Customer Dis-service: Marketing’s Achilles Heel

The happiest place on earth

After being thrown off one of my colts and breaking my collar bone, sitting at my computer with one of those old monitors is a challenge. As a result, I was determined to buy a new flat-panel. Coffee is a staple around this household and running out is pretty close to admitting that the pet rock was one of the most important inventions known to man. By the way, the best use for a good pet rock was for throwing—usually, the shape was awesome. So…I’m on my way to by my life’s blood when I see Office Depot. Since I am determined to buy a monitor, I pull into the parking lot and go in. Now, for someone like me, a store like Office Depot or Lowe’s is an amazing experience. The closer I get to the door, the bigger my smile. I have more materials for projects for which I conceived to keep me busy for about a year…full-time!                    

We buy because we can

Somebody stop me because I’m going in! The vacuum of the door opening whisks me into the store and over to the computer equipment. On my way to the monitors, I believe that I need to buy more memory for my desktop. The selection is awesome and most modules had value signing with $20-off in front of them. How could I pass up $29.99 for a 1GB memory stick? I couldn’t. It’s only $29.99. I’ll just add it to the monitor price and use my Office Depot Rewards card and if my system runs faster then I won’t spend so much time in front of it. Surely, that will save my neck! Makes sense.

Just behind me were the lap desk thingys. I bought my wife a Dell laptop for her when she went off to A&M for Microbiology. Now, she uses it for email, Facebook and Purble Place. There’s something wrong with the Baker in Purble Place—gives me the creeps. Anyway, she is always complaining that the bottom of the laptop gets quite hot. So much so that she will wake me up to remind me. “Don’t you think one of your ‘smart’ friends at Dell could have made a laptop that doesn’t nuke my legs?” With bags under my eyes, another $24.99 was cheap compared to being woken up again about THAT problem. Ok, so I’m up to $55.00 more than expected, but I NEED those things. Wait…is that Windows 7?! $165.00. I was in a buying mood so my monitor purchase went up to $250 from $150. Grand total: $415.00.

The customer isn’t king

After 30 minutes in the store, I realized that no one had greeted me or asked if I needed help. Growing up in the retail clothing business and being a GM at The Home Depot, I’m always cognizant of “Customer Service.” Looking around, I notice four employees in the Copy Center talking and laughing, three others in the furniture area assembling furniture and one looking down isles hoping that no one will ask her for help. Since I couldn’t get anyone to help me with the monitors, I decided to check out and check out the monitors at Wally World (Wal-Mart) while I was buying coffee. I stood at the register another 10 minutes before the one who was diligently avoiding customers realized that she was going to have to check me out. Through her hung-over eyes, she asked me how I was going to pay for it. I said “Good Morning!” Nothing. “That will be $215.00. How will you be paying for this?” She became rather upset when I said that the amount was incorrect because the memory stick was only $29.99. I was told that it was $79.99. We walked over to the shelf and she glared at the sign in front of the slot where the memory had been and removed the tag. She called a “manager” who said that it was $59.99, not $79.99. The cashier showed her the tag and the “manager” said that I moved the sign in front of the memory I wanted to buy and that she wasn’t going to talk to me anymore. “The Store Manager will be in at 10am”

When the Store Manager finally showed up (noon), he preceded to tell me that he wasn’t going to honor the tag because his employee told him that I moved the tag. He also told me that they lose money on every memory stick and computer in the store. “We only carry them as a service to our customers and to drive traffic. We lose money on every one.” Really?! The last time I checked, Office Depot was considered a “for-profit” business. He said that I wouldn’t understand what it was like to be in his shoes! When I told him that I understand what he’s dealing with because I was a GM at THD. He said “What would you do them?” I told him that he asked the easiest question to answer. I would take care of the customer. A THD customer is expected to spend $325,000 in their life-time in a THD store, provided they are retained as a customer. When I asked him if he understood what I was telling him, he said “no.” I told him that the $29.99 memory stick cost him a sale of >$420 today on things that I really didn’t need—impulse buys make a retail store profitable. He said it didn’t matter. He wasn’t going to take a mark-down. He hung up on me.

VOC results also impact PMMs

So…does anyone think this is an isolated case? Who really lost the sale? Kingston, HP, Microsoft and Targus. For all of our great efforts to make the right products with the right features at the right price, sales get blown out of the water every day because of the disconnect between what a customer expects and what is delivered. When I went to work for THD, it was an eye-opener in a number of ways. For example, what is the last thing a customer remembers about their shopping experience? The sales person? No. The selection? No. The person taking their money. A person is giving up something that is very important to them for what’s in their basket. If the cashier is rude or indifferent, the customer may not come back. They will also tell everyone.

In B2B, have you looked at how orders are processed? As part of your Customer Research (Voice of the Customer), have you found out how easy it was to buy from you? If someone in Purchasing knows that it’s easy to do business with you, even though you don’t have the best products, they will do what they can to buy from you. People buy from people, in most cases. People also personify brands. So, even on-line purchases are purchased from a “person.” While I was at Digital Equipment Corporation (Compaq), based on their earned reputation for being difficult with which to do business, the following phrase was used internally: “Sales prevention is ‘Job-One.’ If there is a sale to be made, we have jets and helicopters fueled and ready at [Boston] Logan to respond.”   They even had their own gate at Boston Logan airport (true statement!).

Protect your brand

Has your company “earned” its brand?  It takes work to make a brand, good or bad.  It’s important to include customer impressions about doing business with you as part of your market research.  If you are perceived as a challenge, maybe your channel partner is the wrong partner or maybe there needs to be a change in your company’s channel training strategy.  Either way, all it takes is a $9.00/hour clerk who has brought her personal life to work with her to damage your business.

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