Is Google Abandoning its Customers?

Google entered the mobile telephone market with a bang in January by introducing the Nexus One and then just as spectacularly imploded on a rash of customer service complaints.

Since Google launched the Nexus One, its stock has underperformed [the declining] DOW and Nasdaq benchmarks by 10 percent.  Consumers and shareholders are trying to make their voice heard. Is Google listening?

They were hip, rocking along on a wave of innovative features.  Google might just be the David to Microsoft’s Goliath… or so we’d hoped.  But in dramatic fashion, Google proved that launching products without providing customer service capabilities makes for a short, choppy ride with a sudden stop.  Mind the gap, Google!

Google should take two immediate steps to right the ship:

  1. Provide a Service — Google has failed to recognize that mobile phone service includes an operating system, compatible handset, and comprehensive customer support. Referring Nexus One customers to HTC for handset complaints is like Toyota asking its customers to contact the manufacturer of the flawed brake assembly.
  2. Respond to Customers — Google must actively respond to its customers. Google’s misnamed help page provides very little help and states “in most cases you won’t receive a personal response”.  If the customer service itself weren’t so underwhelming I’d applaud Google’s honesty in setting expectations.  As it is, the non-response smacks of a slap in the face for consumers.

Google can navigate its way out of this customer service maelstrom, but it’ll have to do better than half-hearted measures and low-value initiatives.  The pivot point is to be prepared for problems with new product launches.  Abandoning customers, as Google appears to have done, merely adds insult to injury.

Originally posted on BNET.

10 March 2010 at 07:09 Leave a comment

Why Re-Invent the Wheel?

Business Week recently announced its list of customer service standouts.  These customer-focused companies provide excellent examples of how to deliver exceptional service.  So read on and add to your bag of customer service tricks.  What follows is a list of companies that made the list along with unusual or noteworthy ways these companies are improving their bottom line while they improve their customer service.  Before you check out the article, try to guess which initiatives belong to which companies.

Ace Hardware, Amazon.com, American Express, Amica Mutual Insurance, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Branch Banking & Trust, Charles Schwab, Dell, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, Jaguar, L.L. Bean, Lexus, Nordstrom, Panera Bread, Publix Super Markets, Southwest Airlines, Starbucks, The Ritz-Carlton, True Value, USAA, Wegmans Food Markets, WestJet

Investing in Employees

  • Increased training budget by 13%.  Awards tuition scholarships for employees.  Answer
  • Employees granted equity in company.  Answer

Investing in Technology

  • Leveraged best of both worlds after implementing best practices from recently acquired company.  Answer
  • Implemented overflow call system to use remote representatives when local volume overloaded local resources.  Answer
  • Integrated online inventory with brick and mortar inventory to speed customer fulfillment.  Answer

Investing in Customers

  • Escalated problems if not solved within 20 minutes.  Answer
  • Developed outreach program to contact dormant customers.  Answer
  • Roving check-out clerks bring service to customers.  Answer

The pivot point is that we can learn much from those companies that blaze the way with excellent customer service.  We don’t need to re-invent the customer service wheel.  And while not every solution will be appropriate for all companies, these stalwarts set the bar high when innovating around, and executing on customer service.

Which companies are customer service trailblazers that should make the next Business Week list?

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2 March 2010 at 07:18 1 comment

Setting Your Company Apart in a Commodity Market

In a recent Business Week article about JPMorgan and Bank of America we learn that bank consolidation has led to unhappy customers.  Not surprising really and tough to think of this as “news”.  Clearly, pushing two behemoths together causes change.  Banks know they can benefit when they leverage economies of scale and so M&A activity is an attractive option.  What they seem to have missed is that these benefits should extend advantages to their customers too!

I don’t understand why bank-owners (which now largely deliver a commoditized service) think they can cut corners on customer service.  I’ve written before about three controllable dimensions of service: cost, quality, and speed.  In a commodity market cost and speed are equal which is why companies like Bankrate even exist.  Customers see little difference between one bank and another.  And because costs to switch are low consumers can choose with whom to do business.  Bankrate provides the perfect answer.

In a commodity market, only service differentiates.  (In this example of bad PR, the Bank of America and JPMorgan are definitely not creating positive differences.)  Excellent service creates strategic advantages which:

  • Protects your existing customer base,
  • Generates positive word of mouth, and
  • Attracts new customers.
  • (Repeat as needed to develop your business.)

About the only thing that does make sense in this article is the bank’s reticence to comment publicly about the poor customer service they are delivering.  What can they say?  “We are improving shareholder value by short-changing our customers.”

The pivot point is that spending money on customer service should be considered an investment, not a cost.  Wells Fargo’s customer satisfaction has benefited after acquiring Wachovia, a company with high customer satisfaction.  Part of Wachovia’s value to their customers and to their shareholders comes precisely from their investment in a customer-focused culture.

23 February 2010 at 07:13 1 comment

Toyota Recall: Better to Lose Profits and Save Face

Toyota’s safety recall, (followed by Honda, then Peugeot Citroen) of an additional 2.3 million cars made me think about the intersection of customer service and financial prudence. Toyota’s repairs to correct a mechanical fault will cost the business hundreds of millions of dollars in lost profits.

Why is Toyota spending this money now when it will obviously damage the business’s bottom line? Read more at the original BNET post to find out.

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16 February 2010 at 09:02 1 comment

Customer Service Superheroes – Leaping Tall Buildings

In a previous post I picked on a Shutterfly, Inc. transaction to demonstrate how easy it is to spot customer service problems.  Now, let’s turn our attention to what they should do to atone for their customer service sins.

First, a recap of their transgressions:

  1. Checkout step did not accept the promotional code.
  2. Customer Service Team unaware of current sales/marketing promotions.
  3. Customer Service Team has insufficient tools to interact with customers on their terms.
  4. Service response did not yield desired result on order ($10 discount).

To recover (in order of importance): (more…)

10 February 2010 at 08:16 Leave a comment

Using Your Superpower Responsibly – Common Sense

Sometimes customer service can be very difficult to deliver.  However, more and more I am convinced that the problems originate from failure to observe the maxim: failure to plan is planning to fail.  When these cases arise, customer service problems stick out like sore thumbs.  To spot them, you only need the superpowers of common sense.  Here’s a recent illustration of an interaction my wife had with Shutterfly, Inc.

  • Upload photos.  Save draft project.
  • Receive email with $10 promotional coupon.

So far so good.  Shutterfly “knows” my wife is interested in their product and knows that she didn’t make a purchase on her first visit, so “interacts” with her via email to entice her to make the purchase.

  • Finish project.  Place order, attempt to redeem coupon.
  • Coupon redemption fails.
  • Shutterfly customer service doesn’t know which promotion my wife is referring to and asks her to send an email (no attachments please since Customer Service can’t view attachments) with details.
  • Details exchanged.
  • Company is sorry coupon doesn’t work.
  • Company’s verbatim response:  “I request you to get back to me once your ships and you have received the shipment confirmation email. I will insert a gift certificate worth of $10 to your account for $10 off.  Gift Certificates do not expire and it can be used to purchase any Shutterfly product from your account.”

Now, using your superpowers of common sense, what Customer Service sins has Shutterfly committed?

  1. Checkout step did not accept the promotional code.
  2. Customer Service Team unaware of current sales/marketing promotions.
  3. Customer Service Team has insufficient tools to interact with customers on their terms.
  4. Service response did not yield desired result on order ($10 discount).

This experience begs two questions.  Is the company inept?  Or do they value their customers so little that they don’t bother to create a working coupon redemption transaction?  Regardless of the answer, the problems my wife encountered, along with the poor way the problem was handled leave a bad impression.  (If you are a NetPromoter proponent you will recognize me as a “detractor”.)  The pivot point is that if your company fails to use its common sense superpower, your customers will find better alternatives – faster than a speeding bullet.  In the next post we’ll propose recommended recovery steps!

Any “promoters” out there to balance the view?

1 February 2010 at 07:25 Leave a comment

Tea Leaves, Tarot Cards and Customer Service

Most companies think they know how their customers view them.  Most companies think they understand what their customers want.  Most companies are wrong.

Fact is, most companies are still chasing the next big deal opportunistically.  They rely on gut feel and promises of new growth and revenue rather than relying on existing customers to help them navigate the pathways to growth.  It doesn’t have to be this way. (more…)

19 January 2010 at 07:37 Leave a comment

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