business news in context, analysis with attitude

Got the following email regarding Michael Sansolo’s customer service column yesterday:


I had to write in after reading your article addressing customer service with United. Within the last month I have had frustrating experiences with customer service at two different companies here in my home town. The first concerned my lawn mower; the brace that supports and adjusts my deck height broke in the middle of mowing my yard one day. I called the company that services my mower and was told they could have it fixed in a couple of weeks for about $50-60, so I packed it up and lugged it across town to them.

A week later I get a call from them that Toro no longer makes the part for that mower (which is only 4 years old) and that I could come pick it up and that it was only $29.99 service fee. When I got there, I questioned as to why I was being charged a fee for something that wasn’t fixed and I was told that it was a mechanic’s labor. I think the guy could tell I wasn’t pleased with this and he gruffly said “If it will make you happy, I’ll waive our fee. This time.” As he was helping me load up my mower, he pointed out that since it can’t be repaired they had a wide assortment of mowers available for sale, including their zero turn riding mowers (I brought in a push mower) starting at $2999.00, which I found to be comical.

When I got my mower home, I got to looking at the broken mower and thinking about how he said there were no longer parts available for it. I went to the internet and within 5 minutes I found the part I needed at and ordered it to be delivered to my house. A week later the new part arrived and within 15 minutes I replaced the broken part and was mowing again.

My second customer service interaction happened at Macy’s, where I buy 50% of my clothes. We were there shopping that day for my wife when I noticed a pair of shoes, that I have had my eyes on for some time, were on a 50% off table. Now these are not every day wearing shoes, they are quite glittery and I have been wanting them for a special event I emcee every year. I wasn’t about to spend $100 on a pair of shoes I would wear once or twice at the most, but $50 was apparently my magic number. So I try them on, find the right size, and go to check out. Naturally the shoes rang up at full price. I told the clerk that they were on the half off table to with he replies “Oh, that is for select shoes only.” Again, not happy. I tell him to forget the purchase and that their advertising is misleading. He apologizes and proceeds to ring up my wife’s purchases. As he is bagging her clothes he looks at me and says, “We want you to be satisfied here at Macy’s so if you still want those shoes, I will honor the 50% off because it is misleading.” I bought the shoes.

Both of these companies had an opportunity to turn a bad situation into good and only one of them took advantage of that. As you can imagine, one of those companies will see me return as a customer while the other will never see another dime and when people ask me for recommendations on a good lawn mower repair place I will tell them where NOT to go. I have stressed to the people I have managed over the years, that in customer service we are going to make mistakes, we are human. The question becomes how do we handle it when we do. I firmly believe that lifelong customers are built when something bad is turned into something great. The lawnmower guy took care of the fee, but he wasn’t happy about it and I felt like he either lied to me about the part or was just too lazy to look beyond his supplier. He lost a loyal customer because of it. The clerk at Macy’s owned the bad signage and made me happy and got a sale. He also solidified me as a lifelong customer.

From MNB reader Deb Faragher:

Mike—I continue to enjoy your columns. They are insightful and, for me, serve as a connection now harkening back nearly a decade when I was with GS1US. I enjoyed this one in particular as it reminded me how happy I am to be able to limit my travel to pleasure and not have to worry about business travel. What struck me, though, is your conversation with the exec who, ultimately, had to trust in his people. After nearly 30 years in department store retailing and 10 more in the service industry, the one hard lesson I learned is that despite your passion and need to instill in others the desire to serve the customer in a professional, upbeat fashion, even when things are beyond your control, you are at their mercy. And that doesn’t always work, does it? I’m always happy to hear about those instances where it works. Keep the lessons coming.

From another reader, a pithy response:

Control the controllables!

And another MNB reader reacted to Michael’s observation that “you cannot control or change the upbringing and feelings your staffers bring to the job … People feel how they feel”…

Wow! Someone at your place with a sense of reality.  A really refreshing change from all that holier-than-thou “you have no right to feel that way” commentary we’re so accustomed to in MNB.

Good thing that the Content Guy has a thick skin…

On another subject, from another MNB reader:

Everyone knew that the MoviePass wasn’t going to be sustainable. I remember a box office employee talking to me about it when I used my parent’s passes to get tickets to see the newest Avengers movie. She told me to use it while I could because she didn’t expect it to last another 6 months. Well, it looks like we’re hitting that time limit.
I’ve always believed that the MoviePass was amazing for theaters and getting customers to actually go to the movies. People who would normally stay at home and rent a movie from Amazon or watch something on Netflix would finally not find the $10 tickets so daunting for something that is probably better off watched on Netflix. Regal should buy out MoviePass. Or any other large theater chain. People obviously use it a lot, and when you’re at the theater you are way more likely to buy popcorn and soda if you hadn’t just spent $40 for your family of four to see the movie.

We had a story yesterday about a dispute between 7-Eleven and its franchisees, which prompted me to comment (probably in a holier-than-thou way):

I’m fascinated by this, especially by the fact that so little of what seems to be the focus of the argument has to do with some of the modern factors that influence retailing today. If you’re arguing about hot dogs and Slurpees, how are you going to effectively compete with Amazon, Walmart’s new c-stores, and all the other formats that are being developed to appeal to consumers’ convenience needs?

One MNB reader responded:

Couldn’t agree with you more about the focus of 7-Eleven….it’s like “swatting at the flies while the elephants float by…..”

As for Kroger’s ongoing dispute with Visa, MNB reader Frank Rich wrote:

Kroger has a lot of leverage and from a business perspective, it's a good move. It's not much different than what Costco pulled off recently switching to Visa from Amex...or how Walmart pressures suppliers for reduced costs, it's all part of a negotiation.

But they need to manage the consumer perception so they don't alienate them. It's very expensive to get a customer back, especially if you've angered them.

KC's View: