Is there an organization that comes to mind when I ask you to consider a predictably poor customer service provider? By this I mean a company or entity you dread returning to because you’ve been consistently disappointed with previous customer service experiences.
When I pose this question to audiences, I tend to hear the same responses: DMV, IRS, USPS… Maybe you’re thinking of one of these—or perhaps you have in mind a cable company, airline, or cell phone service provider?
Now, the easy answer is to exercise your freedom of choice as a consumer and discontinue using these organizations and eliminate the recurring frustration. The problem is that that’s not always possible—or convenient.
In the case of the IRS, doing “business” with them is mandatory. And as long as driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations are required by law, you’ll likely be visiting a local branch of your state’s DMV. The same is true of the USPS. If you miss delivery and have to retrieve a package, send a registered letter, or some other exception, then (at more locations than not) be prepared to wait…
And there are some companies that you may begrudgingly do business with for one reason or another. Maybe your cable services are bundled at a great rate for the next eight months so you’re willing to endure long hold times? Or perhaps you’ve signed a two-year contract with your cell phone’s service provider and so, are willing to tolerate patchy coverage? And you may be willing to relax your grudge against that airline you said you’d never fly again because it’s offering a nonstop flight for half of what your preferred airline is quoting for the same itinerary with connections.
In my case, I gave in to my seven year old, Cooper, and returned to Toys “R” Us last weekend to buy him a LEGO Space Police Galactic Enforcer. Our first stop had been Target but they didn’t carry this particular model. Next, I called Walmart but they did not have it in stock. So I was forced to return to our local Toys “R” Us store.
This particular Toys “R” Us location, to me, is reminiscent of a wholesale club. Its atmosphere (austere), staffing (sparse), and customer service (indifferent) are more suited to a warehouse setting than a retail store. I don’t recall a single hassle-free shopping experience in the past. I do not look forward to returning. From my perspective, it has predictably poor customer service.
Having phoned ahead to verify that they had the LEGO toy in stock, Cooper and I arrived at the Customer Service desk at the front of the store to pick it up.
When I asked the Customer Service employee about the toy and provided my name he said, “If you called ahead, it’s probably in ‘Holding’ at the back of the store.”
Observation #1: The word “probably” does not inspire confidence. The number one reason why customers buy where they buy is confidence.
I said, “Holding?”
He said, “Yeah, ‘Holding’ is where we hold special orders and call-ins. I’ll go back and get it for you.”
Observation #2: When a customer calls a retail store to verify that it has a particular product in stock, provides his name, and states that he’ll stop by later that day to purchase it, (assuming it’s not a swing set or, otherwise, oversized merchandise) that product should be available at the nearest service counter to the front of the store—where customers enter.
He then disappeared for several minutes before returning with the product.
“Great!” I said, “Here’s my credit card.”
Surprised, he said, “Oh, I can’t ring that up for you here. You have to go around to the check-out area.”
Looking at two cash registers behind the Customer Service counter, I asked, “What are these registers for?”
“Oh. Those are only for returns.”
Observation #3: Avoid telling customers that you “can’t” do something or that they “have to” do something. Try a softer approach: “While these registers are for returns, the registers to my left are for purchases.” (I realize we’re talking about Toys “R” Us and not the Four Seasons. Even though you may not work for a luxury brand, there’s no reason why you can’t treat your customers with professionalism and grace.)
Observation #4: Why on earth would you designate the only two cash registers as “returns only” at a Customer Service counter in a retail store—where, presumably, you sell stuff?
So I walked around a long aisle stocked with Nerf products, past the Toy Story 3 display, to the front of the store where, as expected, both checkout lanes were filled with shoppers.
Sensing the irony of the situation, the customer service employee came out from behind his counter, motioned to me, and offered to ring me up at one of the registers located further down in the video game department.
There, he rung up my purchase and asked if I was a member of the Toys “R” Us Rewards Program. (I’m not.) He then made the pitch: There’s no cost to enroll. It just takes a minute to sign up. Shoppers accumulate in-store credits as their spending reaches certain milestones. For instance, for every $150 one spends, he receives a $5 in-store credit that can be applied to a future purchase.
Even though it’s free, fast, and I was already two-thirds of the way to my first $5 bonus, I passed. It’s just not worth $5 or $10 for me to return to this particular Toys “R” Us store. I’d honestly rather spend a little more at Target or another retailer where the customer service is not so predictably poor.
And I’m not alone. Last month, American Express and Echo Research compiled research that revealed American consumers are willing to spend, on average, 9% more with companies that provide excellent customer service.
Toys “R” Us is offering me a savings of about 3% to join its loyalty program but they’re completely missing the point of what truly drives loyalty. Loyalty is not reflected in the number of people who enroll in a rewards program. It is evidenced by positive word-of-mouth, repeat purchases, less price resistance, and other tendencies of loyal customers.
Loyalty has very little to do with plastic keychain rewards cards and 3% discounts. It has everything to do with committing to absolute customer satisfaction, making exceptional customer service the focus and priority of your organization’s culture and brand, and inspiring genuine customer loyalty through predictable service excellence.