcorders, digital cameras, portable DVD players and portable electronics.  Other restrictions may apply”)

Your 2010 Goal: Design Yourself Out of Your Job

So, you’re the CCG (Chief Customer Guru) at Megalopolis Corp.  You’re empire includes all of customer service and support for your global operations; 15 contact centers; 9,000 customer service agents; 2,000 technical support and help desk staff and all the brick and mortar, technology and telephony goodies that drive the machine.

You’ve just had a great holiday season.  Batteries are fully charged.  You’re ready to begin executing on your 2010 strategic plan to improve customer service and finally measure the impact of your service delivery on brand equity.  You’ve build your financial models, staffing projections and volume forecasts; working with Marketing and Product Development to understand their plans so you can be a supportive business partner.

It’s January 4, 2010, 8:30am.  You have your Monday morning one on one meeting with your CEO.  Close the door, sit down at the conference table and he says:

“You’re mission for 2010 is to eliminate your job, and your entire function in this company.  You have ultimate authority to drive decisions in any area of the organization that you think impacts your ability to accomplish this mission.  We’ll meet back here on February 1st to review your plan”.  He gets up and walks out of the room.

What do you do?


Six months after purchasing a new car with one of those on-board NASA super computers that monitors everything you never knew needed monitoring in a car; the flat tire sensor illuminated on the dashboard. Being of what I think is reasonable intelligence, I naturally assumed that meant I had some thing wrong with the tire…like it was flat. So, since I had recently moved over 100 miles away from the dealer from which I bought the car, I called my now local dealer for an appointment to have the sensor fixed and, or the tire changed. Mind you, this was one of those run-flat tires that can’t be patched but has to be replaced – at about four times the price of a regular tire.

The diagnosis was that the tire was fine and the sensor just needed to be reset. So, I accepted that as the truth. About a month later, I’m driving and, in my peripheral field of view, I see “FTI” appear on my dash once again in flashing red letters. Apparently the engineers who designed this car had a flare for the dramatic. Because, along with “FTI” flashing in red, was a dire warning about the perils that await me if I don’t drop everything and immediately attend to this. So I call for an appointment the next day. This time I specifically asked that the tire be taken off the car, off the rim and examined from the inside out.

Once again, the diagnosis? “The tire is fine. We replaced the FTI sensor”. I was assured that the tire was examined thoroughly. Two days later was Thanksgiving. So, my wife and I jumped in the car with the four perfectly fine tires and headed out to visit family over 300 miles away. Let’s bullet point what happened next:

  • “FTI” appears back flashing on the dashboard once we arrive at our destination
  • I call the car company’s roadside assistance number
  • It’s Thanksgiving. There’s not much they can do as all the local dealers are closed for the long weekend
  • They recommend I drive the car to the local dealer, leave the car in their parking lot, call them on Monday morning and ask them to look at the tire.
  • How do I get back home? Rent a car, was the answer. Great!
  • So, I do all that. What choice did I have at this point?
  • The following Monday, I call the dealer where I left the car as well as the dealer from whom I bought the car; railing to him about the issue.

Here’s where a bad situation turned good and my original dealer gained a customer for life. The service coordinator at my original dealer told me he would handle the entire situation from that point forward. He called the dealer where I left the car and told them to make any necessary repairs. As it turns out, the tire had a nail right in the middle of the tread. Shocker. My original dealer paid for the replacement tire, reimbursed me for the rental car and had one of his mechanics drive a flatbed over 600 miles round trip to pick up my car and deliver it back to me.

So, while I never thought where I bought a car was all that important. I was wrong. Apparently there is a huge difference even within a brand. Now, assume I buy a new car every 5 years for the next 30 years. My lifetime revenue to that car company, considering the type of cars they sell, is somewhere north of $200,000 in today’s dollars. That’s an exceptional return on that new tire, rental car and effort to pick up my car. Don’t you think?

Bloggers. Use your voice to do good things

This is the second time I’ve deviated from my mission here, which is to provide some insight on personal customer experience and professional lessons learned as I sojourn through this crazy life.  The first was a deeply personal reflection that I just had to put down in words.

After returning from my first Blog World Expo this fall which was filled with positive energy and opportunities everywhere, I read a post by Seth Godin that started me thinking and reflecting on another theme running through the expo – The Rule of High School. 

As a relative outsider to the blogging community, but as someone who has enough battle scars from business to, I think, garner a modest amount of credibility, my only suggestion (I don’t give advice) is to do something positive with your voice; whether it be for commercial gain,  making people’s lives better through charity work or simply providing someone an entertaining diversion away from the other crap going on in their lives.  Not that this idea is something new.  The most highly respected folks in this space like Chris Brogan, Laura Fitton and of course Seth Godin have been carrying this banner since day one and know way more about this stuff than I.  But, from my vantage point, maybe the message takes on a slightly different meaning?  You make the call.

Do good.  Don’t go back to High School.

Know thy customer: its the little things (literally)

Ok so some of you are going think this is a bit of a strange take on the concept, but you never know where an idea will strike; where you will find inspiration.  Where did I come up with this latest pearl?  In the men’s room at a McDonalds.

It’s an experience economy, right?  Products are commodities.  Certainly hamburgers are.  (ok you can argue that nobody makes french fries like Mickey D’s.  But whatever).  So, how then do you create an experience that transcends and makes someone like me stop and say “brilliant”?

Its the little things that steam from a real understanding of your customer and how they carry on through this life.  These things allow you to make a connection at a deep, emotional level.

I have two small kids.  My three year old boy is my hero and inspiration.  He also potty trained himself pretty early in his short life.  So, when I go into a public rest room with him, I usually find myself either holding him up like a football and aiming him into the toilet.  Or lifting him up by his arm pits at the urinal.  Why?  Because the ‘rim’ in both cases is always too high for his….you get the idea.

Someone at McDonald’s understands this dilemma.  They understand that a large portion of its customer base are young children, and parents of those children.  Beyond that simple demographic stat, they know how young families work.  And how a seemingly simple task is far from simple with young kids.

So, what did they do?   

They put the urinal lower on the wall so the young one’s can accomplish something on their own that’s really a big deal.  And, its not so low that the young at heart are…uh…sailing over the top.

Simple.  Brilliant!  Thanks McDonalds!