How Thrifty is Your Customer Service?

I’m just back from my first trip to Ireland and what a trip it was. It’s possible that my boyfriend still hasn’t recovered from the crazy person I became on a few of those Irish back country roads:) The Irish summer weather, which included rain every day, was surprisingly enjoyable. The castles, the pubs, incredibly charming towns, an art festival and seeing U2 in Dublin are just a few of the reasons that I know I’ll be heading back soon.

You Can Rent the Car without Actually Having the Car

Remember that Jerry Seinfeld episode when Jerry reserved a rental car only to discover when reaching his destination that they had no car to rent? That’s this story, but at least the rental car employees in Jerry’s story were honest about the problem…they ran out of cars.

When we first arrived in Dublin we were rested and excited to get going with our journey. Thrifty Car Rental changed all that. We had reserved our car and after grabbing luggage, we got in line to check in. Only a few people ahead of us, so we thought “how long could it be?” Believe me, way to long! It seems that some of Thrifty’s employees were more on a mission to sell their insurance policies than they were to get people the rental cars they reserved. We finally get through that part of the process and we are whisked offsite to where you actually pick up the car. We thought…cool, we’re on our way. Um…an hour later, we finally got our car. What should have taken minutes was 2 hours long in the making.

How Thrifty is Your Service?

There are several definitions of “thrifty” on the Webster’s website. I happen to like, “thriving, prosperous, or successful”. I just have to wonder, how thriving, prosperous or successful Thrifty Car Rental is going to be if they can’t manage their fleet and reservations systems any better than what I experienced. Even the return was a major hassle. And DO NOT get me started on the GPS that we paid for but couldn’t use because their equipment was faulty. Two hours of waiting for a rental car and when we finally get one, we get in the car and drive away only to discover that the GPS is dead. The thought of going back to Thrifty was so painful that we just went on.

Have You Defined the Experience?

We live in a world that is driven by the customer experience. If you haven’t noticed…buyers have choices. They rule. Frankly, they always did. The difference now is that they can access information, recommendations and referrals like never before. It doesn’t matter what product or service you sell, if you don’t create a strategy that defines what you want the experience to be, you may well end up fumbling the ball. Thrifty didn’t just fumble, they kept digging a deeper hole with every contact we had with them. They’ve defined the experience all right, but I’m betting it’s not actually what they had in mind.

OMG - Where Has Customer Service Gone?

In the past, I’ve written about the lack of attention far too many companies place on delivering a customer experience that wows. Being the optimist that I am, I keep hoping with fingers tightly crossed that companies will eventually get it. And you’d think that with times being what they are, the emphasis on delighting customers would be a big priority. Oh, if only that were true!

The dismal customer service that I have received these past few months from a company that has had my business for almost 5 years is what prompted me to write about service again. The experience has me thinking about what can happen when a family owned business is bought out by a mega corporation who clearly doesn’t care if customers are happy or not. This company is stagnating - not an innovative thinker in sight. No matter what the situation, they not only have one excuse after another, but after 5 months they have yet to resolve the problem. Frankly, I don’t care about their operational issues or the lack of staff, though I will say that if you must reduce your staff, please make sure you don’t keep the village idiot on board. Whatever their problems, they are not mine! I’m a paying customer who expects accurate billing and promises kept. What about you?

In the bestseller, The Pursuit of WOW! Tom Peters reminds us that 70% of customers hit the road NOT because of price or product quality issues, but because they did not like the human side of doing business with the provider of the product or service. Research conducted by The Forum Corporation supports this fact and indicates that 45% of these same customers said they switched to another company because the attention they did receive was poor in quality.

Is providing great customer service really that difficult? IBM founder Thomas Watson is attributed with saying, “if you want to achieve excellence, you can get there today. As of this second, quit doing less-than-excellent work”. Delivering WOW service is a commitment to do whatever it takes to serve the customer, and that commitment must be imprinted on the hearts and minds of every single employee. Only then can any organization stand apart from their competition.

Based on my own professional experience, I have defined four rules crucial to delivering winning customer service:

Rule #1: Listen! When customers complain there is a reason. Hear them out. This is an opportunity to make it right and to learn something. Listen without interrupting, giving excuses or arguing.

Rule #2: Don’t take it personally. Customer complaints are about products or services that did not live up to their expectations. Taking it personally, getting defensive, or getting angry only makes the situation worse.

Rule #3: Offer a sincere apology for the inconvenience and then fix the problem! Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Consider how you feel when something you bought didn’t do the intended job or caused an even bigger problem than the one it was supposed to fix.

Rule #4: Never say, “It’s not my job, my department, or my responsibility.” If you work at the company that made the product or sold the service - it is your job! Make a personal commitment to do whatever it takes to fix the problem even if it is not in your job description.

In the end, only those companies with an ongoing commitment to listen and serve can consistently keep their customers delighted and buying from them. Now would be an ideal time for my vendor to heed these words!

Odd Approach to Customer Service

Recently, I allowed myself to get sucked in by a “trial offer” that combined the Pure Acai Berry we’ve been hearing so much about from Oprah and a product called Colon 700.

You know the offer. Buy now and pay only shipping. If you like the product, we’ll bill you the normal price of …whatever…and deliver the product to your door automatically each month until you tell us to stop.

This is a common sales tactic used on the internet and technically there is nothing wrong with it. The company has something to sell so they throw out a teaser offer. The offer almost always includes a fairly low financial barrier to entry and they tell you can cancel or return the product if you don’t like it at any time. Always sounds great.

The problem is that most of the time the terms are confusing. In the case of the products I ordered, I didn’t realize they would be coming from two different places and two different companies, which then meant two different bills down the road. Both are pretty expensive for a monthly supply of products I’m not convinced I’ll use. I decide to cancel the Colon 700 first.

Customer service or the lack thereof is a hot button for me. You can read the contents of the email exchange I had with the company when canceling my ColonMed order. Is it just me or is the person a bit hostile even though I’ve admitted that I blew it.

On 1/9/09, Barbara Giamanco <[email protected]> wrote:

I didn’t realize when I did the trial that I was also agreeing to be billed for more shipments every month. My mistake. Please cancel this immediately!! I did try to use the online service. Said it couldn’t find me. Not sure why.

Sent: Friday, January 09, 2009 3:29 PM
To: [email protected]
Subject: Re: Cancel my order

You received a charge of $88.97 because you did not cancel your account within the allowed 15 day trial period, as stated in our terms and conditions that you are required to read before purchasing. As stated in the terms and conditions, you have 15 days from your trial order to cancel or you will be sent another fresh 30 day supply of Colonmed700 for a total of $88.97.

This is a continuity program for customers who like the product. Any customer who cancels within that 15 day period is removed from the continuity auto-shipment program and does not receive any further charges or shipments. Here is a direct link to our order page which contains the terms and conditions on the page above the Order button ( Please be advised that your order would not have been processed unless you agreed and accepted the terms and conditions.

You were canceled so you will not receive any more products and will not incur any further charges from us.

Barb says: OK, interesting service approach…slap down the customer with a reminder of how stupid you think they are.

Telling me that the product wouldn’t have shipped if I had canceled within the 15 day trial period isn’t helpful, especially since I’d already admitted that I made a mistake. My only request was to cancel future shipments. So I respond with…

On 1/9/09, Barbara Giamanco <[email protected]> wrote:

Indeed - I know why I was charged and was not complaining. Your form letter - fyi - isn’t very customer friendly. I realize I missed the fine print…said so in my email. I just realized that I needed to stop “future” shipments. Thanks a bunch. I see that you did that.



Barb says: I would have thought that was the end of it, but imagine my surprise when I received the following email response. Now I can’t swear to it, but I think someone has a bit of an attitude problem.

Sent: Friday, January 09, 2009 5:34 PM
To: [email protected]
Subject: Re: Cancel my order

The terms and conditions, which you were required to read and accept upon ordering clearly explained how the program works. If the terms and conditions were not agreed to, the website WOULD NOT process your order. We have thousands of customers who actually read these terms and conditions and either cancel their membership within the allowed time period, or choose to keep the product for many months.

Since you did not cancel your trial membership within the 15 day allowed time period, what I can do for you is to let you keep the (2) bottles and give you a refund of $34.99, which would be half of the total you were charged, minus shipping charges since we cannot refund those.

Barb says: Telling me that “thousands of people actually read the terms” is not very customer friendly. I said I goofed up! Just cancel the damn thing already. I’m getting a refund out of the deal even though I didn’t ask for it. That’s something. But heck, what’s the problem do you think? This guy was pretty caught up in “defending” himself even though I wasn’t asking him to do anything other than cancel future orders.

But this little incident is indicative of what’s wrong with so many customer service situations. Companies are quick to defend and very, very slow to listen. What they’ve forgotten is it is not about them. With an economic tightening of the belt, maybe it’s about time they remember.

As a side note…I googled this product and have since found a number of complaints about the business practices of this company. Maybe they have a reason to be defensive after all:)

Whatever Happened to Good Ole Fashioned Customer Service?

A recent travel fiasco has me asking asking yet again…where’s great customer service these days? After what I went through on Monday to get to a client engagement, I’m prompted to remind companies that it is less expensive to build business with your exisiting client base then it is to acquire new customers. Plus, it’s the RIGHT thing to do if you want to keep your clients coming back for more.

So here’s my little travel story that I’m betting a lot of biz travelers will relate too (a little long, but heck…I’ve got to get this out)..

I arrive at the airport on Monday morning early. A full 2 hours before my flight…made good time to the airport, which is not always the case in Atlanta. I get to the check-in area and the nice guy checking my bag informs me that my flight no longer exists. Not a good sign. Instead, he told me I was booked on a flight to my destinatination on the following day. OK - first problem & we haven’t even started. The guy at the curb wasn’t set up to handle my issue, so inside the terminal I went. Oh my god…what a scene. It became really obvious that something was way out of the ordinary.

Turns out that nasty storms the night before shut the airport down. Hundreds of flights were canceled, including mine. So what I encountered when I walked in was competition with hundreds of people bumped from flights the night before.

QUESTION #1: Where was the phone call from either Expedia or my airline?

Non-existent. What’s the point of the personal profile and that contact information they are supposed to use to CALL YOU when something like the weather wreaks havoc on schedules. I’m betting that I am not the only business person who showed up and encountered problems that morning.

QUESTION #2: Who had the bright idea to book me on a flight the day AFTER my original reservation?

I needed to arrive at my destination on the 14th…that’s why I booked my flight that morning. Now maybe the people working at the airlines don’t understand that even in the summer some of us are traveling for business. We aren’t all trying to grab the next flight to our favorite vacation spot. I’m listed as a business traveler, and if you are canceling my flight, a phone call is warranted. Don’t assume that I can fly the next day, because 98% of the time, I can’t!

QUESTION #3: Why is it that only a “handful” of people can work up at the ticketing and assistance counters while far too many representatives are on the floor directing people to some line…often to the wrong one.

Good grief…well meaning people these airline representatives, but the conflicting and inaccurate information was sort of ridiculous. You should put all your available people on those counters to reschedule, reroute and assist people as needed with their travel. Too many ticket terminals sat empty while well meaning representatives were sending us to the wrong lines. Fortunately, I’ve traveled a lot and figured out quickly where I needed to be.

QUESTION #4: Should a business traveler be given priority?

This might be a controversial topic but…. I am certainly not without empathy for the weary travelers I saw Monday morning. Parents and kids alike were wiped out, and I don’t want to suggest that business travelers are more important. They aren’t. The reason I bring this up though is that sometimes my earning a living depends on flying somewhere. If my flight is canceled & you can’t even guarantee me a spot on a subsequent flight that same day when I have to get somewhere and can prove it!…not only is there something wrong with the system but I’m losing business. I’d like to know the process used to determine who could fly and who couldn’t.

QUESTION #5: Why do the rental car companies have this stupid rule that you can’t rent a car and drive it one way?

Please…what is the deal here? OK, security thing maybe. I just say what an inconvenience, especially given the situation at the airport Monday morning. People were looking for alternative means of transportation. But did you know that if you rent a car in Atlanta, you have to bring it back to Atlanta? That’s stupid. Sorry.

Ultimately, I made the quick decision to drive to Mississippi. I couldn’t trust the airline to get me where I needed to be, and I HAD to get to my customer. There was no option - they were counting on me.

There were many customer services issues that day. The only person who really seemed to care about my situation was the guy at the curb. I wish I remembered his name, because he was pretty cool. As I left the airport to head back to my car, he asked if I’d gotten my travel worked out. I told him no. He apologized and was extremely sincere. That’s customer service. Instead of at the curb…this guy needs to be running the place! He gets it.

Customer service - as a general rule - just doesn’t exist anymore. That must change!