How To Lose Friends & Persuade People To Hate You

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Tuesday, 8:54pm
Reno, NV
“You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave…” (Eagles, “Hotel California”)

Howdy…

Today, let’s explore a little-discussed part of running a biz…

… using a couple of enlightening (and very brief) anecdotes from my recent (and continuing) “Adventures With Hotels”.

Let’s call this lesson: The Faded Lady and the Trump.

With all due apologies to Disney’s classic dog-romance movie, of course.

See if you can spot how the following short story applies to YOUR business…

Ahem.

Each of the last two weekends found me in different cities, staying in hotels I booked online, sight-unseen.

In Sin City, it was the splendiferous Trump International Hotel Las Vegas.

In San Francisco, the once-famous, now-infamous Cathedral Hill Hotel.

Now, the Trump joint was built with luxury in mind.  Shiny, tall, imposing building with huge well-apportioned rooms and super-modern equipment like elevators and art.

As a “product”, the building was great. (Though it seems idiotic not to have any gambling on the premises, as a wanna-be “player” in the Las Vegas scene.  I heard that Trump got skunked on getting his gambling license, but that’s not the spin the staff offered.  “We just didn’t want gambling here,” is what they said, unconvincingly.)

Great price for the rooms, too.  (Most likely because of the lack of casino amenities and dearth of unit sales, which turned it from condo to hotel.)

I have complaints about the joint… but not because of the room, the rate, or the basic delivery of stuff like air conditioning, clean water, nice beds, etc.  (In fact, their pillow-top beds are amazing to sleep in.  Like being cuddled by angels.)

Now, back in SF, it was a completely different situation.

We hosted a gathering of writers, affiliates, and other mucky-mucks at the Cathedral Hill Hotel because we wanted to treat everyone to an evening with the world-renown “Beer Chef“, who puts on fabulous dinners there once a month.  (You can read more about Bruce Paton’s unique meals at www.beer-chef.com. )

You want the “Beer Chef”, you deal with Cathedral Hill. (And yes, we very much wanted his magic.  He creates these shockingly-tasty gourmet meals there, with each course matched by a local micro-brew beer instead of boring old wine.  It’ll knock your socks off, even if you aren’t well-versed in pilsners, ales and lagers.)

We also started the day off with an afternoon-long brainstorm session in the hotel’s main meeting room.  (I’m sure you caught some of the updates on Twitter from the luminaries and stars in attendance.)

However…

… none of us had ever stayed at the hotel.

And while it has a storied past (well-chronicled in San Francisco lore), it has, alas,  fallen on hard times.

Culminating in being bought out a short time ago and scheduled for the wrecking ball.

Ouch.

We made the most of it.  The stories and jokes we all shared about our rooms and experiences in the hotel are howlingly funny…

… but still, as a “product”, there’s no getting around the fact that the building was in serious disrepair.

Sort of like a once-beautiful lady who has fallen on hard times, and ended up sacked-out in a filthy alley, soused with cheap booze and a reputation heading south at light speed.

The price was actually a red flag: You cannot stay in the city, in a decent room, for anywhere near the rate Cathedral Hill was asking.

Kind of like seeing an ad for a luxury Caribbean Cruise in the paper for five bucks.  It sort of sets off your early-warning alarm.  (Five bucks and your kidney, maybe.)

So… while no one got robbed, or found a dead hooker in their room… the experience came off as part Overlook Hotel horror-show (from “The Shining”), and part David Lynch “29 Palms” surreal.

Good grist for hair-raising tales.  And jokes.

Not so good for scoring nice comments on hotel-rating sites.

Now…

here’s where the lesson comes in.

While the Trump shined as architecture… the hotel staff was a disaster.

They left us standing outside for half and hour in 100 degree heat while finding our valeted car… and got pissed when I raised a fuss.  I was told that pffft, of course I should have known it would take 20 minutes or longer to get a car from the garage.

Was I that naive?

Then, after charging me $9 for a few Advil in the tiny, inadequate store… I asked the desk clerk to hold the oversized bottle until I came back from my adventures outside.

And they stole it.  Or lost it.  And it was my problem.

Room service?  No one ever answered the phone when I called.  No message, no music, just endless ringing.  (I finally called the toll-free number for the hotel, got the manager on the line, and gave him my simple order.  Somehow, it actually got delivered some time later.)

Hey — I realize this isn’t earth shaking stuff. Lost overpriced Advil bottles, snotty attitudes, phones unanswered, meetings missed because of long waits for the car…

… I don’t really care all that much.

I’m actually amazed that anything works in this culture, ever.  Water coming out of the tap, planes actually flying, mail getting delivered…

… I find each act of modern life a mind-boggling miracle.  (The light came on!  I just flipped the switch like this… look! It came on again!)

But that’s the point of this little story.

It’s the little shit that actually leaves the biggest impression in business.

Over at the crumbling Cathedral Hill, the staff was like long-lost family.  The desk clerks fussed with clients, making sure we were as happy as possible.  Bell hops scrambled to help with luggage and directions (even though I know they were often stiffed from foreign bad-tippers).

The staff assigned to us during our brainstorm was attentive and eager to please.

And the Beer Chef’s kitchen staff performed amazing culinary feats all night long.  (Yum.)

These were, almost to a person, nice folks tackling difficult short-ticket jobs in a hotel with a date for demolition.

This got me thinking about customer service.

Most online biz fall down on dealing with customers and clients.  It’s just too tempting to treat people like numbers when everything is anonymous and digital.

Offline, you gotta look a customer in the eye.  Online, it’s email, and maybe a phone call.

So it’s easy to forget that after making a sale, the “real” work begins of creating a lasting relationship with a customer.

And the life-time value of a customer is what counts.

It’s not that first sale.

It’s all the following times he buys from you that builds a successful business model.

Good biz savvy demands over-the-top excellent customer service… all the way down the line.

It costs you to acquire a new customer.  It can be expensive, in cash laid out for ads, and in time spent communicating your sales message.

Once he’s a happy current customer, however, there’s an opportunity to bond deeply… which creates the kind of trust and bonhomie required to make back-end sales simple and easy.  (And this post-sale bonding can be accomplished for spare change.)

But there’s a mix of factors here, too.

I probably won’t stay at Trump’s little condo experiment again.  What I saved on the room rate was gobbled up by extra cab fares and the overpriced drinks and food they served.

And it just pissed me off that the staff seemed to have taken classes in offending customers.

So it’s worth noting that a great product, at a great price…

… can be nullified by rotten customer service.

And it’s also worth noting that a poor product — like the Cathedral Hill soon-to-go-bye-bye Hotel — can still leave you with good feelings about the experience.

I won’t be staying there again, mind you.  Because, again, the product sucked.

So the perfect mix is: Great product, great price…

… and great customer service.

It’s not brain surgery.

I ran Marketing Rebel as a 2-person shop for years, earning a fortune and a sterling reputation.

It was just Diane and me… and both of us made post-sale customer service a priority.

Even now, with the staff burgeoning, everyone who deals with customer happiness is a single phone call away from me.

You got a problem, you’re gonna get someone I know personally on it as fast as possible.

And each case is unique, far as we’re concerned.  There are real people behind every email we send out for customer service.

We will never make everyone happy, of course.  We’ll always have unpredictable problems that just crank some folks so much it damages the relationship forever.  It happens.

And we’ll always see a very tiny percentage of pure rage-aholic customers who cannot be satisfied, ever, because they’re batshit crazy.

Still, they will get replies, as fast as we can get on it.  For most customer service, in fact, my own personal assistant (the infamous Diane) is point person and chief handler.

You may, for whatever reason, become disenchanted with us.

But it won’t be from a sucky product or bad customer service.  You will never be left dangling in the wind.

I came up through the ranks knowing that customer service can make or break a project.

Some businesses out there say “screw it”, and accept 20% and higher refund rates because they just don’t want to bother with good customer relations.

I don’t recommend that model.

Truly resilient success is built on having a killer product… supported by equally killer customer service.

It’s easy to ruin a relationship.  (Lord, don’t I know that.)

And it’s hard to follow through with doing the right thing, as a rule.  People can be assholes, clueless, and utter nuisances… often all at once.

But it pays off to hang in there, and take the high road.

The customer may not always be right… but that’s the right attitude to start out with when dealing with someone.

If Trump was smart, he’d hire the Cathedral Hill staff as soon as they’re all available… and send his current mob packing.

It’s a huge lesson.  Great product, great service.

Any other combination just plain sucks, and will contaminate your success.

What do you think?

Love to hear your comments.  Maybe a horror story about dealing with a biz using professional assholes for customer service, or staying in Hotel Hell yourself.

(I loved that YouTube video about the cable TV guy napping on the job, and the other one about trying to quit AOL… while the representatives on the phone refused to allow it.)

Also… a couple of posts ago, someone put up a comment about being “ignored” by my staff regarding a complaint.  And I looked into it, and discovered that she had given us incorrect contact info, and ignored OUR reply emails on the matter.

I left that comment up (I’ve never taken down a comment yet, in five years, that wasn’t spam) as a little exercise in seeing how our years of over-the-top customer service has affected our reputation out there.

The answer: Not a whole lot.

Folks who deal with us are happy.  The few who cannot be satisfied, no matter what, remain disgruntled.

And you simply cannot really brag about good customer service to prospects.  No one will believe you until they experience it firsthand.

So, be clear on this: You don’t do it in your online biz because you score huge points with prospects.

You do it because it keeps happy customers happy.  And because it’s just the right thing to do.

Over time, your reputation will benefit.

More important, over that same period of time, your bottom line will grow faster, because you’re able to build on good will with back end sales to a happy list.

A small lesson, perhaps.

But critical to sustainable, honest success.

Please — share a horror story.

Stay frosty,

John

89 Responses to How To Lose Friends & Persuade People To Hate You

  1. Hi John,
    The morning after the beer dinner, a happy little troupe of people decided to camp out by my door and chat at Broadway stage volume in the hallway at 6am. Couldn’t make out the language. Too tired. I think an hour later they ran out of things to talk about.
    It was great seeing you again. I had an awesome time! Thanks for the great dinner and amazing stories. Cathedral Hill Hotel will be gone in a few months. Maybe we’ll throw a dinner there when it’s a hospital! Just sayin..
    Thanks again John..:)
    Robert

    • That was a blast, wasn’t it.
      I’m still hearing new stories coming out of the weekend. Funny, funny, stuff…
      We gotta hold these get-togethers more often. And always at questionable hotels…

  2. Hi John, loved the article. Must say I go with customer service everytime. We go to a little place in Queensland and the building is a little on the old side but so clean and the staff are just the best. You know that nothing is a problem and they will go out of their way to help. I have been to some five star resorts that treat you like something they have on the bottom of their shoe. I always try to give my customers great products and great service. If there is a probllem I have been know to stay up until the early hours of the morning so that I can personally call them and sort out the problem. I am always amazed at the response I get that I took the time to ring them from the other side of the world. It costs me very little except a bit of sleep and I have a lot of repeat customers (would like more) but about 90% of my customers come back time and time again. So I think I must be doing something right I hope so anyway.
    Keep the stories and lessons comming I just love reading them.
    Love and Light
    Colleen The Crystal Dragon

  3. The customer may not always be right, but they are still the customer.

    And as long as they are in my store they are a guest in my business and are always treated with respect. Regardless.

    I’ve grown weary over the years of begging people to take my money, and have adopted the posture of voting with my money – if the service is bad, I take my money someplace else. I have also become impatient with waitresses who become impatient with me. I am not on their schedule, I am on mine. Somehow they missed the session on the spirit of service.

    In my bookstore, Known Books, I have a policy about book recommendations. I get many people in the store who really don’t know what they want to read and just want a recommendation of what they should read and why. It’s a calculated crap shoot combined with a bit of learned intuition and knowing how to ask the right questions, much like recommending a restaurant. But over the years I’ve gotten pretty good at getting the right book in their hands. I tell these customers that I’ve been quoted in The New York Times as standing behind my recommendations – that if I recommend a book and the person doesn’t like it they are to return it immediately. A person should never be stuck with a book they don’t like. In thirteen years a book has only been returned once.

    And people remember that recommendation and make it a point the let me know how they enjoyed the book. That’s all I need. The reward comes in seeing these people year after year when they visit the area. Of course I’ve got to stay on my toes and pay attention to those books!

    Another practice I follow in my store is recommending other businesses to meet their needs. My goal has always been to get the right book into their hands, and if I don’t stock it, I try to direct them to a business who might have it. Mind you, this can be somewhat passive aggressive in that I look good to the customer with the recommendation, they leave my store happy, and they experience the real disappointment in my competitor’s stores when they don’t have the item either.

    Just another perspective.

    Cheryl C. Cigan
    Known Books
    http://www.known.com

  4. Usually digital product sellers and continuity systems offer the worlds worst – and hardest to understand – foreign outsourced customer service. No, they don’t care about you. Yes, it’s obvious.

    Jeez, these kinds of nightmares are too numerous to mention, but ONE that I remember is an article spinner resale product that I bought from a guy who really loved to blow his own horn – loudly.

    But when his product had a fatal flaw in it, and I kept asking for help on it, not only was the problem ignored, but he insulted both me and my business.

    I can’t think of a single reason that anyone would make up the problem that I was having, he simply refused to acknowledge that this problem could be possible, and yet, there it was staring me in the face every time I tried to make the product function. And no, he never gave me a refund. In the end I just gotta realize that the Internet is a great hiding place for some people who want to be enormous a**holes.

  5. All I have to say is… You should of stayed at The Four Seasons!

    You gotta read Issy Sharpes book “The Four Seasons” this man is brilliant. You will never look at service the same way again.

  6. Hi John,
    I’ve stayed in a lot of hotels over the years traveling on business.
    The worst experience was in Singapore over 15 years ago. (bad service hangs in the mind a while)

    We ordered two cokes and two coffee’s and were charged over $50. When we asked politely if there was a mistake we were told off in no uncertain terms.

    A friend staying there at the same time had her ankle broken when a partition was pushed over by a staff member. She was told she could go to hell if she thought she would get any compensation.

    All in all… I’d never go back to Singapore unless it was just to transit elsewhere.

    Just a question John regarding tipping.
    In Australia we mostly don’t tip unless we get exceptional service. We also pay our wait staff a proper wage so this is not a problem.

    Why is it in the US in particular staff are not paid a living wage and must make it up in tips. What’s the problem with paying them when everyone is expected to pay the 10% (from memory) anyway?

    Why not just put it on the bill and pay the better wages to staff?

    Just a query… no one has explained it to me in a way that makes sense to me yet.
    Peter

    PS Whens the next quiz?

    • Peter, I don’t make the rule. I just do my best to live by most of them.
      RE: Tipping in the USA –
      I’m not going to solve this for you. Any more than you are going to solve for me why in some places folks drive on the left side of the road, which is obviously crazy and very dangerous. Or why the first person who tasted Vegemite didn’t spit it out and slug the person who fed it to them.
      I’ve lived most of my life in the USA, but I’ve spent about 2 years (if you add up all the days) living outside of the USA.
      Every culture has mores. Tipping is on the list of things are ‘just the way they are’.
      Yes, they could change. But they probably won’t.
      I’ve spent very little time in Australia (just a few weeks). The no-tipping system seemed to work fine there, in that I got perfectly acceptable service.
      But I’ve seen a substantial improvement in service in The Netherlands as the cultural norm has moved from No Tipping to Maybe Tip 10% For Good Service.
      Having lived under both systems, I prefer tipping. In most restaurants in the US, for the time I’m sitting there, if I’m happy with their level of effort, the waitperson is going to make more money from my pocket than from the management. Overall, I get better service that way.
      In France, where the waitperson is going to get paid a cut of the check, no matter how happy I am with their level of effort, on average, IMO, the level of service suffers. It’s not because anyone is any lazier than anyone else. And of course I have dozens of stories that are exceptions. But, on average, over the long haul, all else being equal, most folks will follow the money.
      So long as the social norm is most folks tips, that system works. I’m not saying other models don’t work. But the US model is OK.
      There!
      Solved for you.
      You can move on to life’s next great question.

      • You get what you pay for, it’s always been the way I work. And the only way I will accept payment.

        I do not use percentages w/ tipping. A person or thing will recieve money from me based on what I expect their value to me is.
        The tip is given when thry suprise me with their ability to put-up w/me. So then I can suprise them.

      • Hi Stan, John and Delton,
        Thanks for spending some time answering an inane question. I agree with you Delton… people should be tipped when they deserve it. I’ve been to quite a few countries and had both great service and sucky service.

        As for vegemite, it is an aquired taste. You should only be introduced to it as a child. Personally I love it.

        As for driving on the left or right side of the road the current count is 118 countries drive on the right and 77 drive on the left. Many of those countries which drive on the right drove on the left until after WW2 when the influence of USA caused a change. e.g. South Korea.

        Peter

        • Thank you Stan, John and Delton for venturing forth with an explanation. As for you Peter…..the system in the US is, as previously stated…as it is. As the American half of an Australian/American couple I can speak for both systems having spent a life in both countries and many others. The American system allows restaurants to keep prices in check and encourages good service from the wait staff. A good wait person will always make a good living in spite of being “stiffed” by the odd non or cheapskate American. The Aussie system is easier for the restaurant-goer because the price is all-inclusive and tipping is not expected. However, I am assuming you are not in the food service biz as we are…the wages for wait staff and simple service staff in Aus is killing owners of restaurants, coffee shops, pizzerias, etc. Do you know that 18 year- old order takers in fast food restaurants in Aus make $18 per hour!!?? That all figures into the cost of your Big Mac! Cheers mate!

    • I’m American, and the tipping system is a pet peeve of mine. I’m not against tipping. I’m against a system that allows employers to pay less than minimum wage. Maybe there’s a good reason for this, but I think it’s unfair to expect people doing a tough job (I don’t think I’d ever survive as a waitress!) to get paid far less than a living wage and hope to make it up in tips. If the system hadn’t started out this way, restaurants could just charge 20% more for meals and pay the staff 20% more.

  7. Hey John,

    I totally agree with you… it’s the little shit that we remember.

    I have a recent horror story from an MLB game last week… My buddy got us tickets to a a Tampa Bay Ray’s game with great seats (we were actually up a few rows behind home plate). During the 7th inning stretch I took my girl to get some beer and chicken wings… mmmm.

    After waiting 25 minutes in line, it was our turn to order when the clerk told us their credit card machine was down. I yelled, “you gotta be kidding me!”

    Then, he told us we could “conveniently” get some cash from the ATM (which was on the other side of the stadium). After waiting another 30 minutes in line, with dozens of really pissed off people, I paid a $5.50 ATM fee to pull out 40 bucks. Needless to say, I was really pissed.

    We walked back across the stadium and asked for our chicken and beer. Wouldn’t you know it, they stopped selling beer after the 7th inning!

    The worst part wasn’t the ridiculous ATM fee or not gettting my beer (ok, the beer may have tipped me over the edge), but the attitude and we-don’t-give-a-shit attitude of the staff really got my, and everyone else’s, tempers flaring. I actually saw a guy about to get arrested because he was making such a scene.

    If all they had done was let the people waiting in line know the credit card system was down, and maybe offer a discount or something for free, this could have blown over. But thanks to their AWESOME customer service, there are probably a few hundred people who will never go back to the Ray’s stadium… me included.

    Thanks for all ya do,

    Chris Dunn

    • Dude, you should have strangled at least one of the bastards.
      How else are they gonna learn?
      I just went to my first AAA baseball game — Reno has a brand new stadium for the Aces (farm club for the Arizona Diamondbacks)… and just like it was in Bull Durham, it’s darn hard to fill a stadium for minor league play.
      However, the Aces are filling the joint… with great service, easy parking, deals with nearby casinos, and WAITRESSES in the stands serving beer and hot dogs to order.
      I was in baseball heaven… (great game, too, with 5 dingers and some outstanding fielding in a 8-5 close one…)
      You’d think this was obvious to people… but it’s not.
      Thanks for the story. Good one.

  8. Hey John–you forgot to tell them about
    the “pile up” on the patio. That’s pretty
    damned unforgettable in my book.
    And I think I saw those “dead zone” people from Verizon on the 8th floor. Yeah, fun stuff.
    Cheers, Tina

  9. P.S. By the way, we found out there is a hospital wing in the hotel. There was a lady ranting at the front desk because the night nurse didn’t show up to start her IV on time. Glad we didn’t get “lost and found” on THAT floor! See you again soon, Tina

  10. Hey John!

    Sounds like you guys had a great time – I’m jealous!!

    I have so many “customer service horror stories” that I could write a book. (I start to wonder if it’s just that I travel a lot or if I’ve pissed off the travel Gods and I have really bad Kharma!)

    But – I read your comment about the woman who complained, only to learn that she mixed up her own email address – so my question is this: How far should you go? Sometimes I think I take customer service so far above and beyond “the call of duty” – but I have such a strong belief that it’s important to leave them with a “good taste in their mouth” – even if they decide to get off your list forever – that I sometimes go to extremes.

    So my comment/question tonight is this: Can you go too far?

    I’ll anxiously await your feedback – and thanks.

    Susie

    • You gotta find your own limits here, Susie. With our company, we’re polite and accommodating until it becomes blindingly obvious we’re being taken advantage of… or the person we’re dealing with is causing the problems they’re complaining about. (As in the example from the comments section I mentioned.)
      I hate to say it’s common sense, but it is. There are agreed-upon rules in society about how to interact with people. The basics: Treat others as you would have them treat you.
      A lot of folks just assume everyone is out to screw them, and everyone has evil desires barely tamped down. This kind of social paranoia will murder a biz if the owner has it.
      I’ve always had what Halbert and I called “optimistic pessimism”… we expected the worse, but played our hand as if the best would happen… and were happily surprised when things turned out well, as they usually did. Still, we were prepared for the worst.
      So in my office, we’re upbeat, and we give the tie to the customer every time.
      But we’re not naive. And we play some extremely nasty hardball with evil people (of which, sadly, there are plenty to go around).
      Try to create win-win situations. Try real hard. When it’s obvious it’s not gonna happen, go for the expedient settlement, and never deal with that person again. It’s a big world. If your list is purged of trouble-makers, it will be just a teensy bit smaller, but much more valuable.
      And when it’s obvious there’s a rip going on… go for the jugular.
      You’ll find that most people are good hearted, and appreciate a fair deal with an honest biz owner.
      But most of your problems won’t come from them (and are easily handled to everyone’s satisfaction when they do come up).
      Just — as I always say — stay frosty.

      • Great info!! Thanks so much!! I agree wholeheartedly. My favorite thing to ask the “nut cases” is: “Tell me – what is it that will make you happy.” Their answer usually gives me an indication of their level of “nutty-ness.”

        Thanks again…

      • Fantastic John, thanks.

        Sometimes people who are “evil” – whose intention is to take advantage – threaten the business owner [me] with ruin of my reputation, which does bring up fear [in me at least].

        But you can’t negotiate with terrorists. Gotta gather my fans around me – my “peeps” – and forge on – and let the others go to Hell.

  11. Hi, John. I liked this story very much. It just goes to
    show that you get what you give. I’ve learned that it’s always better to treat others the way you want to be treated. Nothing builds a good, solid business or reputation like good customer service.

  12. So my wife and I spend our wedding night at the Hilton here in Miami before heading out at dawn the next day for a week breathing clouds in the Appalachian mountains in North Carolina.

    We arrive at the hotel in the limo, check in, and walk into a beautifully appointed room, exactly as the guy I spoke with described. He was absolutely right, it was a perfect “honeymoon suite”.

    But there’s a problem…

    My specific, secret, and thoroughly pre-arranged plan for champagne and strawberries to be in the room upon our arrival is a bust. Kinda sucks, but not really a big deal (yet).

    My “wife”, a term only a few hours old for me at this point, disappears into the back room to “get comfortable” (rowr!) and I take that opportunity to call down to the front desk and say, “make with the bubbly!”.

    The utterly disinterested operator puts me on hold, then suddenly I’m connected with Room Service (?).

    Herve Villachaiz answers and I tell him, “Hi, I’m here in room xyz and this is my honeymoon tonight. I made specific arrangements with Mr. So and So for there to be champagne and strawberries waiting for us when we arrived and it’s not up here… My wife doesn’t know anything about this yet so just get it up here quick and we’re good!”

    Herve says, “Oh… heh.. you know… ehhh…. deh cham-payng… I… I can get dah for ju buh…. deh strawbeddy… eh…. das a lidda much….”

    “Excuse me?”

    “Deh strawbeddy… eh… das a lidda much.. heh…”

    Now.. Imagine Alec Baldwin in Glen Garry Glen Ross, except really fuckin’ pissed off.

    That’s me.

    “Did a Hilton room service phone jockey just tell me that strawberries and champagne is “a lidda much” on my honeymoon? Listen to me very closely… I’m not calling you for a favor, jackass. You’ve already blown it. I don’t have time to dick around with you right now because I’m a little preoccupied at the moment, but I’ll deal with this later… believe me. Since apparently, at the Hilton on your honeymoon, strawberries are “a lidda much… heh”, just send the damned champagne up right away. There better be a knock on my door in the next 15 minutes…”

    SLAM! Receiver meets phone and I am FUMING mad…

    My wife comes out of the back room and I confess that my best laid (heh heh…) plans are a no-go for the bubbly and berries we were supposed to have and that I just murdered Herve Villachaize because of it… but to hell with it… we’re MARRIED! Whoo hoo!

    I kid you not that it couldn’t have been 5 minutes later, a knock on the door, and in rolls an exquisite platter of all manner of fruit and cheese (including strawberries!) and the cham-payng. I think Herve must have completely freaked out because the spread they sent up was amazing.

    All in all, the Hilton totally redeemed itself and everything worked out for the good, plus I got a great story I love to tell (this works SO much better when I can “do” Herve, “heh…”).

    Best,

    Brian

    • Nice that the Hilton redeemed itself.
      It’s always a disconnect to deal with people who claim to want nothing more than to help you accomplish whatever it is you want done… and then find out they were lying weasels who never had any intention of following through.
      It’s that two-faced thing — they tell you what they think you want to see (“Sure, we’ll have it ready for you, no problem…”), and as soon as you’re gone they’re mocking you and giggling at how naive you were for expecting them to follow through. (At least, that’s how I imagine it goes down.)
      That’s why, when I find people who do what they say they’ll do, when they say they’ll do it, I find ways to reward them, and I try to steer even more biz their way.
      And when I find the weasels… well, that game can work both ways, you know…

  13. Hi John
    Yep sure it great out there in the real world.
    If these places can survive in a recession then it mustn’t be too hard to earn big a buck in better times.
    However at least in the land down under customer service is not in the vocab of many large organisations whose directors hide behind some grisly call centre and remain hidden away suffering the stress of taking home some ridiculous pay packet.
    Recently I applied to open a new bank account.
    The requirement was to provide an copy of the original statement from the existing bank.
    Now playing my part as carer of the environment I had stopped having paper copies of the statement sent to me in the mail. So the only statement I could produce was one downloaded from the bank and printed on my office printer. I sent that off by snail mail and two days later was contacted. The document I had sent was rejected as it didn’t appear to be a copy of an original. Which brings to the point of what is determined as original. The reason given was that the copy did not have the proper coloured letter head similar to one that is mailed out.
    So to resolve the issue I had to copy the rejected copy visit my local Justice of Peace have the copy certified as a copy of the original and submit for approval.
    The verified copy of a copy was accepted.
    Perhaps the lawyers can have some fun with this one. Similar to the legal acceptance of an document image on microfilm as being a true copy.

    cheers

  14. The folks running our government should be reading your blog. If you think about it, they’re trying to “sell” something to the nation and aren’t doing a very good job of presenting a “great product, with a great price”, nor are they doing well on “customer service” for those of us who are asking questions.

  15. I don’t think the Trump Hotel hiring the Catheral Hill Hotel staff would work because if the Trump Hotel puts up with their staff responding to customer requests as poorly as they did in your experience, they probably don’t treat their employees very well. (If they did, they wouldn’t act that way!) Therefore the Cathedral Hill staff would either be miserable and quit or be seen as not cutting the mustard for taking too much time with each customer, etc. Make sense?

    We all need to remember just 5 simple words: “The customer is always right.” Even when they’re clearly wrong!

    • I don’t believe it’s the staff’s fault myself. Ya’ll ever hear the term, “apples don’t fall far from the tree ” in this case I would have to say it is because of where these individuals are working and the name they are associating themselves with.

      • You may be on to something there, Delton.
        My first job in high school was washing dishes at a swank country club. I learned a LOT about life… and crime… from the cooks back there in the kitchen.
        And it was all about the “culture” of the joint. To the members, the hired help were just a quiet bunch of hard-working stiffs who stayed out of the way of their “betters”.
        “Losers”, I think, is the operative term.
        To the hired help, the members were sub-human slime deserving whatever came their way.
        I didn’t eat in a restaurant for five years after that experience.
        Yuck. Now I gotta get those images out of my head again…

  16. John,

    Hope all is well!

    Great sotry – reminds me of the story I know/use about prospective customers…

    “Derek (made up name) was visited by an angel who told him he was to die the next day. He could now visit ‘Heaven’ and ‘Hell’ and choose out of the two where he wanted to go, after he died. Derek was not happy he was going to die, but knew he could do nothing about it, so off he went with the angel to decide whether it was going to be ‘Heaven’ or ‘Hell’.

    Derek went to ‘Hell’ first. What a great place.

    People were dancing, eating, enjoying each other’s company and partying all day. He was sure ‘Hell’ was for him, but the angel said ‘You haven’t seen Heaven yet – let’s go there before you decide’.

    Derek arrived at ‘Heaven’. People were reading, swimming, relaxing and the environment was quiet.

    The time had come for Derek to decide and he chose ‘Hell’. He could not wait to start partying.

    The next day, as predicted by the angel, Derek died and he went to ‘Hell’. He was thrown into a small cell with only bread and water to eat and drink. Derek was not happy and called the Guard.

    He said ‘this wasn’t like this when I visited yesterday. People were partying and enjoying themselves’. The Guard replied, “Yesterday you were a prospective customer, today you are a customer'”.

    Andrew

  17. Hey John,
    the universe really smiled on me today with your post.

    Around a fortnight ago, 17th July to be precise, I signed up with Vodaphone for on eof their Vodems…It’s a great little device that lets me use my lap top anywhere as long as I have power. battery or hardwired.

    Things were going great. lots of content going up on the sites and all the other stuff associated with the “internet lifestyle”.

    UNTIL…!!

    August 2nd. A full two weeks after we signed up we got a phone call from Vodaphone… telling us we owed them $1585 dollars…for bandwidth charges !

    Now we have a six Gb per month deal for ten bucks and after that we pay a premium rate. No problems there. Our usage for the whole company has always been below 3 Gb. Had the same ISP for five years no issues at all…

    The thing is we were then summarily disconnected and told we’ll get our bill on the 16th of this month.

    At the moment we’re working out of th elocal library where they have free Wifi and Vodaphone can’t email us the details of our bandwidth useage because their friggin call centre is in Egypt…
    So… the moral of the story is if you come to New Zealand to do business… the local library is your best bet…

    Neeedless to say we will be in touch with the commerce commission. the consumers council and fair go. A groovy local TV show that recently took on Microsoft and won..

    And then there’s all of the BLogs and social networks…

    Sometimes it’s fun to know how to do things the right way…

    Thanks for the opportunity to rant John and if anyone wants to t.weet this then be my guest

    Cheers,

    Mike

    Ps the vodem also has a groooooovy litttle band width meter that shows you your bandwith useage….It is currently reading at 1.64 Gb.
    The small print says don’t rely on this as it’s accuracy cannot be guaranteed…

    • OMG…..used Vodafone for 6 years in Spain. Had several friends with the same issues with the Vodem and they could not win. I called Australia once after checking the /min charge with Vodafone, and then set a timer for 10 minutes for the call. Was billed for 55 minutes and 90 euros! When I called to complain/query they just said….”technico says you must have been on the call longer than you think”. poof – no recourse, their word against mine.

  18. Great Story John,

    I am a true believer in customer service and have worked retail and various other jobs some high paying and other not as high paying. I always wanted “satisfaction” and “exceeding expectations” for the customers especially when it was my company. When I was doing handyman work I offered satisfaction guaranteed or you do not need to pay.
    My worst experience was when I was working at Hewlett Packard back in the old days. My wife’s bank was interested in getting a new mainframe and i had heard that HP was in that market. I called internally and externally and could never find anyone interested in the million dollar sale. It was transfer He!! for some customers back then. We had grown so fast and were so divided it was not good. When I would get accidently get a call from a lost sole not having anything to do with my area, I would take it personal and be sure they got through to the party they were looking for. I would go to management or whatever it took to help that person that acccidently got my number to be sure they got the answer they were looking for.
    I am not bashing HP. I love HP and am using a HP notebook computer on a HP 24″ HD monitor with a HP printer and even a HP 12C calculator. It is the only brand I will buy for these items. Good thing they hired Mark Hurd and turned it around.
    You make a good point. I actually put my cell phone number in my last email and offered anyone to call me if they had questions about the product offer or just wanted to say Hi.
    Thanks for sharing,
    Clay

  19. Ok, so its late and I figured I may as well read this post as your stuff is normally pretty good. And even through my sleep deprived eyes I had to laugh at these two ….

    “And we’ll always see a very tiny percentage of pure rage-aholic customers who cannot be satisfied, ever, because they’re batshit crazy.”
    …………………
    And it’s hard to follow through with doing the right thing, as a rule. People can be assholes, clueless, and utter nuisances… often all at once. ”

    Been there, experienced that when I managed a customer service group for a small company and now in a role at a coaching company working with batshit crazy people each day (actually most of them are very nice, they are often just frustrated and that makes them batshit crazy).

    Great post, agree with everything you wrote, and it made me laugh. Thanks

  20. Outstanding observations, John. I believe it to be truly sad that the knowledge and appreciation for providing excellent customer service – even if only through realization of the practical lifetime value of happy customers – has been largely abandoned as have other previously exercised tenets of ‘common wisdom’ that ‘seasoned folk’ will likewise note as being conspicuously absent from the conduct of present day business, both online and off.

    Your thoughts are always an interesting and worthwhile read. Thanks for sharing.

  21. HA! You want cable television horror stories? I used to be a cable regulator. I worked on the Cable Teelvision Consumer Protection act of 1992. Torn up yards, constant busy signals, tech set a house on fire when the drill got too hot, footprints on a white couch, a couch drilled into from the basement …

    How about people waiting outside with baseball bats because Sportsvision went down during the big game? Or people knocking on MY door because they couldn’t get through to the cable company?

    I am always amazed when people are surprised that I answer emails quickly, or return a phone call, or issue a refund, or solve a problem. People have gotten so used to crummy service – that’s what they expect. Sad.

  22. Hi John, you really hit the target here. Any business can earn really big profits if they know how to cultivate business relationships. Your story proves that being poor in excellent product and outstanding service can kill the business. It’s like trying to sell a great-looking house that has no water and electricity. We all know how easy is to sell to referred customers, but if there people are not satisfied with our business we loose customers. When we loose customers, our business dies. And we don’t want that.

    Thanx again. If I ever get the chance to refer your business, I certainly will.

    Velibor

  23. In one of the books I just finished from Gary Halbert’s reading list, the author compares trolley service from 1928 to bus service in 1937.

    Trolley service: Bad. Rude drivers. Unpleasant experience.

    Bus service: Good. Polite drivers. Pleasant experience.

    IIRC, once the Depression got underway, trolley business fall off… their customers taken by the new bus services.

    The story may have been from Collier, Hill, or Haldeman-Julius, cannot remember which at the moment. And it may be that factors other than ride drivers cost the trolley companies business. But it is a fact that at least one person missed them so little he felt publicly compelled to write about it.

  24. Yup, you’re dead on with the customer service thing.

    I find that I get more testimonials about my customer service than anything – in part because people are amazed that any online business can have rocking customer care.

    I have a subscription-based business, and I know that good customer service leads to higher customer lifetime value. And referrals.

  25. Talk about lousy service… how bout law enforcement?

    It’s like they don’t even know who they work for. And try politely reminding them that it’s you who pay their wages… and that you – who are technically their boss – believe they could find more productive ways to spend their time than sneaking up on people as they mingle with friendly ladies on street corners… and all notions of “the customer always being right” fly right straight the window.

    Sheesh.

  26. so true. Nearly the entire State of Michigan should be put out of business. The customer service hear sucks. It is like people don’t want your money around here. You have to beg them to take it.

    And don’t get me started on the golf industry.

  27. [...] He recently hosted a couple of events, one in San Francisco and the other in Las Vegas, and experienced some interesting hotel “challenges” that he writes about on his blog in an article entitled “How to Lose Customers & Persuade People to Hate You.” [...]

  28. Hi John,
    The event was one of Marketing Rebel’s best and the most fun. The food – da greatest ever.
    Bravo to the Beer Chef!
    When I got there, I think Stephen King was sitting in the lobby reading the New Yorker.
    There was an endless frat party outside my window after I arrived on that dank and foggy evening.
    Plus jack-hammers and construction.
    My room kinda reminded me of my old dorm room at San Jose State. Stuff didn’t work but at least they had a coffee maker.
    All in all, I really didn’t care once the gang got together and the party started. As a musician, I play dive bars and witness some serious decay and neglect. (A stripper pole in the middle of the stage? – nice.)
    The mastermind was terrific, the company included my favorite people and the experience
    will have a warm place in my heart forever.
    Thanks JC and Stan!
    Mark L

  29. Hey John, Diane, Stan et al…

    Great post, and some amusing comments so far… I won’t write a diatribe but just wanted to share a few things.

    First, my grandfather taught me an important lesson:

    The best and most well respected companies in the world strive to offer the best price, service and quality… but true success is found when focus is placed on any 2 of those 3.

    And if you think about it, it’s very true!

    …On to my travel horror story.

    except in this case I was the ass. I’ll explain…

    Holed up in the Shangri La Hotel in Singapore for 2 weeks, I had run out of fresh laundered shirts so I sent a few to get washed & pressed.

    The following morning I got up and stepped into the shower when I heard a knock on the door. I knew it was the shirts, so I shouted to just leave them outside the door and I’ll pick ‘em up.

    Took a long hot shower, shaved, got pseudo-dressed (without my pressed shirt, obviously), had some coffee, scanned SkyNews to see what was going on in the world, tapped out a few emails on the blackberry… decided it was time to finish getting dressed so I opened the door and “voila!” there’s a dude standing there at attention – holding my freshly pressed and squarely folded shirts! He must have been there for 25 minutes. Waiting.

    …for me.

    …the “Ugly American”.

  30. Service is always a hot topic, Gitomer has a ton of great content on sales/service improvement, plus the right attitude… I used to be a sales trainer in Hawaii for nearly a decade; I found that role plays helped a lot (“how to deal with the customer from hell”) and advising my clients to put the stubborn people who were bad at service in other positions in the hotels/visitor attractions I worked with… that was fun, working hawaii sales for a decade.

    But riddle me this, folks:

    What’s a great phrase to use in an email to a toxic 5% person who you don’t want to have as a customer? The kind who’s like a drunk in a bar, and is nasty, demanding, insulting? There’s fortunately few of those, but how do You handle those when they appear?

    I used to be very blunt, but I’ve realized that people can overreact, so I’m trying to figure out what to say.

    Something like “It looks like my services may not be a good fit for what you’re looking for; so I’ve refunded your purchase price – thanks anyways for trying us, and best wishes for success in working with another (industry niche) vendor”.

    Anything else/better? That’s nice and vanilla.. just politely disentangle, versus “getting into it” …

    thx,

    ken

    • Hi Ken,

      Your vanilla comment sounds pretty good to me. Better than what I feel in those situations – “take your friggin’ money, leave and don’t ever come back!”

      Margaret

  31. Customer service representatives are not created equal. In the case of my latest contact with AT&T, the sales representative kept trying to sell me on “the better package” which was more than I needed & exceeded the budget I told her I was working to meet. She went on and on about how my savings would be X number of dollars and how the package would only be $Y, plus fees, taxes and other charges. Y exceeded my budget by 30% and with the additional charges more like 40%. The worse part about it was the package didn’t even include what I needed. So I hung up. That was a little less than a week ago.

    Today I called again to get things set-up and the sales representative found a bundle that fit my needs, providing exactly what I needed all the while keeping me within my budget even after all the fees and taxes. She was pleasant, listened intently and got me set-up in less the 30 minutes. I spent over an hour on the phone with the first representative and got nowhere. I spent half that time with the second representative and have everything I need, plus a cash back rebate, I wasn’t expecting to get because the promotion was over.

    Same company, different representative.

    It’s a matter of listening to the customer, finding solutions the company offers that actually fit the customers needs, first. Then noticing the places where the customer might have missed some information or can get a better deal and offering them, after you’ve fulfilled their needs.

    That’s the sort of customer service/sales service I like to be receive and provide.

  32. John, I am new to all of this internet marketing stuff. It is definitely a strange new world. Sad to hear that the Cathedral has fallen on hard times. It was a lovely place in its day.

    I shall be sure to check back to your site. It is very informative.

    Mary

  33. Great story and lesson John.

    My biggest peeve about bad product? Denying it and making excuses or worse telling me it’s my fault. Just admit it, deliver on the promise. That’s all I want.

    Sadly, from a consumer’s perspective, many companies do that more than you’d think. (A company that we bought a computer off, let’s just call it “Bell”, has had to respond to so many support requests it’s sad. The first was on the issue of delivery itself, specifically, 2 days before their promised delivery date, they call and say they can’t meet the date (after a lead time of 14-21 days). In this particular case, the order was timed so someone, myself, was there to help with the install. Timing was critical because it was at an overseas location – not something you can reorganise all that easily. Since then it’s been up and down. But more downs than you would expect for such a big brand company.)

    From a business perspective however, it’s awesome because if your competitors drop the ball like that, the bar you have to reach is so low it’s not funny.

    Another good post John.

    • Brian,
      Had to laugh. So true.

      Especially denying the product sucks… Sounds like InaneObama and the Dems Health Care “reform” its an Edsel.

  34. I agree wholeheartedly. I have been in your position before where staff at a nice hotel acted as if THEY were doing ME a favor by doing their job. I have run a very successful childcare business for over 30 years now and my entire business is based on good customer service along with a good product for a good (though appropriately high) price. I work only from referrals, never have to advertise. My good reputation keeps me in business. More people should pay attention to their customer’s satisfaction.

  35. Years ago – (MANY years ago) I began my career as a bright-eyed 16 year old sales clerk at W.T. Grant. We had weekly meetings that ALWAYS focused on customer service and sign by the time clock “The customer is ALWAYS right, even when they’re wrong”

    I have had many clients since those days, and when called in as a marketing consultant to help improve their bottom line the first thing I looked at was their service desk. No matter what industry – a review of service and return policies, personnel and trouble ticket systems was the first stop. Why? Improving these areas was the single, most cost effective way to improve the bottom line.

    The best marketing campaign in the world, the snappiest creatives, even the highest quality lowest priced product will not gain the traction it deserves or have the staying power without a stellar customer service department.

    • Hi Karen,

      If you can, would you elaborate on the maxim, “The customer is always right, even when they’re wrong”?

      What does it mean in practical terms. Do you let customers change clearly stated policies, or change the business model?

      I’ve had people ask for installment payments on a package of services; use my services past the time when they can get a 100% refund as stated up front (I have a very generous policy, that gives them plenty of time to decide if they like what I’m doing for them); then say sorry, I won’t be paying you as agreed any further because of [whatever reason they give]; then when I say sorry, I still will charge your card as agreed – they get irate, tell me I’m treating them badly and the customer is always right. (Even knowing they aren’t eligible for credit card charge back, for example).

      Does keeping a customer happy require giving my services for free – when they have been happily using my services until it’s no longer convenient to them?

      When does the customer being always right turn into the customer attempting to abuse / manipulate / rip off the service provider? Where is the boundary?

      Or does “the customer is always right” apply mostly to products, and not services?

      Thanks!

      • I think what they were trying to get across to us was no matter how irate, or even abusive at times a customer might be, it was our priority to turn that situation around if at all possible. It doesn’t matter if you’re selling products or services. Listening is paramount to understanding the real situation and establishing a dialog. I deal with customers every day who can’t or won’t answer my questions which in turn will help me discover their true problem and probably fix it. I patiently extract the information from them, fix their problem and open a dialog.

        How many times have you heard “this doesn’t work- you ripped me off”? Now that customer is probably wrong – but if you can listen well enough to find the real problem and suggest a solution, you’ve met the challenge. I’ve even agreed with customers and told them after listening to them that they are right – my product or service isn’t what they need. And I recommend another one, often someone else’s and often giving them a refund even if it is after the warranty period. They walk away with the impression that I care about THEIR needs and a good feeling about my company. In turn they are far more likely to come back when they are ready for my services and more likely to tell others about a good experience.

        My best product features have come from angry customers. They are often using a product in a way I didn’t intend, but you know what? They aren’t wrong! Maybe I was! Maybe I can add features or offerings or tailor a course or seminar to meet those needs I misunderstood or overlooked. After all – they bought it and want to use it and for some reason can’t use it the way they want or expect. Maybe it’s up to me to meet those expectations even if they weren’t what I originally intended.

        We can’t keep every customer or client – sometimes it’s just not a good match. But if we respect their right to “be right” even when they are wrong, we can still have a good situation that may pay off later. If we become intent on “winning” and proving them wrong, everyone loses.

        Boundary? That is whatever you set in each situation. I don’t think there are boundaries, just guidelines when it comes to customer service.

      • I’ve been on both sides of this, in a lot of ways. Currently, I’m in a Nursing Home, while I try to physically rehab enough to live on my own again. (A Bad back injury that’s leaving me progressively a paraplegic. At 85% and progressing now.) Most of the aides here are great people, and I always let them know how much I appreciate what they do. But, it’s also frustrating to have to fit my needs to their schedule.
        Meanwhile, I work on writing a book about advertising for super small businesses, based on my own experience and knowledge. My retail experience is that even an unhappy customer can teach us something. What we’re doing wrong, even if it isn’t our fault.:-) To me, customer happiness is #1, and I’ll try to achieve it as best I can. Even to admitting I was wrong, when I wasn’t. :-P Only the real a**hole won’t be mollified by that.
        Even know, I’m looking for a very few people to tell me what’s _wrong_ with the unreleased version of my book. It’s how I find what I didn’t say well, didn’t make clear, or just plain got wrong. I know the problems are there, just not where and what. :-|
        Walter Daniels

  36. John,
    Reno, NV was home to me most of my life, well almost a little town some miles south of Reno.
    I worked in Reno at the largest hotel casino in town (no names). I was hired as a bus driver to pick up people downtown and transport them to this hotel casino and return them when they liked. I familiarized my self with entertainment in the area and treated my guests as friends, informing them of sights and sounds, events and things to do while in the Reno, Sparks area. Though it was a no tip job with a very low wage, my friendliness paid off in spades, each shift netted me anywhere from 100 to 250 dollars. I was fired because I was to friendly, and that was not considered a professional attitude.
    P.S. The other professional drivers averaged around 3-5 dollars a day, but they were rude er uh professional.

    • As a customer I had a recent experience with a driver in Vancouver WA. I was there to claim my son’s body – a bad experience in and of itself. This guy went out of his way to help me finish details, even carrying a large box for me into the local UPS office for shipping – a definite company rule violation. He was personable, friendly and not what your company would have called “professional”. The result? I paid the fare and tipped him double the meter – his assistance was more than worth it.

      Got an email from him a few days later – that tip was almost to the penny what he was short on needing to avoid foreclosure. Had he not made suggestions that saved me time and trouble based on his local knowledge, had he not provided stellar customer service, he would have gotten a normal tip and been out on the street shortly there after.

  37. As always John, your insights are…well… insightful. :-)

    I recently visited a budget-electronics shop to buy me some minor peripherals for my laptop.

    At prices half of what’s at other medium to high end stores, I wasn’t expecting much. I don’t know. Maybe I was just subconsciously hoping to find a real great bargain that I can later brag about.

    Anyway, I made a quick survey of their wares and chose a USB hub, a padded headset with microphone, a clip-on webcam, replacement earbud headphones for my wife’s IPod, a 4GB flash drive and an 8GB memory card for the digicam. (I spent enough money to probably buy me just the flash drive from a more high-end store.)

    The attendant was surprisingly polite and accommodating, darting from shelf to shelf and from one end of the store to another as he gathered the items I wanted. But the real stellar moment was when i off-handedly asked the attendant if the items I chose were good enough to last me at least a month of usage. He quickly took a look at the items and made recommendations for better ones (some even costing less than the ones I had already chosen). I ended up paying even less than the small amount I was already prepared to shell out.

    Now – 6 months later – I’m still using every single one of those items I bought from him and have actually returned to the shop several times to buy blank CDs and DVDs, cables and other accessories.

    I still don’t expect much from the products but I have come to respect the opinion of that attendant.

    Indeed, a questionable product earns a degree of ‘quality’ and ‘goodness’ when sold and handled with exceptional customer service. :-)

  38. Customer Service as a Niche
    That is a blog title I wrote about:
    Try to stay awake, my copy wont grab you like John’s will. Talk about pulling my string.

    We(my wife and I) used to go to Hollywood Video all the time, normally renting 3-4 videos per week. Two things happened, 1.We got stuck with a late charge… twice for the same dam video that we inadvertently had put off watching, then returning. 2. We watched a movie that was so bad that I had asked for a credit, the movie really sucked. They said, “Tough bounce, they only rent the movies, they don’t make them. Well between the two events we(I) sort of got a “chip on our shoulder” about renting movies from them. So we went from spending $9-12 per week(40 weeks per year at $9 = $360) to ordering them off cable or just buying a dvd. I think “indifference and smugness” in retailers or just the failure to allow individual clerks a bit of leeway by management costs businesses many customers. How could Hollywood Video have kept us as a customer and maybe even boosted their bottomline? How about looking at our past history of renting when we are right there in front of them? “Oh geez these guys are really good customers, how about giving them a break and not only forgiving half a dozen late charges but that video they thought sucked, how about giving them a two movie credit?”

    Have you ever done this dumb move? It’s really dumb and I am guilty of it.
    For a long time I was going to the deli at various grocery stores and buying sliced turkey, chicken or whatever. Every once-in-awhile I would get some meat that must have been ‘bad’ when I brought it home, at $8 or $9 bucks a pound and usually two pounds per week that added up. Well on one occasion I took it to Customer Service at Fry’s and they acted like I was the first person that had ever gotten bad meat from them… ‘So I must be lying.’ They refunded my money but grudgingly. This second one was “the dumb move that I spoke of earlier, that I was guilty of”, I got some bad turkey and brought it to the deli at Safeway and the guy pointed out that I had bought it at another store…(Fry’s) which was true. I felt so stupid, so small, so dumb. But guess what? That was a Customer Service moment, not only did I end up going to the other store I refrained from going to that store for two months. I don’t know about you but I spend quite a bit for our family of three each month on groceries. If that customer service person would have realized, “This guy’s an idiot but we like his money and we don’t want to alienate them from our store so we can donate some meat at ‘our cost’ and keep a steady customer…” Simple. Easy. We spend thousands and thousands each week on store ads, how about a few dollars to keep this guy from “losing face”.

    Starbucks, when we first started stopping they would automatically put whip cream on top of our drinks, or at least ask. Then they stopped automatically doing it. Did they stop because of ‘their employees forgetting to ask?’ Or did most customers not want the whip cream? I don’t know but big businesses like them have success from ‘systems’ and one of them should be what to ask every customer every time. Burger King, Whataburger and McDonalds are made up of systems but they all have low-end of the totempole employees, kids just starting out, first time job candidates. They are failable as we all are. What I love though is getting a sack full of condiments (ketchup, salt, pepper, etc.) and ZERO napkins. “I wonder if when they make the various size sacks at the sack manufacturer if they could throw in one napkin for the tiny sacks and two for the mid-size sacks and 4 for the larger sacks if that would be a new smart system?” I would like it.

    When our baby was still drinking formula I bought a couple containers of the Infamil product and usually I am smart enough to check under the plastic lid to make sure there are no seals broken but I missed it this time. I took the can back to Fry’s and was told by their customer service bitch that “We can’t take formula back…” I didn’t want them to put it back on the shelf I wanted them to rectify a product that they had sold that was unsafe. Anyway she tweaked me so hard I jammed the can in the little opening of a garbage can there and fumed my way out. I stopped going to that Fry’s or any other Fry’s. After about a year and a half I emailed them my story and received a phone call giving me Infamil’s 800 number and the line ‘they’ll make it right with you’. I figured it was Fry’s responsibility to make it right so they can continue to miss out on the “lifetime value of a client” until they make it right. The can of formula was $22 bucks, how much was their profit… half that maybe. So for 11 buck they lost a customer that maybe spends $5000 or more per year in their store? (BTW they send me their flyers every week, still trying to lure customers but failing to plug the current holes…?)

    A new customer service hell is that one from AOL. I used a free 6 month trial while on a 2 week vacation in the boonies of WV. I tried to cancel the service after 3 or 4 months to no avail. They would not allow it, put me on some Free version of AOL that I never used(have you ever experienced using AOL?) Slow would be an improvement. Anyway they automatically tilled my debit card, I spotted it after the second time they hit it. The calls to their customer service were met with “that’s a valid charge”. I finally contacted my bank, BofA and they said they would check into it and temporarily credited my account. After about 3 weeks I received a letter that it was resolved and the credit was permanent. A month later I started receiving calls from Allied International(a collection agency) demanding the money. I went off on the poor girl on their end, she’s probably never heard so many 4 letter terms before. Well the calls come in late at night after 10PM and early in the morning 7AM(wakes the baby), they wont listen to reason. Now they sent me a letter in the mail, one of those “if we don’t hear from you in 30 days…” So where do my rights begin on this deal? How can you fix something like this? They have one fact, I did use their(AOL’s) free trial. But how do you get crooks to recognize their own crookedness? Anyone?

    • Mike, sorry but I have to ask: When do your seemingly endless experiences with ‘bad’ customer service become your own personal responsibility? Or do they EVER?

      OK, you messed up and took meat back to a store that you didn’t buy it from… big deal. Just take yourself, your meat and go to the right store! This doesn’t have to be the colossal customer service disaster you are portraying it to be. Why on earth would you expect a store that didn’t sell you an item to make up for another’s store’s mistake? How was the deli guy supposed to know your ‘worth’ as a customer? And why, most questionable at all, would you not just chalk it up to you having a brain hiccup and just move on with it?

      Don’t get me wrong. Grocery stores can be cesspools of ignorance and idiocy, I understand firsthand. But you’re complaining about the video store… then the grocery store… then Starbucks… then AOL… do you see a pattern here?

      This is what most business people like myself grow weary of – that small percentage of customers who you will never, EVER make happy. Handouts? Sure, we can give them at our expense to make you happy – until next month when something else pisses you off and you demand more restitution. When does it end? When I give you a kidney, or the deed to my house?

  39. Someone earlier on said “You get what you pay for”, which certainly seems to apply to this situation. But here’s a thought… the fact is today, and especially online, you very often DON’T get what you paid for. Here’s what I mean about another form of customer service, that relates to your story, John.

    I’m an instructional designer – recently turned copywriter – but about to revert back to instructional design, because… I’m seeing some trully terribly designed informational products being sold online. Products people are paying thousand of dollars for, and ending up with some HORRIBLY designed programs. Learning products that make learning SO much harder for them, instead of being designed to facilitate learning.

    Internet “gurus” and “ninjas” are throwing one after another instructional products together off the top of their heads, often without even the benefit of an outline to work from to create a video, and putting together a run-on of words in manuals that don’t even have a Table of Contents and Chapters to help group information. I’ve bought (and returned) quite a few of these products, and NOT ONE OF THEM to date has put any thought, effort, and of course money, towards creating high quality instructional delivery. That is, organization and order of delivery of information that helps the learner assimilate information (instead of putting up energy draining roadblocks to learning), so they can apply what they learn and meet with success. Isn’t their success also success for the seller?

    It seems the creators of these products don’t care a lick about the success of the buyers, but just about raking in the big bucks in a highly promoted launch? If so, well… I just don’t get that. We all know the value of a customer, and especially a happy customer, for both return sales and referrals. Many of these launches earn thousands of dollars, even six figures, in a matter of weeks. So why wouldn’t the creator of a learning product be williing to invest a small portion of their time and money towards something that will be much more likely to meet with success for the buyer?

    I’ve approached some of these IM masters, and maybe they just don’t get it, but they seem perfectly ok with just throwing anything out there, and believe it will not only sell, but that these customers will (foolishly) come back for more. Are customers so ignorant they don’t see a terrible piece of instruction when they buy it?

    Seems to me these guys are leaving money on the table, by losing many loyal customers and referrals that would make them a lot more money over the long haul. Also, that this joy ride is about to come to an end. Sure like to think that doing the right thing pays off in the long run, but maybe not. Ok, jumpin’ down from my instructional design soap box now. Best to you all!

  40. You know those emails you often get from your customers promoting their most recent achievement? In my last job as sales manager for a building industry eco-labeling company, I used to make a point of taking the time to research exactly what they had done and then sent a personal email back to the company to congratulate them on their achievement.

    Every time, without fail, I would get a personal thank you back from the PR/Marketing Manager and the CEO of the company. Every time I contacted that customer after that, I always got straight through to the CEO or Marketing Manager and they were always delighted to hear from me. I never had a problem selling to those customers. And it made doing business a great deal of fun.

    More importantly though, I was better equipped to be of service to them because I knew more about that customer. And I could be really on target with my pitch to them.

    Customer service is more like fun to me.

    Cheers
    Scotty

  41. That’s what makes you cool, John, you’ll do anything for an experience – even stay a dive in Frisco. Sounds like a wonderful life.

    I was surprised Trump was a chump, he’s normally famous for good music. I think he wasn’t corrupt enough to get that gambling liscence. They probably shook him down and he balked.

    So that building is just treading water till he can unload it. Who knows.

    Customer service as an issue is what I call a “tip of the iceberg” issue, or a barometer.

    So many gumbags in internet marketing, who took all those “make millions online in your pajamas” courses, (which sent thousands of weasels out into cyberspace to put out “me too”
    crap products) don’t have the depth, the experience or the concern about what happens after the sale.

    A lot like Congress, who doesn’t care WHAT happens once they “sell us” their crap legislation.

    In fact, InaneObama has to send out ‘goons” to town hall meetings to try to intimidate us to “buy” the Edsel that is Health care “reform.”

    He doesn’t understand that ideas win over raw force…eventually. “Nothing can stop an idea whose time has come.” – some French Guy a few years ago said.

    He’s applying 19th century tactics in a 21st century scenario.

    But that is a prime application of your Customer Service comcept. Americans are fed up with high-tax, big-bureacracy solutions to market-driven problems.

    Now, all I need are some customers, and I can provide all that wonderful customer service!

    I had to completely retool all my info products, because all though I rule certain keywords, there are no buyers – bunch of cheapskate tire kickers.

    Freakin’ “research the market” – killin’ me.

    Anyway, let me go polish those bon-bons I’m going to give to my customers.
    Lar

  42. Hi John,

    I agree 100% that customer service is crucial. I’ll email or call a person repeatedly until a problem is solved.

    Here’s a problem I run into though with some customers, that I wonder how you and your folks deal with. Some people start with customer service questions, then go on to content questions and expect the same level of response. They expect an email exchange or even a phone call with me, to answer their content questions.

    When I refer them to the products or say I’m not able to correspond one-on-one, some seem to feel snubbed, and may get demanding or complain to other people I hear back from.

    Some seem to think that if they buy one thing from me, I’m obligated to email them back and forth and answer every question they throw out.
    Others give me unsolicited business advice, then get miffed if I don’t correspond with them or give them discounts on my products. Other even suggest they’ll post bad things about me on forums – and advise me to protect my reputation.

    Many of my customers frequent free forums and are used to getting free information there. It can be delicate to explain that I have a different business model. So it’s not necessarily that they’re “jerks”. Some have been spoiled by free advice forums. Maybe I just need to communicate better?

    Do you have a “formula” for setting those boundaries between customer service, giving content and dealing with people who seem to have an attitude that once they’ve bought something from me, they “own” me?

    I understand if you can’t give free guidance to me here on the blog!

    Thanks!

  43. Customer Service! You’ve got to be kidding. No company gives 2 hickory nuts about customers. They only care about getting the Visa numbers and charging them till they screem.
    Get out of dreamland. Sober up.
    F the customer.
    Forced continuity…it’s the American way.

    • You’re right, Earnst.

      People in this country have accepted mediocre – poor customer service as the the ‘standard’ now. Instead of ‘excellent’ customer service that was standard up until about 30 years ago.

      Probably too much ‘I want it now’ mentality fueled by too much TV and video at a young age.

      Ironically, this will lead to great business opps for people who can provide seamless GREAT customer service.

      99%+ of the people on the planet have never experienced GREAT customer service. One where you go ‘Oh – I get it now. Who are these people?’

      Imagine if you could tap into a huge industry that has the worst customer service evah. The Airlines. I’m just sayin…

  44. I have a simple solution for those customers who get out of control.

    I used to work in a ‘stereo’ store as manager of the service dept. We were the biggest store in the city. So we got our share problems. More than once I’d get someone who spent $1000 on a system – big bucks back then – and, a couple weeks later, something didn’t work.

    Most folks are reasonable, but some would come in just fuming. They’d start yelling, veins would pop out on their foreheads, spittle was flying and so on. I wouldn’t say anything except let them rant and get it out of their system.

    Then I would calmly ask them one question –
    ‘I understand how you feel. What can I do to solve your problem?’

    After having dealt with hundreds and hundreds of customers like this – 99% will immediately become putty in your hands. Most we provided a loaner unit to until theirs was fixed. Some wouldn’t settle for anything less than a new unit. Big deal. We sold so much, it was a drop in the ocean of our volume.

    Then, during slow times in the shop, I’d call everyone who had a repair in with us every 7-10 days. Just to remind them ‘we hadn’t forgotten about them.’

    This worked so well for three reasons –
    1) You treat them as a person, one on one.
    2) You make them part of the solution, so they’re as committed as you are.
    3) Follow up until they’re happy.

    Often, customers like this will become customers for life.

  45. Hey John,

    My wife and I own a small service-based business. Before that, I was a bartender for years – I think I might have even served you a beer or two, once or twice… Point is, I’ve been providing client services for a long, long time now. And your post is spot-on.

    In the bar business, I worked some dives, and folks could get a drink at a dozen other places within walking distance that offered cleaner tables and stools, better TV’s, and a more handsome staff than myself. But we WORKED it, knowing each person by name, knowing their drinks, their quirks, and becoming their friends. So they kept coming back, and they tipped heavily.

    Nowadays, folks with dogs and lots of disposable income pay my wife and I to watch their dogs play all day. It’s not an inexpensive service, and it’s not always necessary. But they keep coming back, day after day after day, and they GLADLY pay us in advance for 5 or 10 or 20 more visits (something the mental therapy industry might consider doing). Why? Because we know them. We remember their name, their dog’s name, their kids’ names, and they stay and talk for 10-20-30 minutes every time they come. It’s therapy. They tell us things. They trust us. And this is important: they tell lots of other people about how great we are, and those people come to us, and our business grows.

    Not rocket science or major revelations, but it’s a solid concept worth commenting on from experience. Thanks for the post. See you soon.
    -cb

  46. Lousy service? Our not so grand Canadian hospitals.

    There’s a huge disconnect in our medical community where patients are no longer treated as fellow human beings.

    An example for you… I broke my arm a few years back. As I awaited surgery, I walked through the halls pushing my IV stand. For sport, I tried making eye contact with hospital staff.

    Impossible. They will not look at you.

    You only exist once you enter their little corner and they have to deal with you as part of their job. Until that moment it’s their job to speak to you, there’s this gaping chasm between the hospital staff and the sick ones they’re “forced” to deal with.

    That disconnect is my advantage.

    My success has been built upon the idea of people taking care of people. Works like magic when our medical brethren has set the bar so appallingly low. People are starving for decent service.

    Joe :D

  47. This is great info. I just absolutely love coming to your blog and checking what you have to say. Please never stop writing your bog. Your information and content is so great and I have been telling all my friends about it.

  48. It can be really difficult finding a decent Internet Marketing business nowadays, just going to do it myself I think
    How To Lose Friends & Persuade People To Hate You – The newest addition to my RSS feed

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