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A Few Good Companies

Written by Lisa Hershman

Of course these are the famous lines from the movie A Few Good Men, spoken between Tom Cruise playing the part of a Navy JAG officer and Jack Nicholson in the role of Commanding Officer of Guantanamo Bay Marine Detachment during a court marshal trial. While his intentions regarding defending the country may have been honorable – Jack Nicholson was not behaving like a leader, not only through harassment and disobeying the Uniform Code of Military Justice, but also by withholding the truth.

Sadly, many businesses, while not enacting physical punishment on their customers, suffer from the same error by omission. As I’m writing this, I have been on HOLD with the Social Security Administration for one hour and 4 minutes while trying to verify an address change for my 85-year old mother. The automated attendant indicated at the beginning of the call that my wait time should be approximately 14 minutes.

The “Thank you for holding, we appreciate your patience….” and “We regret that you have waited so long… . messages come every 60 seconds. Despite the fact that I’ve heard them more than 64 times, I can’t complete either of the sentences because I’m not listening. The feeble attempt of feigning to keep me informed and to suggest compassion for my inconvenience is truly ridiculous. I’m an adult. Just tell me. Not only can I handle it, I can actually schedule my time accordingly and not lose any productivity.

I find that most customers don’t mind honest, non-repetitive mistakes or issues. They realize that mistakes are inevitable and inadvertent situations will happen. What they do about it and when, in order to minimize the damage or inconvenience and prevent it from happening again, is really more important. Customers are looking for professionalism and attention to their needs.

Back to the Social Security call…After one hour and 18 minutes, I get a human voice. When I explain what I’m doing for my mom, I’m told that she cannot validate the address without my mother on the line. I ask if I can put the attendant on hold while I try to reach her, and she says yes, if it’s not too long…

I’ll leave out what I said when I had her on hold….

Over-Exposed Value

Written by Lisa Hershman
Can you go overboard trying to please the customer? Yes, as a photo equipment supplier recently discovered.

This particular organization has a membership program aimed specifically at professional photographers – a key customer constituency. The program is inexpensive, costing the customer less than $10 per month to join, and the benefits are lucrative including reduced cost repairs and inspections and evaluation loans of very expensive photographic equipment. It’s a great program at an extremely reasonable price. I strongly suspect it’s a loss leader for the company to inspire brand loyalty for a lucrative customer base. But even if you make a business decision to forgo profit for a good reason, make sure your expenditures are giving maximum value to the customer at minimum cost to the company. This program provides a great example of what not to do.

After you sign-up or renew your membership, the company sends you a kit containing the following:

  • Plastic Membership Card
  • List of kit Contents
  • Discount Coupons
  • Prepaid label sheets for repairs (4)
  • Blank service form
  • Half-page flyer about seminars and workshops

That’s right – a folder, a plastic card, and 6 sheets of paper. Here’s the kicker – the package was sent via FedEx overnight and required a signature from the customer – typically a busy photojournalist who travels.

As a frequent traveller, the recipient was not available to sign for the package the three times the delivery was attempted. Arriving home with his door littered with delivery attempt stickers, the customer had to go online and make arrangements to pick up the package at a local FedEx facility. This required an extra transfer within FedEx. After a challenging day and a long drive from the airport, the customer made it to the FedEx location to sign for the important package. When he opened it, what do you think his reaction was?


Did he feel special knowing the care they put into the delivery?

Nope. He was annoyed. He couldn’t believe the amount of effort he had to make to pick up something that could have mostly been emailed and printed (or not). Then, the mental calculations began: the company spent at least 10% of the cost of the annual membership just to send the materials. “Apparently they’re rolling in money.”

The customer’s perception changed. Will he change his buying behavior? Not likely. But did it tarnish the reputation and is there a seed planted about the company’s lack of business knowledge? Yes.

The bottom line – sometimes an effort to make the customer feel important has exactly the opposite effect, costing you money and eroding customer loyalty.