Jul 30

My card. My pain in the ass.

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Dandy Stevenson.

I hate cilantro and American Express. I’m rather good at avoiding cilantro but as an authorized
American-express-logo agent for Peppercom’s accounts, I am doomed to suffer the slings and arrows of this once premier and user friendly company.  Once upon a time, AmEx did have clout and lived up to its reputation of having responsive,  intelligent and capable customer service representatives who understood how to deliver and assure that cardholder issues were handled properly.

That was then, this is now. No matter if I call to transfer points to an airline account, respond to a suspicious charge inquiry or attempt to find out if a local office has Rubles, as soon as I hear “Thank you for calling American Express, with whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?” my stomach locks up and my eyes bleed.

My latest romp thru the AmEx Circle of Hell involved reporting a lost card and requesting a placement. I clickety-clicked thru their maelstrom of options, answering mindless questions (Recording: “I see you are requesting to report a lost card. If you are not sure press your nose, if you have blue eyes enter your phone number…”) and finally connected with a 'Customer Service Specialist' half-way around the globe. We were then on to the perfunctory introductions to hear “And how are you today Ms. Stevenson?”  (Don’t waste my time pretending to care while you finish filing your nails. I am tired of waiting. I want help. I want it now.)

But of course assistance still eluded me as I was passed from one subterranean being to the next, which, of course required my recounting the situation each time. I will spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say that after teeth grinding delays and mindless prattle I was finally told the new card would be shipped immediately, for delivery the very next day.

Not.

After downing a fifth of bourbon to prepare for yet another AmEx frustration-fest I called on the third day to report that we had not received the card.  Guess what? Someone with the brains of a toaster announced to me that he had located my request but didn’t have verification of completion. Huh? Oh… Just like the Seinfeld car rental episode: “You know how to take a reservation, you just don’t know how to keep it.”  I wanted to jump through the phone, look this idiot in the eye and ask if he REALLY expected me to find that acceptable.

On day four we finally received replacement card.

I canceled my personal AmEx, which I’d had since 1980. For now, at least, that will have to be retribution enough.

Jul 16

We put the ‘cuss’ in customer service

I have never had a worse user experience than my ongoing, nightmarish relationship with New 
Njt1 Jersey Transit.

Today's train ride is a classic example. We've been stuck sitting just outside Penn Station for 40 minutes with absolutely no explanation whatsoever. Why? Because NJT is a public utility, has no competition and could care less about its image, reputation or customer service.

The NJT user experience is one, long holistic descent into a transit version of Dante's Inferno. It's not just the dirty trains, rude conductors and tardy arrivals. It's the quality of one's fellow passengers that puts NJT into the top slot of my personal 'Brands Hall of Shame.

My thanks to Scott Rosenbaum and Juke Box Hero Productions for sharing this recent photograph of a typical NJT passenger. Note the upscale attire and care with which he treats his seat. Thanks buddy. Right back at you.

In the past, I've suggested myriad taglines for NJT that would underscore its shoddy performance and enable it to deliver on a credible brand promise. Fellow Peppercommer Matt Purdue suggested a new one that I just love….

“NJT: We put the 'cuss' in customer service.”

Jan 19

Domino’s gets it right

Guest Post by Ann Barlow, Peppercom

January 19 - dominos-pizza Domino’s has taken some heat (sorry) over the last few days for its new campaign. Were they really the last to know how bad their pizza is? And will new sauce and better cheese solve everything? But Domino’s problems are remarkable only in how widely shared they are. How many auto repair chains have annoyed you? Forget the auto repair shops. How about the manufacturers themselves? Shall we talk about the airlines or consumer electronics?

Truth is, businesses get the fundamentals wrong a lot, and there are plenty of reasons for it: we focus on what’s urgent but not important; we’re more concerned with short-term profit than long-term customer relationships (and so are our shareholders); maybe we’re just bored and lazy. 

But once in awhile, circumstances force us to take a long look in the mirror. (Falling sales when cheap food is popular was Domino’s wake-up call.) When you do, and recognize the truth, you have to be willing to make changes, even if it means completely altering the way you do things.  How many people or companies are really willing to take that step? It takes real moral courage.

When Domino’s looked in the mirror, it wasn’t pretty. That part’s hard enough. But they acknowledged their failings publicly and then – most important – took steps to change. Let’s face it: that’s where most of us fall short. And it’s not any easier to make changes as a company than as an individual. Okay, so was it really that hard to fix the sauce? To use quality cheese?  Domino’s took some snark for what seemed like ‘duh’ moves. But at least they did it.

I applaud Domino’s. This time, they really delivered.

Dec 23

The four things in life one can count on

There are four things in life one can count on:Comcastic_1ebd1

1.) Death
2.) Taxes
3.) Horrific service from NJ Transit (which is experiencing daylong, system-wide delays as we speak)
4.) Quarterly service disruptions from Comcast

The latter is a particular source of ongoing misery. For some reason, Comcast yanks the plug on my on-demand service every two months or so. And, every two months or so, I find myself stuck in their customer service voice mail hell (which, had it existed in Dante's time, would have been included in his 'Inferno').

On the other hand, Comcast has built a world-class social media response network designed to counteract its abysmal service side. So, here's a pre-holiday plea from a blogger in need. Comcast Social Media Guy: can you get involved and helped me get my on-demand service back ASAP? If you do, I promise to write a favorable follow-up blog as a kind of virtual stocking stuffer for you.

Oct 28

Not delivering on the brand promise

I never cease to be amazed how many organizations still don't 'get' the concept of a brand promise. They don't understand they need to deliver the brand experience they promise in their tagline, positioning and marketing messages.

October 28 - comcast Comcast is a great example of a brand that doesn't deliver on its promise. The huge cable systems operator has been running its 'Comcastic' campaign for years. But, as any Comcast subscriber will tell you, the service (and, in particular, the customer service) is anything but fantastic. It's positively dreadful. A better, more realistic brand promise from Comcast might be: 'ComPoor' or 'ComAwful." A brand shouldn't raise consumers expectations by promising one experience and then delivering another.

New Jersey Transit is my personal bête noir. The local transit system heralds itself as 'the way to go.' Now, anyone who routinely rides NJT's trains will tell you it is anything BUT the way to go. It's a necessary evil that one has to take because alternative solutions are either cost or location prohibitive. NJT trains are habitually late, staffed by rude or indifferent conductors and feature restrooms that are definitely NOT the way (or place) to go.

I originally suggested the powers that be at NJT supplant 'The way to go' with 'Just train bad.' I think they may not have understood my purposeful double entendre and ignored it. So, instead, I'm suggesting NJT adopt a shorter, more direct brand promise that perfectly manages expectations and can be delivered every single day. I'm calling it: 'expect less.'

I love 'expect less.' It works in every conceivable way. In fact, I've actually adopted 'expect less' as my personal, tongue-in-cheek brand promise for my upcoming year as chairman of the College of Charleston advisory board. 

Speaking of the CofC, Tom Martin, executive-in-residence at the College of Charleston (and one of the all-time great Peppercom clients, btw) recently created a classic brand promise slide you should check out.

Download Brand and Reputation

It lists what brands say about themselves and what we, as consumers, really think about them. It's worth a gander.

Jul 20

Won’t you listen to what the man said?

Listening Listening is critical to success. That’s what I’ve heard or read three times in the last few  days.

The first occurred at a Cablefax-Peppercom daylong workshop for some 26 sales, marketing, operational and IT types representing programmers, broadband providers and multiple system operators. Some of the participants were incredibly savvy when it came to social media; others were relative Neanderthals. Yet, all agreed the key to social media success was to listen to what customers were saying, where they were saying it and how they’d like to be engaged. Almost all agreed that, while they got the importance of listening, their C-suite bosses were still entrenched in the old, top-down ‘…here’s my corporate message’ school of communications. While there are no silver bullets to convince old school executives to cede control to customers, the group did agree on a number of smart strategies to start the ball rolling: suggest a ‘walk before you run’ approach, share what best-in-class competitors are doing and, most importantly, demonstrate ROI.

The next reminder came during a podcast with Joanne Davis, a top marketing search consultant. When asked the number one mistake most agencies make when pitching new business, she said, “Listening.” Ms. Davis said agencies are too quick to force their own thinking and past experiences on a prospective client. Instead, she said, it’s critical to pick up on the verbal and non-verbal cues being sent and provide real-time solutions to the pain points.

The final example came from the book “Your Call Is (not that) Important To Us.” In the text, the author quotes a JetBlue Airlines supervisor as saying he uses ‘sympathetic listening’ with the most irate customers. “I’ve found that a huge amount can be defused by just taking the time to listen. If you’ve got an irate call and the person is in tears, it’s important to take the time and listen— listening for when they’re wound down and then resolving the problem.’

While it seems so obvious, too many organizations continue to pursue a ‘field of dreams’ strategy in their marketing and customer service. It’s not about what we say but, rather, how well we listen to what our customers and prospects are saying that will determine success.

Jul 16

Are brand image and customer service intrinsically linked? You can bank on it

July 16 A new J.D. Power retail banking survey shows that image is more important than proximity, products or service.

A bank's image is based upon a customer's unique experience. And the customer experience, in turn, drives his or her recommendations: both positive and negative. So, a bank literally lives or dies based upon how well it treats customers. And that is as it should be.

While these findings may elicit a 'no duh' from most marketers, it's shocking to see how many organizations still get it so wrong. Airlines and cable companies are classic examples (so are NJ Transit and my buddies at the TSA. But, that's another blog for another day).

While the airline and cable industries are making positive strides, they continue to suffer from what I've been calling the 'other' digital divide. On the one hand, airline and cable company marketing teams are champing at the bit to ramp up their social media efforts so they can better engage with customers. On the other hand, their peers in customer service are being incentivized to disengage from customers as quickly as possible. Talk about the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing!

T.D. Bank, which earned top Power scores in the Mid-Atlantic region, gets the connection. They ensure brand and customer service are intrinsically linked. 'Before we hire someone, we see if they smile at us during the initial interview. Then we continue to measure and monitor their attitude to customers,' said Linda Verba, EVP of retail operations and service. A smile? So simple, but so utterly lacking in so many retail experiences.

Public relations can, and should, be playing a lead role in aiding airlines, cable companies and any consumer-facing organization improve their image. But, the best image work in the world can't overcome a horrific product or service experience. That's a C-suite responsibility that too many C-suites have abdicated. Maybe they should smile a little bit more?

*Thanks to Greg Schmalz for the idea behind this post.

Jul 02

Mark Twain and me

Every now and then it’s comforting to know that the more things change, the more they stay Telephone2 the same. Take customer service for example. Please!

This past Saturday, we suffered a lightning strike in our back yard and lost power for 15, count ‘em, 15 hours! Desperate to keep the refrigerated food fresh and be able to watch the new HBO series ‘Hung’, I feverishly dialed Jersey Central Power & Light (and, unwittingly entered the automated attendant Twilight Zone).

I never spoke to a live person. Instead, I interacted with a voice activated service representative from computerized hell. His voice began by asking me to either dial or speak my account number. I did so. But, he refused to recognize either for a good 25 minutes. (“I’m sorry. I didn’t quite understand what you said. Can you repeat it?”) When I finally got past that initial hurdle, I next had to orally describe my problem. ("Please answer by saying: ‘Payment,’ ‘Power outage,’ ‘Power outage with a downed power line’ or ‘Miscellaneous.’ Thank you.”)  I repeatedly screamed “Power outage, Dammit!” But, I kept being forwarded to the miscellaneous automated attendant, who wanted to know if I’d like to know about Jersey Central’s package of service value adds. I didn’t.

Long story short, I finally broke through the voice recognition system, reported my outage and, voila, a Jersey Central service van rolled up my driveway several hours later.

Customer service is always included alongside military intelligence as the ultimate oxymoron. That said, it’s nice to know that poor customer service isn’t a new phenomenon. In fact, upon reading Emily Yellin’s excellent new book on the subject, entitled, “Your Call Is (not that) Important to Us,” I see that I have some rarified company. To wit, none other than Mark Twain who, in 1890, wrote the following letter to AT&T:

‘The Hartford telephone is the very worst on the face of the earth. No man can dictate a 20-word message intelligibly through it at any hour of the day without devoting a week’s worth of time to it, and there is no night service whatsoever since electric-lighting was introduced. Though mind you they charge for night-service in their cold, calm way, just the same as if they furnished it.’

Customer service. It stank in 1890 and it stinks in 2009. At least ‘Hung’ was good.

Jun 05

California Dreamin’ – When Good Customer Service Happens to Good People

June 5 - CustomerServPrior2J Guest Post by Sandy Pfaff

Recently I had a trifecta of positive customer service experiences – yes, it seems like an oxymoron to put “positive” and “customer service” in the same sentence. And to make it even more surreal, these experiences were with some of the biggest retailers who can often be the bane of our shopping existence. Has the economy finally given our retailers the wake-up call they needed, or was I just lucky on a sunny Saturday in San Rafael?

First, a stop at my local Comcast office to pick up a DVR. With the new digital transition, I had to give up on TiVo – or pay a steep upgrade charge for a new box and more pricey service – when Comcast’s solution seems like it will do just fine, and for a lot less. After a brief wait in line, my customer service rep got me on my way in no time – with a pleasant attitude, helpful advice and some movie tips. Shocker #1.

Then, on to Verizon where I needed a mobile antenna for my new netbook. Not only did I need the device, but I needed help installing the software. The boys at the Verizon store were exceptionally helpful – from the greeter at the door, to the happy salesman who set up my computer, I was out of there in 30 minutes or less. As good or better than Dominos. And less fattening.

Last stop and with the potential to blow my perfect score – a trip to Best Buy. I needed a portable DVD drive for my netbook so I could download all of the programs that don’t come with my new computer, of course, but that’s a different story. I didn’t know what the “thing” that I needed was even called. Thankfully, the concierge greeter at the front of the store was there to help decipher my lame attempts to sound like I knew what I was talking about, and he pointed me in the right direction. I got the item, with the help of the consumer electronics specialist, and had a quick and painless check-out. I had a nice chat with the same greeter on the way out which completed the day. Three for three and batting 1.000.

Continue reading

Mar 10

Thanks for Choosing Comcast. An Additional $4.95 Will Be Automatically Charged to Your Account for Speaking to a Live Customer Service Representative

Comcast customer service is an oxymoron. The monopolistic cable giant is one of, if not, the worst examples of poor customer service. In fact, I'd put Comcast right at the top of my all-time "rude, indifferent and boorish behavior" rankings alongside TSA agents, NJ Transit conductors and my St. Francis Grammar School nuns.

Every few months or so, Comcast arbitrarily yanks my basic and pay-per-view service. And every time it happens, we call to complain. And, every time it Comcast
happens, we're greeted by a voice mail explaining that our payment is "overdue." We then punch another button, enter our check number and are told checks typically take 72 hours to clear. Growing increasingly frustrated by the automated ineptness and our knowledge that the payment was mailed weeks earlier, we keep punching various options.

Finally, after being told we should punch "2" for Spanish and "8" for "Urdu," we're told we can speak to a "live customer service representative," but an additional $4.95 will be automatically billed to our account. Say what! You've screwed up for the umpteenth time and you have the unmitigated gall to bill me to speak to a live person to fix it? What's wrong with this equation? That would be like an innkeeper charging extra to rid my sleeping quarters of bed bugs.

But, since Comcast (like a certain law firm that shall remain nameless) is a total monopoly, what's a poor cable viewer to do? So, we punched the live person button, spoke to a nice, but ineffectual, CSR who first told us our account was overdue, then verified they'd received our check and finally confirmed that, sadly, checks took 72 hours to clear. We told this live, if somewhat dim, person that the check had been sent weeks ago. The light bulb finally went on and he promised he'd "re-boot" our system ASAP and service would be returned right away.

That was Thursday night. By Monday morning, there was still no Comcast service.

Comcast's horrific business practices are just one of one zillion reasons why America finds itself in the fix it's in. We vent and we blog, but in the end, we keep paying for what amounts to criminal performance.