The Consumer Matters is the blog of Leslie Grandy, aka Gearhead Gal.  My passion is creating and delivering compelling products that delight customers through simple and elegant user experience design.

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Entries in customer service (5)


5 Mobile Companies That Are 2014 Customer Champions

Every year, JD Powers publishes the results of the surveys it receives from consumers about which brands delight them with their service. More than 600 brands are evaluated in many categories from airlines to banks to automotive manufacturers.  

"The 50 companies we've recognized as Customer Champions demonstrate the highest levels of service excellence, not just compared with their direct competitors, but also across all facets of the customer experience. Not only does satisfaction encourage customer loyalty, but happy customers also become advocates of the brand to others. Particularly given the ability of today's consumers to easily communicate their experiences far and wide through social media and online reviews, customer advocacy can be critical to a company's bottom line," the JD Power Customer Champion announcement states.

 This year, I was struck by the selection of mobile companies that made it to the list.

  1. Boost Mobile
  2. Straight Talk
  3. TracFone
  4. US Cellular
  5. Metro PCS

The positive experience customers have with non-contract carriers is important, and the timing of this announcement no doubt played a huge role in the T-Mobile announcement around the same time to end contracts.


Are These The 475 Best Products Of The Year?

From drop testing to stain removal, the tests conducted by Consumer Reports for their annual buyer's guide have yielded an array of predictable brands and popular products. That shouldn't be a huge surprise in that quality and durability tend to drive consumer satisfaction, which is the bedrock of strong brands.

But before you start adding these items to your bridal registry or birthday wish list, keep in mind Consumer Reports notes,"The whopping bill [for these products] was $4.1 million: $1.6 million for products and $2.5 million for cars." 

So, do you agree with Consumer Reports these are the cream of the crop in electronics, applicances and automobiles? What don't you see on this list?



Who Writes Write The Company?

I ran across Write The Company on Twitter through a shared interest in how companies engage with consumers. (And, as you can tell, I am a sucker for a great writer of alliterations.) Here's a brief description of this talented writer, who "covers" an area close to my heart with the humor and irony it deserves.

"A candid collection of crazy correspondence containing comments, complaints, criticisms, critiques and confessions that categorically captures and conveys the confusion, complications, curiosities, compliments and consequences consumers and customers constructively confront, creatively contemplate and/or continuously consider. Comprende?"

I asked the author of this creative, anonymous blog to come out from behind the curtain, and share a little insight about what type of consumer he is. In a nod to my Vanity Fair subscription, what follows is my personal hybrid version of the Proust and George Wayne interview with Write The Company.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Uncertainty. Like when my mom said she’d like to have me DNA tested.

What is your favorite place to shop?

  The Red Light District in Amsterdam, but my wife only lets me window shop.

What is your idea of earthly happiness?

Co-ed mud wrestling.

What consistent faults do you see in companies to whom you feel compelled to write?

Companies need to stop referring to consumers and customers as their “Target Market.” Targets are things you fire at, attack, hit and try to destroy. That alone makes me want to take aim at them.

Who are your favorite heroes of fiction?

Hester Prynne definitely tops the list. I’ve written hundreds of letters and she was able to take one single Scarlet Letter and turn it into a book and movie deal.

Who are your favorite characters in history?

Groucho, Chico, Harpo and sometimes Karl.

What phrase do you most hate to hear from a customer service representative?

“That’s our policy.” To me, that translates to: Nah-nah nah-nah-nah!

The quality you most admire in the person who replies for the company?

That he or she passed a background check and drug testing. You always want your inquiries handled by people with no rap sheet or traces of drugs in their urine.

What do you value most from the companies that respond?

The fact that they did respond. Too many don’t. Maybe they’re afraid some lunatic is going to post what they say online. 

What is your favorite kind of product to complain about?

Any product that comes with a technical support number. I consider it a pre-warning. As soon as I see it I assign a speed dial number.

If you weren’t using all your free time writing to companies, what would you be doing in your spare time?

Free time isn’t productive so I don’t believe in it. Even with the time I spend writing letters I invoice myself and then question the charges. Too much of my time is already devoted to banging uncooperative electronic equipment repeatedly with a Ball Pein Hammer. Any spare time beyond that is spent doing stuff like flossing and catching up on which celebrities and athletes are heading to rehab or jail.


A New Breed Of Customer Experience "Hosts"

When service is your product, customer loyalty can be a direct function of your employees' satisfaction with their job. Every employee knows that feeling empowered to do the "right thing" is not always as easy as it sounds. Management teams often post policies to organize and coordinate the activities of front line service employees who operate in the field and interact directly with customers. Believing that one rotten barrel can destroy the whole bunch, executives will bias towards reducing the amount of decision-making a service representative has to do in order to ensure a consistent "experience" for all customers with their brand.

But what happens when employees understand that service IS the product because management gives them tools and decision rights to actually solve customer problems and, in fact, prevent them? Employees of two service brands, The Morgan Hotels Group and Virgin America, represent the new paradigm of customer experience owners, employees who feel more like "hosts" not "agents."

The Free Online Dictionary defines a host as "one who receives or entertains guests in a social or official capacity." In personal social activities, we have no problem seeing hosts as people who treat visitors graciously and are aware of their guests' needs, making sure that they are comfortable and feel welcomed, not just when it comes time to say "please come again."

Flight attendants on Virgin America are called "teammates" and flyers are "guests." That mental model informs each employee how to treat a visitor who enters via the jetway and spends time in their day traveling via the airline. For Morgan Hotels, guests who take the time to complete a marketing survey after the visit are rewarded by a personal note from a Customer Experience Manager who addresses the guest's specific feedback, if the guest opts to invite the hotel to contact them. That person is prepared to continue the dialogue with the guest to ensure the guest feels appreciated for providing the insight on their own time about their interactions and stay with the hotel.

Social graces seemed to have disappeared with the appearance of the socially acceptable practice of anonymously posting nasty comments about online content or marketing material. It's always been easy to criticize the host who doesn't get it right - who makes us feel unwanted and underappreciated. But those are also usually the people who don't treat us as if they are entertaining or engaging us either personally and professionally as a host.



Corporate Amnesia, Accountability And Service

Should you take out your frustration about a business' failure to deliver service on its employees? I was debating this point today, after the umpteenth time of waiting in a four hour window for the Broadstripe cable company to send a repair man to our house in order to receive HD channels consistently using our TiVo DVRs.  My husband, who is Canadian and who hates to make waves, was clearly on the side of cutting the repairman slack today.  But I only saw another singer in the continuing chorus of Broadstripe employees who think they are problem solvers when they are actually key actors in our ongoing nightmare.  Why are my glasses so soot colored? Because each person who comes to our door optimistic that they can do what others before them haven't does so by assuring us they aren't interested in the past, only in the future.

Sure, it's an easy argument to make that the last guy was incompetent, but the history of continued failure to solve problems is something no single employee wants to own. In fact, the last senior executive of our region who told us he wasn't responsible for the past and "only the future" no longer works at the company.  Consequently, our past conversations and credit promises have also evaporated with him. This provided a helpful cue for the musical refrain sung by Jeff, the repairman who showed up today. "I can't tell you what he promised because he doesn't work here any more, I can only look forward at fixing your problems." Company amnesia about our ongoing record of miserable service appears rampant.

Lack of customer memory also has dramatically degraded the company's troubleshooting ability, and that contributes to our long record of service calls. Rather than tracking past work, and using that to narrow the problem set, the care, repair service and network engineering employees each start from ground zero, which further compounds the problem because no one seems to be keeping a big picture view. Over time, we have been told during different service visits that the repair will require the person to remove switches in our wired network closet, remove several of our DVRs from the network, remove and replace the cable card from the TiVo, replace the underground cable to our house, tune the signal at the junction box at our house, and a few more things I can't even remember.

It seems I am in good company, though, because it appears they can't remember much either. Today's supervisor was unable to even find our TiVo cable cards registered with the service system, despite the fact that the repairmen have been to our house more than a handful of times to address our lack of HD service. "I'm surprised you get any service at all," she commented. What then does she think they have been coming to our house to address all those blocks of time we had to be home when they booked an "appointment?"

Real problem solving only emerges from sourcing the collective tribal knowledge a company has about a customer and their service history. When a company has only short term memory, employees can't do their job. But when multiple employees espouse short term memory as their service "opportunity", beware - you are probably not going to really feel well serviced in the long run.