Tag Archive for: Customer Service

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?

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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?

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.

Case Study: Another Dell misfire demonstrates why Web 2.0 and customer service must be linked

I have been an IBM ThinkPad customer since 1991, about the year they starting making them, but the extremely poor customer service I experienced from Lenovo regarding my X61 Tablet forced me to look at other manufacturers. Although I have never been a fan of Dell laptops, I was attracted to the ads for the new latitude E6400 model and decided to give one a trial.

I first called Dell a few weeks ago and was pleased to be able to talk to Bernard, a sales rep. Three pluses for Bernard:

  1. He speaks flawless English and is  located in a US service center.
  2. He was very knowledgeable about configurations, listened to my needs and helped me understand why I needed a 7400 RPM hard drive.
  3. He never tried to oversell. I know this because I would have paid more for options I asked about, but he didn’t believe I needed them.
  4. He gave me a direct phone number where I could call him back.

All good. I also learned that he was on commission and told him I would call him back soon. Last week, I was ready to call Bernard back and close the deal. But before I did, I wanted to do a final check for user reviews of the E6400 (It is a new model and although CNET had a positive editors review/video, there were no customer reviews the first time I checked).

Fortunately, there were 5 reviews on the Dell site for the E6400. Unfortunately for Dell, 2 of the 5 were very negative:

In all fairness, the other 3 reviews were glowing, but these 2 did cause me to re-think my decision. I was also very surprised to learn that Dell did nothing at all to respond to these negative reviews on their own site. Back to our 6 Web 2.0 Imperatives for All Businesses. Dell gets the imperative to support customers by enabling and encouraging users to talk about their products and services on the web. But this alone is necessary and – as this case shows – terribly insufficient. You must (a) listen to what they are saying and (b) authentically interact. Where is the E6400’s product manager’s response????

But wait, there’s more…

No problem, I thought. I’ll just call Bernard and he will be able to address these customer concerns quickly and move on to close the sale and earn his commission.

So I called Bernard, who answered the call himself. (More bonus points for Dell, or a sign of the slowing economy?) I told him I was ready to buy, but had read the negative reviews on the Dell web site and was concerned about making the purchase, especially given the comments about speed – a huge issue for me as I often work with 20MB+ presentations. To my incredulity, this is what happened next:

  • Bernard had no idea that there were negative comments about the laptop on the Dell site.
  • Obviously, he had not been made aware of these concerns as he had no credible answer, saying “What’s fast for some users may be very slow for others” or something to that effect.
  • He could not pull up the Dell Web site to read the review. I had to email it to him.

So here you have a Dell employee (or an employee of a Dell contractor) who had no idea that customers were complaining about the product he sold and no ability to even see the complaints. What’s happening from a 3C 5 Sphere perspective:

  • Bernard feels less than thrilled about not being aware of or able to respond to these Dell enabled complaints. Poor/no technical capability = decreased employee commitment.
  • I am less confident about buying the product. Failure to respond to customer reviews and equip sales agents to address them decreases the probability of a Dell purchase that could result in a long term $20-30,000 customer.
  • The call took longer than it should have and most customers would have thought more about it before purchasing, if at all. Increased costs.
  • I am writing this blog post and sharing a negative customer experience with everyone I know.

Some of you may be thinking, “If Dell isn’t going to address these types of customer complaints, they shouldn’t provide a forum for them on their site.”

This would be the exact wrong response. The more ubiquitous and easy blogging and other forms of customer generated feedback become, the more the probability that negative customer reviews about defective products will reach your potential customers will approach 100%. If Dell didn’t enable customer feedback, I would have found them on CNET or other sites.

Listen, ask, and authentically respond and act. It is not enough to stop at the second step.

Better yet, fix your quality problems.

Full disclosure note: despite Bernard’s inability to answer these customers concerns, I still ordered the laptop after being assured that Dell has a 30 day money back guarantee with no restocking fee (unlike Apple). No waiting for delivery. Stay tuned.

Extraordinary customer service mitigates disastrous start to long weekend

Last Friday I left Harvard Square early with plans to get a jump on the traffic to New Hampshire with my 9 year old son Myles and “5 going on 2” yellow lab Ginger. We left Brookline a little behind schedule around 4pm and by the time we reached Storrow Drive, the East Bound lane was backed up.  So, we opted to go West and pick up the Mass Pike in Alston. The ramp was narrowed due to construction and I bumped into the curb, thinking, “thank God that didn’t pop my tire.” Devine intervention was either non-existent or ephemeral as a few minutes later we were entering the ramp to the Mass Pike and it was clear I had a flat.

Fortunately, I was able to pull over in a safe place and started digging in the glove box for the owner’s manual to my beloved X3. As I sat up, I noticed a Massachusetts State Trooper pulling up behind me. ( In all candor, that did cause me to break a bead as a few years ago I collected 3 tickets within 6 months which satisfied the admissions criteria for 8 hours of driving safety school.) But this interaction ended up being a very different and pleasant experience. In hindsight, I assume that someone in the toll both called the Trooper.

Trooper Danny Jefferson was incredibly helpful as he got out of his car and told Myles and I he had already called someone to help. He offered to help me get the “donut” spare tire out of the back of the car, but suggested I wait for the Mass Pike emergency service vehicle who would have a much better/safer/easier jack to lift the car. Within a few minutes, Anthony Pellegrine arrived in his bright yellow truck with the aforementioned superjack and we were back on the road in less than 30 minutes from pulling over.

The “donut” was clearly labeled as a temporary device, with large letters warning not to drive over 50 miles per hour. As the main event for the weekend included traveling over the Sandwich Road from Waterville Valley to the Sandwich, NH Fair – a dirt and gravel road that is so rough it is closed in the winter (but incredibly beautiful; see my photos on smugmug) – I knew we had to make an additional stop to repair or replace the blown tire. Fortunately, we were only one exit away from Direct Tire’s Watertown facility and I called ahead while waiting for Anthony’s arrival.  Susan assured me that they would be ready when I arrived, even if they had to stay after closing time.  Direct Tire is one of my all time favorite businesses and owner Barry Steinberg a leading implementer of all we learned about customer loyalty at Bain; he has been featured in numerous business articles, including Inc Magazines 26 Most Fascinating Entrepreneurs.

By the time Myles and I arrived at Direct Tire, they had a bay open for us and were waiting with a new high performance snow tire to replace the blown one. They welcomed Myles, Ginger and I into their waiting room and we were on our way within 30 minutes. Susan and her colleagues even told us a way to avoid the Mass Pike and most of the 128 North traffic by taking the local’s short cuts.

So here’s what happened:

– Great customer service turned what could have been a disastrous start of a long weekend into an incredibly positive experience; one which I have shared and will continue to share many many times over
– My son got to meet some really nice people who are great at their jobs and deliver extraordinary service
– I found positive content for my first customer service blog; a goal I had from the initial idea of including Customer Service as a major Collaboration Evangelist category.

Total elapsed time for all of this: less than 60 minutes and we were on our way.

Thanks to Trooper Jefferson, Anthony, Barry and the pit crew at Direct Tire and a special shout out to the Mylesman who was hugely patient and kept reading his favorite book Bone throughout the episode.

If extraordinary customer service can turn something as bad as a flat tire into an experience worthy of sharing with others, how many opportunities did your business capture or miss today that could have done the same?