Note to Starbucks CEO: Don’t use technology (or loyalty programs) to demotivate your employees


Summary: While the Starbucks App is cool and makes buying coffee and food quick and easy without dealing with cash, credit or debit cards, the company appears to have developed the app without fully considering the impact on their employees. The app doesn’t offer users the option to tip baristas when making a purchase.  Other mobile payment apps like LevelUp and even taxi cab credit card machines make tipping quick and easy for users.  The Starbucks Rewards program also concerns us as it rewards customers for paying for one item at a time, even when purchasing multiple items, which could lead to increased employee and customer frustration.

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Dear Ace Tickets: Is the customer always right or are you never wrong? Pick one.


Net: Ace Tickets refunded skateboarding tickets we overpaid for through our own ignorance, yet refused to refund “pole view” tickets at Fenway Park they assured us were unobstructed.  Sur La Table re-funded a four year old purchase without a receipt on a product they no longer carry. Both have solid customer ID technology, one used it to build loyalty, the other to damage it. Which one are you?

Read more uses Web 2.0, great service and rewards to score a Collaboration Evangelist trifecta

Net: provides great consumer value, excellent web and phone customer service and has one of the most rewarding loyalty programs I have seen.  The company shows how applying the philosophy and applications of Web 2.0, good customer service and a well designed and implemented rewards program can create customer loyalty.  Why book anywhere else?

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I lost my Kindle and missed a flight, but still had a good experience as Air Canada and USAir collaborated to provide extraordinary customer service

Net:  On a recent day trip to Toronto which could have been “travel hell,” several USAir and Air Canada employees worked together to get me there and back painlessly.  Air Canada’s Connie Hughes went the extra mile to help me look for a lost Kindle.  These businesses should make it easy to tell their CEO’s about extraordinary service.

Over years of business travel it seems that missed flights, mechanical delays and other problems that create “travel hell” cluster on one or more days during the month.  I was saved from just such a day recently by great customer service.   I started the fun on a recent day trip to Toronto by misreading my itinerary and showing up for a flight through Philly after the plane had departed.  As I was traveling to Toronto for only two meetings, including one with a very interesting company that has an opportunity to create a coalition loyalty program in China, I was suitably upset with myself for this screw-up.  I went to the USAir Club and Sonia Perez, the club’s customer service agent was very helpful and put me on the next flight, despite the fact that it was 100% my fault that I missed the earlier plane.  Great service experience number 1.

After a long day of meetings, I checked into Air Canada’s Maple Leaf Lounge at Pearson Airport only to find that my return trip through Philly was delayed.  [Although I am not a member of the Air Canada club, through the Star Alliance, USAir and AC collaborate and allow me to use the club with my USAir Club card]  I remarked to the customer service agent at the Maple Leaf Lounge – whose name I would soon learn is Connie Hughes – that my flight was delayed and I was worried about missing my connection.  She immediately looked at the Air Canada flights and suggested I ask USAir if they would put me Air Canada’s direct flight to Boston. She informed me that if the delay was for mechanical problems, USAir should make the transfer and then found the only gate at the airport where I could talk to a USAir representative.  Great service experience number 2. I went to the gate and the gate agent happily put me on the direct flight, which by the way, would get me home two hours earlier than my connection. Great service experience number 3.

So far so good as what could have easily been a travel hell day was actually turning out to be better than expected.  But the best was yet to come.  I went back to the Air Canada club to wait for my direct flight to Boston and realized I had left my Amazon Kindle somewhere.  As I struggle with ADD, this was a frustrating but not unusual occurrence, so I began to retrace my steps.  I returned to the gate and everywhere else I had been but found no sign of the Kindle.  When I came back to the lounge, Connie was again at the front desk and I asked her if there was a lost and found.  This is when customer service went from great to amazing.  Here’s what she did:

  • She found the two numbers for lost and found and called them both for me.
  • She helped me search the club for the Kindle.
  • She told me that she was from Boston and was flying there for the weekend and offered to check both the lost and found and the Wolfgang Puck restaurant where I could have left the Kindle for it and if found, would bring it with her on Friday.
  • She emailed me that evening and the following day to say she had not found the Kindle.

Great customer service experiences 4 – 7.

One of my fist posts on customer service was about how two Massachusetts state employees turned a flat tire into a great experience with their extraordinary acts of service. And although I am still upset about losing the Kindle, I feel a lot better about the whole experience because of all Connie did to help me.

Fortunately, I was able to get the email address for Calin Rovinescu, the President and CEO of Air Canada and will send this to him along with a special thanks to Connie for her excellent service.  The only recommendation I have for Calin is to find a way to make it easy for customers who experience extraordinary service to let him know about it.  USAir does something like this, as they send their frequent flyers “Above & Beyond” cards to fill out and send in when they receive great service.  Perhaps AC can start this practice as well.


1.       If Connie Hughes can turn a lost Kindle and an almost travel hell day into a good experience, what are your employees doing to help your customers today?

2.       If your employees are providing extraordinary service today, have you made it easy for your customers to say thank you and let you know about the experience.

3.       If you hear about extraordinary acts of service, how will you reward the employees who delivered it?

Customer service disaster non-recovery; Kimpton’s Hotel Monaco doesn’t get Web 2.0, earns first CHU “Un-recommends”

Net: Despite the fact that user generated ratings and reviews have been a mainstay of the internet since at least 1999, many large businesses fail to provide an easy way for customers to provide feedback and do not monitor and respond to customer comments on the Web.  I recently experienced this first hand from the Hotel Monaco in Washington, D.C. It is the first experience bad enough to earn a ” CHU Un-recommends.”

In our page Six Web 2.0 Imperatives for All Businesses, we emphasized the following points under Imperative Four: Build, Activate and Support your Communities:

  • If you don’t provide a place on your site for customers to ask questions, it is highly likely that at least some of them will go to a third party site where they will be prime targets for your competitors’ marketing efforts.
  • Whatever you do, make it incredibly easy for employees, business partners and customers to provide feedback. And go the next step by proactively asking for feedback. Then, make sure you authentically respond to their feedback.

A few months ago in the post A car for a car, a coffee for a coffee, $10 for free porn?” I wrote about several positive experiences where businesses seized the opportunity to turn service failures into brand building recoveries.   This post is from a different perspective.

A few weeks ago my wife and I were planning to attend Rhodes Scholar and Oxford University reunions in Washington, D.C.  I went to to find a hotel room for the weekend.  They had what looked like a great price on the Hotel Monaco, a Kimpton Hotel in a perfect location.  I have stayed at other Kimpton properties and always had good experiences, so I booked the hotel.  [ is a great business and will be the subject of a future post.]

I flew to Washington early in the day so I could take my fellow alum and Microsoft uber-lawyer Steve Crown to visit Year Up, the innovative work force development program founded and led by Gerald Chertavian, for lunch.  We had a wonderful tour and Steve had a great session with several students, sharing experience and advice from his years of success and answering all of their questions.   After our visit to Year Up, I went to check in at the Hotel Monaco.  My wife Patty was arriving later in the evening.

A Beautiful Building

The Hotel is in a beautiful historical building that used to be a famous Post Office and appeared to have all of the usual Kimpton features – cool lobby, interesting bar, water bowl for dogs, etc.  I checked in and went to the room.  Although we had reserved a “deluxe queen,” room, it was very, very small.  It felt like there was less than 12 inches of space from the side of the bed to the window or the wall and a small desk was crammed into an alcove.  The room was a fraction of the size of the rooms we have had in other Kimpton properties.  Not exactly the venue nor the ambiance I had envisioned for a romantic weekend in DC without our kids.



The King Room

No problem, I thought, I’ll call the front desk and get a better room.  All seemed good when the desk staff offered to move me to a “deluxe King” on the “first” floor.  It turns out that the first floor is subterranean, i.e. it’s the basement.  My initial concern was that the room would be noisy, being so close to the street.  The front desk clerk assured me that they were quite quiet, and it turns out that is true.  But as I descended the stairs to the “first floor” I started to notice a bad odor.   Despite my attempts to simultaneously act like a two year old and ignore the smell and try to convince myself that Patty wouldn’t notice, it was clear the first floor smelled like a damp basement with a mildew problem.  Nonetheless, I powered on to the room.  The room was actually nice, with a huge bed, high ceilings, decent bathroom, and more room for the desk.   The architect had done a great job making the half-windows to the sidewalk seemed larger than they were and let in a lot of light.  Best of all, the room was not noisy at all.  I thought I could still smell something but rationalized that the odor was just coming from the hall.  I cranked the AC on high, ran around the corner to get some candles to complete the romantic ambiance I was determined to create, and took off for the Rhodes event.

The event to honor Sir Collin Marshall, who was retiring as the Warden of Rhodes House, was held at the British Embassy and it was wonderful.  By the end of the event, Patty had arrived, checked into the hotel and met me and several of my classmates at a Georgetown restaurant.  The food was great, the company even better and we stayed at the restaurant until almost midnight.  On the way back to the hotel Patty said, “Did you notice our room is in the basement of the hotel, the hallway smells like dog pee and our room like mold? ” I briefly considered returning to my two year old mindset, but chose to say something like “maybe a little, but I bought a lot of candles” and quickly change the subject.


The candles and the AC helped cover up the smell, and we decided to not try and change rooms again given that the front desk told me the hotel was sold out with two wedding parties.  The next day, Patty discovered there was mold on the bottom of the shower curtain.  A definite first for me in a “four star” hotel or for that matter, any star hotel.  In addition to the smelly hall and room mold problems, the on-demand movies in our room were very fuzzy and the engineer on duty could not fix the problem.  And whoever cleaned our room on Friday night forgot to remove the mold, but did remove our wine glasses and did not replace them.  All in all, a pretty bad experience. Read more

Customer Service Disaster Recovery: A car for a car, a coffee for a coffee, $10 for free porn?

Let’s assume that most companies want to provide good if not great customer service.  But even those who aspire to greatness occasionally screw-up and end up with a customer service disaster.  We look at customer service disasters as a “crisis” in the way that some interpret the Chinese character for crisis as being comprised of the symbol for danger and the symbol for opportunity.  No business wants to be on the creating end of a customer service disaster, but how they react and recover is what separates those who capitalize on the inherent opportunity of the situation from those who will certainly lose the customer on the receiving end.  Increasingly, poor customer service will also cost you the business of the customer’s friends, relatives and others as user generated reviews grow and become a major part of the consumer purchase decision making process.

You screwed up and clearly have the customer’s attention, now what?

Customer service disasters – as long as they are infrequent, recognized, and acted upon – can be opportunities for increasing customer loyalty.  A few recent examples:

A car for a car.  After snowboarding all day at Waterville Valley on one recent busy Saturday, my nine year old son/boarding coach Myles and I headed down to the valet parking booth to retrieve our car. I gave the tag to one of attendants and we proceeded to hang out and wait for the car to arrive.  After 20 minutes, I sensed something was wrong and approached the valet booth.  My hunch was heightened when I saw several employees frantically searching the premises – including the trash cans – for something.  “Is everything OK with my car?” I asked.  “Well, not exactly, we seemed to have lost your keys,” they replied.

Because the valet crew, headed by a great guy named Andy, have always been incredibly nice and helpful to us, they had a lot of points in the emotional bank account.  I was more than willing to give them the benefit of the doubt that they would find the keys.  So, I gave them my cell phone, told them I was going to take Myles home on the bus and asked them to call me when they figured out what happened.

About thirty minutes after returning home, my iphone rang with a New Hampshire area code.  I answered, expecting to hear Andy’s voice with good news on the other end.  Instead I heard, “Craig, this is Tom Day, the General Manager of Waterville Valley.  I am terribly sorry that we lost your car keys.  This has never happened before and will never happen again, but right now, we want to make sure you are not inconvenienced in any way. I am going to bring one of our cars to your house for you to use.  And if the keys don’t show up by tomorrow morning, we will send someone to Boston to get another set.”  As promised, a few minutes later Tom showed up at our door with the keys to a 2009 Volvo Cross Country.  Wow.  Luckily the keys were found the next morning in another vehicle and all was well.  Actually, all was better as I remain incredibly impressed with how they handled the situation.  The service brand image of the mountain moved a few notches up in my mind.

A coffee for a coffee. A shorter, less expensive example can be seen occasionally at Starbucks.  On a few occasions when either the wait for my coffee has been longer than usual, or – I think this happened once – the baristas made a mistake with my drink, the Starbucks employees have handed me a coupon for a free drink.  Quick, easy and brand building.  Also a good way to get me back in the store ASAP.

We had a similar program when I was CEO of AIR MILES Canada.  Our customer service agents were empowered to give bonus miles to Collectors who had experienced a service breakdown.  We gave the CSR’s guidelines for the number of miles they could give out.  The number of miles available for service recovery increased with the Collector’s profitability to the company and our CSR’s had Collector profitability information on their screens.

$10 for free porn? If you lived in Tucson, Arizona and watched the Super Bowl on the Comcast network, you might have seen an unexpected interruption to the celebration following Larry Fitzgerald’s touchdown reception that put the Cardinals ahead with less than three minutes to go in the game.  Read more

Public servants deliver great customer service

Friday night, Myles and I arrived at our ski house around 10 PM.  This was several hours later than our usual arrival time as his third grade basketball team had the honor of playing during the half time of the Brookline vs. Wellesley High School game.    The good news was that leaving at 8 meant very little traffic and we made the drive without delay.  The bad news was we heard a beeping noise when we entered our home.  It sounded like a smoke detector in need of a fresh battery, so I headed to the check the usual suspect on our second floor.  To my surprise the noise was coming from a box on the wall I had never paid much attention to. Turns out it was the CO2 monitor and the indicator light was blinking yellow.  Not realizing how dangerous a CO2 leak could be (until my wife explained it to me in no uncertain terms a few minutes later), I casually pushed the reset button and the noise stopped. At least for a few minutes until it was replaced by the shriek of the alarm, which sent Myles running outside and dispatched a couple of fire engines to our home.

Within minutes, Andrew Vermeersch, Adam Trayner and Brendon Oriordan arrived at our house, happy to see the two of us out front and no one passed out inside,  They proceeded to enter the house and check all levels with their hand held CO2 detector.  Finding nothing, they concluded the false positive alarm was caused by a faulty detector.

The fact that the officers were incredibly nice and friendly despite being called out in zero degree weather at 10 pm on a Friday night was impressive, but what happened next really impressed us.  In addition to checking the air and the alarm, they went on to check for a weak battery in the CO2 detector and even replaced a wall anchor when the mounting screws came out, checked all of our smoke detectors and replaced a battery in one, and finally politely asked if they could see the rest of the house.  This request was so they would know out layout if there ever was a real fire emergency, they would know how to get around and where we might be sleeping or trapped to facilitate a rescue.

Myles and I both thanked them for their help and I asked if we could pay them for their trouble, or make a contribution to the fire department.  They replied, “No, just tell our chief we did a good job.”  So, to Waterville Valley, New Hampshire’s Chief of Police Dave Noise and Fire Chief Chris Hodges, your guys did a GREAT job!

A Christmas Eve shout out to two dedicated, empowered employees putting customers first

At one of my final annual all-company meetings as CEO of The Loyalty Group, I showed three clips of Michael Jordan, one of my all time sports heroes.  The MJ trait I loved most was his tremendous work ethic.  He was truly one of the most gifted athletes of all times, but he was also one of the hardest working.  One of the clips I showed was from a 1997 NBA finals game, where Jordan played despite being incredibly ill for most of game day.  Although he kept making shots, you could see how painful it was for him to play that game and he nearly collapsed at the end.  The example to our employees – when you believe in yourself, your team and your opportunity to win, push yourself – even when it hurts a little.

Monday night I was doing my usual last minute mad dash otherwise known as Christmas shopping and closed the Chestnut Hill Mall near my home, being politely ushered out of Bloomingdales at 9:55 PM as they were closing at 10:00.  A few minutes later, I was driving past a local Barnes & Noble store.  Although a few minutes past 10:00, the lights were on and I could see customers still in the store.  Excited by the chance to continue my late night shopping, I pulled into the lot.  As I entered the front doors of the store, I realized an employee was holding open the inner door and letting customers out.  I asked if they were closed, and she replied, “yes, but you can still come in.”  Appreciating the opportunity but not wanting to abuse it, I quickly grabbed a couple of tennis magazines for my wife and a “Nun Bowling” stocking stuffer game for my daughter Jordan, who was playing one of the Nun’s in the Boston Children’s Theatre’s production of The Sound of Music.

As I checked out, I told the employee who let me in how much I appreciated her staying late for customers.  She told me the store had needed to close early a few days earlier due to the severe snow storms and she knew many people were running out of time.  What I knew was that she, like almost anyone who works in retail the week before Christmas, was likely exhausted and dying to get home to her own family.  Not hurting as bad as Michael Jordan in the 1997 Finals, but she pushed herself a little further than others when it would have been easy to call it quits for the night.  Her name is Kim, she is an Assistant Manager at the Chestnut Hill Barnes & Noble and a great example of an empowered employee putting customers first.

One more quick example before I go back to wrapping presents.  This morning, my nine year old son and I went to our favorite snowboarding shop, Mothership in Lincoln New Hampshire looking for a new snowboard and bindings.  Myles had outgrown his original board and was ready for a new one.  Trevor, who runs Mothership (a store within the lager Rogers ski and snowboarding shop) helped Myles pick out a very cool Nitro board in UP black and white colors.  He then did something I found impressive. He told us that the bindings on my son’s old board were “better than anything we have in his size” and suggested we simply move them to the new board.  As Mothership’s prices are great, and Myles had gotten a ton of use out of his old setup, I would have gladly bought whatever new bindings Trevor recommended.  But he put us first, passed up the sale and increased our loyalty to Mothership in the process.  (By the way, Lincoln is twenty minute drive from our ski house – we go to Mothership despite having alternatives at our local mountain and another ten minutes from home.)

In a recent For Immediate Release Podcast discussing the Forrester research that found a low level of trust for corporate blogs amongst those who read them, host Neville Hobson posed the question, “How do you define trust?”  Although I didn’t feel the panel ever answered this important question, I have been thinking about the definition of “trust” in the context of Web 2.0, customer service and loyalty.  One of the ways I believe businesses and business people build trust with customers is to resist the urge to oversell them.  I always appreciate it when a salesperson says “you don’t need that” as I wrote about in an earlier post about my experience buying the Dell E6400.

So, as you wind down 2008 get ready for the New Year, are you empowering, recognizing and rewarding your employees for extraordinary acts of customer service to maximize long term loyalty or are you pushing them to oversell customers and extract maximum short term profits?

Don’t abuse your best customers Part II: Hertz #1 Club Case Study

My first job out of business school was with Bain & Company consulting.  I spent six years at Bain and during that period and my longest non-travel period was two weeks. One of the first things I did after starting at Bain was to join every frequent flyer program and several hotel rewards programs. Although I do not remember the exact date, I also joined the Hertz #1 Club as soon as it was launched.

One of the greatest benefits of the Hertz #1 Club is you can usually avoid standing in line at the rental counter and proceed directly to the lot where your car is waiting for you.  Although I perceive Hertz to be more expensive than Budget or Alamo, I made the mental value calculation that the ease of reserving (call the 800 # 1 number) and picking up the car is worth whatever premium I may be paying.  I have also been able to rent some great vehicles recently, notably the Ford Edge on my frequent trips to Pittsburgh.

Last weekend, I planned to fly from Boston to Pittsburgh, pick up a Hertz car, drive to Morgantown, WV for two days of board meetings, basketball and football games and then on to Charleston to visit my father for a few hours before flying back to Boston via Charlotte.  I was originally planning to start my journey Thursday by flying from Boston to NYC for the OMMA Advertising Networks conference and then to Pittsburgh Thursday night.  But the LGA-PIT flights were canceled Thursday night, so I flew back to Boston and took the Friday morning 6 AM BOS-PIT flight.

On the way to the airport in Boston, I remembered I had not changed my car reservation, so I called the Hertz #1 line and re-booked. While on the phone, I remembered seeing a recent Hertz ad claiming that you could “reserve the car you wanted” at many Hertz locations, so I asked about this.  The reservations agent read a list of vehicles available and said I could “request one.”  Although the Edge was not on the list, I selected a Pontiac G8.

When I arrived in Pittsburgh later that morning, I was surprised when the #1 agent told me I would be renting a Honda Accord and not a G8.  No problem, I thought, the new Honda’s look like great vehicles as well.

As I approached space D4 underneath the Pittsburgh airport, I realized the Accord was not the new model, but rather at least one model old.  I was even more surprised to find out that the car smelled like smoke and had cigarette burns on the seats and door fabric.  On the seat next to me was a “Pre-Rental Vehicle Inspection Form,” something I had never seen before in any rental car.  The form noted that there were “dents” and “scratches” on the front, driver and passenger side of the car.  To complete the picture, when I started the Accord the odometer read 34,000 miles, another first in my rental car experience.

So, as an ex-smoker extremely sensitive to the smell of cigarettes, I found myself driving to Morgantown with a raging headache in a smelly car that was out of alignment.  For 20 of the past 27 years (the exception being my time in Canada when I was 100% loyal to Tilden/National, our AIR MILES Sponsor) I have only rented Hertz cars. Hertz has the data to know this, yet they give me a vehicle that is worse than I would expect from the lowest cost car rental company, and charged me $100/day for the experience.  Maybe given my last minute change this was the only vehicle available that could be dropped in Charleston, but if that was the case, they could have and should have apologized in advance.

My next steps:

  1. Check out Avis, National and or Budget “Number 1” Programs
  2. Wait a few days to see if anyone from Hertz is monitoring their customer’s comments on blogs like this.
  3. Try to find Hertz CEO’s email address and see if he/she is interested in responding to this.
  4. Do the same thing with the Hertz board.

Here’s the back of the envelope loyalty math.  Assume I rent 20 vehicles a year for another 20 years at an average price of $50 per rental.  That’s $20,000 in lost revenue from breaking the virtuous cycle of relationship marketing and not using the information Hertz has in its database to treat a valuable customer well.  Hertz blew it at step 1, they know I am a loyal customers and instead of rewarding me with an upgrade or other amenity, the insulted me by giving me a brand damaging vehicle. Let’s see how they attempt to recover, if at all.


  • What data do you have on your best customers that you are taking advantage of today?
  • Are there similar examples of “best customer abuse” happening in your company?

Response from Dell

Just noticed this response from Dell manager. Bonus points for finding this new blog and post and for the very candid response on how Dell’s culture is still evolving to embrace customer and customer service collaboration. His comments:

Good points on social media in the enterprise as a whole. Thanks for the write-up. While we at Dell place social media as a top priority, clearly we have room to improve.
To be honest, even though we consider ourselves leaders in the PC business on social media, our “corporate culture” is still evolving. We implement changes based on what our customers tell us on IdeaStorm, Direct2Dell corporate blog, and our own Dell Community Forums constantly.
This is clearly an area where we have some work to do- getting front line tech, care, and sales agents steeped in social media concepts like ratings and reviews.
I thank you for pointing out our shortcomings in this area, and will make sure to pick up the “Read your own ratings and reviews” baton myself, and get the word out.