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The Good Ole Boys of Spirit Airlines

Posted on : 05-05-2012 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Leadership, Marketing, Social Media

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The past few weeks have been fascinating for me, watching Spirit Airlines and the latest Customer blow up to take over the internet.  In my book, @YourService, I talk about Customer gaining more and more control over your brand.  Ever since the days of Dell Hell & Comcast Must Die, Customers have been realizing this new found power.  Some of my favorite blow ups over the past year have been the Bank of America debit card fee fiasco, Netflix/Qwikster, and the Verizon payment fee.  Each of these examples are learning opportunities for businesses.  Spirit Airlines offers probably the greatest learning of them all.  So let’s take a quick look at each one.

  • Bank of America Debit Card Fee Fiasco – Timing is everything, and for BoA the timing was simply horrible.  At the time banks were viewed at an all time low.  The overwhelming opinion was they were money grubbing institutions that did not care for their Customers at all.  As you probably are also aware, government regulations on fees, and very low interest rates were making it difficult for banks to increase profitability while maintaining proper reserves.  Therefore banks started looking for new ways to make up the lost revenue.  Debit card fees made sense to many, since much of the fees lost were related to debit card purchases.  BoA should have done more Consumer research before introducing the possibility of such a fee.  They would have found that this particular fee very much angered their Customers, and Customers of other banks because they fear all banks would follow suit.  Bank of America should have also talked more openly about the impact regulations would have on the bank and in particular, Customers.  The challenge is the general population does not understand how banks make money, and the impact changes may cause.  Stated simply banks were not trusted.  The worst part about BoA handling of this situation was they defended it extensively, which pitted the company against their Customers.  Brian Moynihan, CEO of BoA even stated during the fiasco, that they have an “inherent right” to a “certain amount of profit.”  The fact is this showed the general population that the leader was out of touch with Customers and potential Customers.
  • Netflix/Qwikster – I am a Netflix streaming Customer, and love it!  I should say my kids love it (I do not get to watch my shows often).  Netflix to many has seemed like the savior for continually increasing cable bills, and the best part is that it was cheap!  You could easily use their streaming service and DVD by mail service at a very low rate of $9.99 a month.  In July of 2011 the company announced they were changing the plans.  Basically they were separating out the DVD by mail service and streaming.  For Customers who continue to use both, the rate would go up to $15.98 a month.  Given the cost to process items by mail as well as increased licensing cost for programming, this new rate could be justified.  It would also guide more people to streaming which certainly is cheaper for the company to process.  Of course that is not how the Customer viewed this change.  Customers saw a company they viewed as different then the cable company, increasing fees at an even higher percentage than the cable company.  Netflix immediately went from trusted disruptor to untrusted money grubber, just like cable.  In September Netflix announced that their intention with the fee hike was to separate the DVD by mail business from streaming and create a separate entity called Qwikster for DVD’s.  Netflix would just be streaming.  This set off a whole new firestorm.  Netflix failed to estimate the ramifications this would have for Customers and the way they shopped for their entertainment.  Needless to say a month later Netflix backed down on the Qwikster idea, but the fees stayed at $15.98 a month. After losing subscribers, Netflix is growing again, but through this, the trust level is not the same as it once was.
  • Verizon Payment Fee – Often companies try to send bad news out during slow news cycles, such as weekend or holiday weeks.  On December 29 Verizon issues a press release “Customers Encouraged to Use Options to Avoid Single Payment Fee That Starts Jan. 15.”  Besides being bad spin, the press release outlined a new $2 convenience fee for making payments.  Within 24 hours the net was filled with discussion about the fee.  The next day Verizon came back to reinforce the decision on the fee and clarify that the online chatter will not change their mind.  Of course the FCC was listening to the online chatter too! By 3:00 in the afternoon the FCC stated they would investigate the fee.  Almost immediately after that announcement, Verizon changed their mind regarding the fee.

These incidents prove that Customers are forcing change in companies!  The most recent incident involves the spunky good ole boys of Spirit Airlines.  I was shocked to notice that the company’s board of directors and leadership team appear to be all men.  Of course that has nothing to do with it, but maybe their lack of diversity and thought process is part of their problem.  That is not for me to decide, but certainly others can form their own view.  Spirit airlines has never shied away from controversy.  Over the years they have been accused misleading advertising, including this incident involving tweets, inappropriate advertising like the ‘threesome fares’ and ‘M.I.L.F Sale’ (no wonder women do not appear to be part of the company’s leadership or board!), and they even tried to spin government disclosure requirements to be about hiding taxes.  This ‘Animal House’ of airlines has been making a name for themselves in recent years, including making a nice profit thanks to add on fees, but I know it is a reputation I would never want to be part of.

As I discuss in my book @YourService, social media simply highlights the culture of the company that already exists.  In this case social media is highlighting the frat house style culture of this airline.  Over the years they have tried to spin it that they are ‘Customer friendly,’ including going on how carry on fees are a Customer benefit.  Spin is never a good approach, but it still shows you for who you are, because Customers are smart and can easily see through it.  There are two major issues impacting the brand over the past few weeks.  The major incident involves 76 year old, Vietnam vet, Jerry Meekins who is dying of esophageal cancer.  He no longer was permitted to fly by doctor’s order, and he requested a refund.  The airline responded that they would not be able to refund the money because he did not purchase the $14 insurance.  This is not the first incident like this, as you can see from this Consumerist post.  Of course this heartless approach does not fit with the spin they have historically provided indicating they are a Customer friendly airline.  Remember social media, simply displays the culture of your brand!  Spin no longer matters.  The company had numerous opportunities to quietly make an exception, and we would have never heard about Mr. Meekins, but the company decided to take the hardline approach.  As word spread regarding Mr. Meekins, the social media in conjunction with traditional media started to heat up about Spirit Airlines.  The company continued with their posture.  In fact CEO Ben Baldanza called into Fox News to discuss this.  Of course Fox brought up the fact that Spirit Airlines is leading, by more than double, in Customer complaints to the US Department of Transportation.  Mr. Baldanza was not horrified by this fact, but simply spun this further to indicate most Customers were happy.  I have never met a CEO that would not be horrified to be leading in complaints.  I agree number of complaints does not mean anything, unless you understand the details of those complaints.  It is still indicative that this airline is not living up to the spin they would like us to believe.  In my view, it showed that Mr. Baldanza is completely out of touch.

There are a few approaches you can take when dealing with incidents like this.  You can either try to quietly handle it (make it go away as I like to say) or you can be firm in your approach.  It would appear that the later was the direction Spirit wanted to take.  If you are going that direction, it is imperative that you explain why and clearly outline the benefit to all your Customers.  As an example, Spirit could have said that we strive to be the low cost airline, and to that effort we would not be able to make exceptions to this but we would like to find solutions, such as transfer the ticket to Mr. Meekins daughter so she could visit.  The next options could have been, once it reached the CEO and the publicity, Mr. Baldanza could have offered to refund the money out of his own pocket.  This way it would not be changing the rules but would have still made him out to be the good guy.  Spirit did not take any of these approaches.  Instead they took the hardline approach, but 24 hours after the Fox News piece, Mr. Baldanza issues a statement that they would now refund the money as well as donate to a cause close to Mr. Meekins.  Backing down, after the CEO took such a hardline stand in a public form, was probably not the right choice.  The negative brand hit was already there and this new gesture would not change that.  Of course it does reemphasize that we are now in an @YourService world!  This experience, which started as a simple Customer Service call, will be very altering for Spirit Airlines, and I would expect many dramatic changes over the course of the next year, including in the CEO position.  The Good ole boys may be moving out of the frat house!

This is not the only incident going on with Spirit Airline right now.  The social web is also enraged over a fare increase changing carry on bags to $100.  So even resolving the issue for Mr. Meekins does not change the discussion of the fee change.  Spirit has been a leader in the airline industry, at least when implementing new fees.  They led the way in checked baggage fees, boarding pass printing fees, carry on fees, and others.  They have not led the way regarding proper disclosure of fees.   I would guess this is one of the reasons for complaints regarding the airline.  It is also the reason they are not trusted at all, and these incidents will not help build that trust.  Any increase in fees will create a backlash in social media, but the key is how you discuss them.  Will fares go down due to the cost structure shift or service go up?  Spirit could have had good talking points if done properly.  In fact, I do believe they have seen fares go down, while fees went up.  They need to first embrace what they want to be.  If that is being the lowest cost provider, then fully embrace it with no spin.  They need to outline their fares compared to full service competitors in an open way.  So show fare, with carry on (paid online at time of ticket purchase) compared to multiple competitors for the same flight.  Then also show the same comparison with different options, such as paying for carry on at the time of boarding.  Spirit Airlines has failed to partner with their Customer to create the right experience for both the Customer and the company.  As complaint data indicates the company may be making a short term profit, but at the rate they are going, they will not be in business soon, unless they have dramatic changes.  These blow ups in social and traditional media do tend to force dramatic change, and I expect that will happen here.  Best of luck Spirit and Mr. Baldanza!

The Good Ole Boys of Spirit Airline!

Board of Directors (found here on the Spirit Airlines website)

Bill Franke, Chairman – Managing Partner of Indigo Private Equity, NewBridge Private Equity

Ben Baldanza, President & CEO – Spirit Airlines

David Elkins – Retired President & Co-CEO of Sterling Chemicals

H. McIntyre Gardner – Retired Head of Americas Region & Global Back Group, Global Private Client for Merrill Lynch

Robert Johnson – Retired CEO of Dubai Aerospace Enterprise

Barclay Jones III – Executive Vice President of Investments for iStar Financial Inc

Jordan Kruse – Managing Director Oaktree Capital Management

Stuart Oran – Managing Member of Roxbury Capital Group, former senior executive at United Airlines

Horacia Scapparone – CEO Bristol Group

John Wilson – Principal of Indigo Group

Management Team (found here on the Spirit Airlines website)

Ben Baldanza, President & CEO

Barry Biffle, Executive VP & CMO

Thomas Canfield, Senior VP & General Counsel

Ted Christie, Senior VP & CFO

Tony Lefebvre, Senior VP & COO

Jim Lynde, Senior VP Human Resources

Guy Borowski, VP Technical Operations

Jake Filene, VP Airport Services

Joseph Houghton, VP Flight Operations

Craig Maccubbin, VP & CIO

Edmundo Miranda, VP & Controller

Graham Parker, VP Pricing & Revenue Management

Charlie Rue, VP Financial Planning

Welcome to an @YourService World

Posted on : 12-04-2012 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Customer Service, Social Media

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My book, @YourService is now available via Amazon, and coming soon to a book store near you!  The book was originally titled in my mind as Common Sense.  The reason for this is service has been in trouble for years, but, thanks to social media, the Customer is gaining even greater control over your brand image.  Now it is key for companies to deliver on their brand promise, otherwise Customers will define that promise for them.  Customer Service has struggled for years in developing their identity; oftentimes referred to as a “cost” center.  Companies had the opportunity to change this on their own, but instead the call center became the “sales” center.  Don’t you love call centers that run as sales centers?  Every time you call, instead of focusing on your needs or the reason for the call, they focus on selling some additional service.  Social media is a game changer.  Many have thought the change was too marketing or PR, but in my mind it is really a change to the overall culture of the company, and the Customer will now be first!  I hope you enjoy reading the book, and please share with others.  Together we can change the Customer Service industry and drive all businesses to focus on the relationship!

Here is a foreword from the book written by Jeff Jarvis:

I thought Frank Eliason had a terrible job: handling complaints from customers for the largest company in a much-disliked industry, Comcast.

But he did wonders. He fixed customers’ problems. He doused a bonfire set by a well-known grump (I’ll let Frank tell you about ComcastMustDie.com). But most amazing—with humor, directness, and credibility—he put a friendly, human face on a cold corporation.

He did it on Twitter. While many other companies were just discovering social media and using it mostly as a promotional platform for their institutional messages, Frank used his Twitter name, @comcastcares (picked, I’d like to think, with just a dash of irony), to talk with customers, to listen first, and to build relationships. He lived and worked the precepts taught by that seminal work of Internet culture, the “Cluetrain Manifesto,” now a decade old, which decreed that markets are conversations; conversations are held among people, not institutions; and we customers can hear the difference.

Frank brought his company back from the brink of its own Dell Hell. I should know. I’m the customer who unwittingly set loose a consumer firestorm on Dell when I complained on my blog—these were the ancient days before Twitter—about a lemony laptop. Dell at first ignored the complaints of bloggers, but after a year, when Michael Dell returned to the company’s helm, it dispatched technologists to fix grousing bloggers’ complaints. It blogged with a human voice. It set up a service, Ideastorm, to capture and implement customers’ ideas. In social customer service, Dell leapt from worst to first, setting a model for many to following, including Comcast.

Frank has since moved on, from cable to banking (or some might say, from the frying pan to the fire). And customer service as a trade is also moving on with new tools introduced regularly to help companies track and respond to complaints, sentiment, and memes about them traveling through the net at broadband speeds.

But this isn’t a craft—and Frank’s isn’t a story—of technology. It’s a story of people. It’s about returning to the days when people at companies knew customers by name and customers could name people in companies. It’s about a resurgence of accountability. It’s about the kinds of sensible, courteous, and decent suggestions Frank  give you here to build honest and productive relationships with customers.

Productive. That, I believe, is the next phase in this rapidly evolving field of social customer service: moving past complaints to collaboration, moving from putting out fires to building new products together. In my book, Public Parts, I tell the story of Local Motors, a company that collaboratively designs and builds cars. Now that might sound absurd, but it works so well that the company is not only producing cars—together with customers, making design and business decisions—but the company is also in a position to help even big car companies learn how to make customers partners.

When customers are treated with respect and given the right tools to connect with companies—with the people inside companies—then amazing things can happen. That’s really the moral of Frank’s story about his relationship with customers.

One more note: By day, I am a journalism professor at the City University of New York. As such, I will confess that I cringed when I saw Frank capitalizing the word “customer” at every reference. The copyeditor in me wanted to correct them, to make each lower case. But Frank will explain why he does this and he won me over because we are all Customers.

—Jeff Jarvis Author, Public Parts

What Messages Do You Send to Your Customers?

Posted on : 21-03-2012 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Customer Service

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Business, as well as people, are constantly sending messages to others without realizing it. These subtle messages send clear information, at least in the eyes of others. For many businesses this is what defines your brand to the Customer. There are tons of examples of this in businesses large and small. That receipt checker many companies have does not send a message of security or low cost, but instead it tells every Customer that you do not trust them. Some messages can also be positive, such as the greeter that used to say hi when you entered Walmart. Often this person was older or had a handicap, but they were usually very cheery and they sent a message that Walmart was part of the community. Of course taking them away, as Walmart has done, also sends a clear message. In my upcoming book @YourService I share many observations regarding brands we all know and love (or hate). Often I do not mention the specific brand, but you may recognize them from the stories I share. One of the brands I talk about but do not disclose by name is Lowes, but after reading this post on the Consumerist and my own subtle example from this week, I decided it might be helpful for businesses to learn from them. In the Consumerist post the Customer, Paula, ordered a dishwasher from Lowes.com. As with many Internet orders, the website posts a delivery date. It turns out that the delivery date they post is not to the Customer but to the local store. Why would a Customer care about that date? They want the product in their home!

Overall I love both Home Depot and Lowes. It is this love that causes me to want to see both organizations create the right Customer experience. In general I feel Home Depot faltered under former CEO Bob Nardelli. Under his leadership the stores were not as helpful and obviously focused on costs for Home Depot instead of the Customer. Under Frank Blake, the current Home Depot CEO, they seem to be working to correct that. I will continue to watch with interest. During the Bob Nardelli time, Lowes did an excellent job at filling the gap and creating the right experience, but a few recent subtle examples, make me wonder if they are not going in the opposite direction. In the book I talk about two experiences at Lowes where I wonder if self service has gone a little too far. One example is the cashier asking me to go to the other end of the store to get a new item because the one I had did not have a UPC. Why should the Customer have to do that? Of course I did, without even questioning. In another story I talk about the store only having self checkouts open and watching an older Customer struggling to use it. Should companies force self service? It is interesting that many supermarket chains are starting to get rid of self checkouts, preferring the opportunity to interact with their Customers. I personally like self checkouts for certain items and small quantities, but there are times I would prefer a cashier.

Earlier this week I was in Lowes and once again the only lane open was self checkout. I was purchasing about 20 little bags of bolts and washers. Have you ever done this in self checkout? First to prevent a Customer from accidentally or purposely not counting items, you are not permitted to enter a quantity. So I scanned each one, but of course the scale did not know I put the item in the bag since each item weighed virtually nothing, so it kept prompting the cashier to log in. This happened more often than I can remember during one transaction. This typically would have been a quick in an out with a cashier but due to their system it was a lengthy process. The person watching over the area was great at helping but did not enter any of the items. Tiny bags with UPC codes never easily scan. While I was struggling through this process I watched people walking up with carts of doors and wood, asking the person they are with how they could do self checkout with such bulky items. I finally made it through the process and paid. One cool part about Lowes is if you are a Lowes credit card holder, you receive an automatic 5% discount. So I used my Lowes card. After swiping the card I put it back in my wallet but then their system asked me to enter the last 4 digits of the card. Do you know why that is done? I am guessing that those who created the Lowes self checkout experience do not know either. This was started years ago because unscrupulous people would change the data on the magnetic strip of cards to reflect stolen card information. In a self checkout situation if I were using a card with stolen data, I would know the right digits to enter. Overall a very silly addition to the Customer experience. If you ever want to have fun with a self checkout get a lot of tiny bags of items!

Now let’s compare this to a self checkout experience this week at Home Depot. I ran in to buy a few small thing plus while I was there I decided to but one large deck board. Since I bought more than planned, I did not have a cart. There was a small line at the regular checkout and no one at self checkout, so even with the bulky board, I went there. As I walked up, the cashier walked over to me to scan the board even before I made it to the checkout. He then went on and scanned each item that was in my hand. I put the items in a bag, swiped my Home Depot card and a receipt printed. It did not ask me to type last 4 or even sign.

The process at Home Depot made me feel like my time was valued in every aspect of the experience. It was well thought out from the wireless scanner from the cashier to not weighing items scanned by him. He never had to log into the machine I was at. I also was not forced into the self checkout area, it was my choice. I would hope that the decision not to have cashiers available at Lowes was a local management decision (although poor one) as opposed to a corporate one. Of course the poor design of the user flow is corporate, so a bean counter there may be making the decision to force self checkout too. Either way, decisions companies make like these, impact decisions Customers make on where to shop. If I ever need items that I prefer not to take through self checkout, I know where I will shop. They sent me the message loud and clear! What are subtle messages businesses send to you?

Are We Creating the Age of Me?

Posted on : 31-01-2012 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Marketing, Social Media



The world is changing around us and in many ways I love how connected we are becoming. At the same time with the good there is always some bad. Their has been much discussion regarding recent legislation to protect copyright infringement and illegal downloads. I am not a supporter of the legislation and I personally believe it is a slippery slope for the government to advocate such actions. At the same time I do believe we should have an open dialogue regarding the issue.

Before I get into that, let me say I think other actions are creating a world about me, instead of the connected world that many of us envision. It starts with the manner businesses operated for years which to Consumers seemed to feel like they did not care. Policy and pricing decisions seemed to be part of back room deals to maximize profits at the Customers expense. Of course these can prove to be short term financial gains but could hurt long term. The record industry as an example limited ways to purchase music, so to get around that Consumers created new ways. Finally the record industry woke up and new alternatives have arrived but they will most likely not be at the same profit margins that were enjoyed for years. I wonder what would have been different if their pricing efforts were considered more fair? We have seen this same impact in movies and television. Of course the industry is only tepidly moving forward and for every few steps forward a few steps are taken back. As an example Starz is discontinuing its deal to distribute content via Netflix. Speculation is they fear its current deal with Netflix is hurting subscribers via cable. From the rumors I heard they wanted Netflix to have some sort of tiered pricing to combat that. For years the movie industry has controlled releases carefully to encourage people to go to high priced theaters, then buy DVD’s instead of renting, etc. In my view the trouble they have with illegal downloads comes down to this control and not creating an @YourService environment. It was all about them, so now their Consumers is saying, no it is about me.

Now we are in a social media world and businesses all over want to be a part of the conversations. They want their Customers to make it about the brand. Toward this effort businesses galore have offered discounts or free product to ‘like’ them or follow their every move. This may spur conversation for their brand, but at what cost? Is this type of marketing going to change Consumer behavior? We have all heard stories of small businesses trying to take advantage of the social world by buying Groupon deals only to find the business inundated with Customers only buying the item on the deal and the business losing a lot of money with little or no repeat business from the group. I think the key for businesses is to have a culture that aligns the experience with their Customer. Building an @YourService environment Customers will want to discuss your brand and build on the relationship you have with them. Trust is key, and very few businesses have it. Do you think the movie or recording industry had it?

I view a lot of work to be artistic, whether it is a book, movie, song, or even a more traditional business product. I want to see artists get their dues. It is hard work. I have been privileged over the years to be provided many books. What these artists do not realize is that I often also bought a copy. I own many duplicates! But I am proud of their work and I want them to have success. At the same time, I trust them so I am more likely to do that. You see I do not see it as a world about me, but rather a world built on trust and relationships. This is the @YourService world I envision.

Is It Just Me?

Posted on : 23-01-2012 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Customer Service, Uncategorized



I just finished my book @YourService and it is filled with Customer Service stories. It has the good, the bad and the ugly. In my view the businesses must make a shift in the new @YourService economy. Your Customers and employees now control your brand image. Often I am struck by stupid easy things businesses could fix, yet they fail to do so. Is it just me that sees this?

As Customers, new technology has brought us greater ease, yet it has caused us to grow ever more frustrated. Case in point is my recent experience with Best Buy. Best Buy has been an interesting case study for me. Over the past few years the company has gained greater control of their market by the departure of Circuit City. I am a tech geek and have spent a lot of money with them, and most likely will continue to do so (although debating that based on my experience with Amazon). Recently Forbes had an interesting piece on ‘Why Best Buy is Going Out of Business Gradually‘. The post has many strong and truthful observations about Best Buy and ways they could improve. For a few years Best Buy has also been trying to send the message that they are working to improve, including their Twitter Twelpforce initiative, their community forum and ideation efforts, as well as their CEO blog, where he welcomes feedback. I did enjoy the CEO’s post in response to the recent discussion of the Forbes piece. The problem is it should never have taken such a long time to gain reaction from the company. No matter what words are said, actions are louder. Online feedback regarding the retailer has been negative for a number of years, and I have yet to see evidence of any changes the company has made to create the right experience. I should note that I know many people within the Best Buy social team and I adore them. The failure here is not their efforts, it is the failure of the leaders to understand their Customer. Winning in social media is not some program, it is creating the right experience for the Customer where they want to talk about your brand.

Unfortunately I want to speak about the brand in a negative manner, because that is more fitting of my recent experiences. As Consumers, I wonder if our actions have told companies that poor service is okay! I especially think that way because I tend to attract it. That is probably for a post another day. On Black Friday I was wasting time so I went window shopping at Best Buy. While I was there, a TV caught my eye and the price was great. I decided to buy it. Well after waiting really long (not in a line mind you, just one Customer was doing some odd things involving credit, which they were not approved). There were 3 associates there but no one could do anything while this situation played out. So I went online and ordered the TV from a store that was on my ride home. When I arrived I already received the email that it was ready so I went to pick it up. Amazingly there was no line late in the day for pickup so I thought I would be in and out. Well that was not the case. It took well over 40 minutes to get the item from the back. I chalked that up as my fault for shopping on Black Friday. A week later I decided to order an accessory for the TV. I did it online with store pickup. This is where I started to see the dysfunction of the company. About an hour after ordering I went to pick it up. I never received the email but in my prior experience this typically took about 30 minutes. I went to the store and the associate said there is nothing they can do until ‘they’ transmit it to us. First of all they is you and you are Best Buy. After waiting in the store for 30 more minutes, I decided to pick it up myself figuring I could easily cancel the order. Probably my mistake too. First they could not cancel the order in the store. The mysterious ‘they’ had to do it. You also are not able to do it online. Now this makes business sense, take someone who prefers to self serve and send them to a call. If you want to save money, make it easy to do things online! Calling is a trip, but needless to say, after many transfers it did not happen. I did learn that if you do not pick up the item, eventually they cancel it, so I did that. That brings me to my latest. I ordered a game system and some games for store pickup. When I received the first email it had an item with the wrong store as the pickup location. I quickly relooked at the order and for some reason the incorrect store was listed for 1 out of 7 items. Why would your online system even allow that to happen? Bad Customer experience! An easy warning asking do you want to pickup items at two locations would resolve this. Of course I still blame myself for not catching it prior to submitting the order. I do take issue with what transpired next. I called to cancel the order. When you do the only real option that fits is speak to someone, so I select that. Once you get to that point you have to describe your issue, and more importantly, the product you purchased, then you are transferred to describe it all over again. Of course you do not get to describe it when you are transferred to dead air or disconnected. After working on this for 30 minutes, I give up and head to pick up my items. I assumed the products were ready, even though the confirmation only listed two items. I luckily assumed right. While driving I called again and on the 4th attempt I was able to get the item cancelled. Why do I have to go through all that? Why, as I was getting increasingly frustrated, did no one empathetic to my frustration? I am willing to bet it happens so often that the agents simply do not care. This is all emblematic of a larger cultural issue.

As I vented this on Twitter, others came out to vent frustration, including Lon Seidman, who shared a strikingly similar post from 2009. Now I do love Best Buy and hope I start to feel the difference, but if it does not happen soon, I am afraid I will be seeking alternatives. Is it just or is service going downhill?

Is It Really the Agent’s Fault?

Posted on : 19-01-2012 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Customer Service



As Consumers when an experience is not pleasant we like to blame someone, often times it is the agent we are dealing with. Is this right? Usually not.

I was reading a few news stories that my readers will find interesting. First was from SmartMoney regarding 10 Things You Will Not Here a Customer Service Rep Say. It is a very thorough look at the state of Customer Service. It is sad to me that we are training Customers to be loud to get proper service. Do we really think that is a good idea for our brand image? Service better get their act together if they want to win in an @YourService world.

Another article, Customer Service Needs Friendly Returns, comes from the Columbus Local News. This article takes a look at a popular topic this time of year, retail returns. Like many of us I feel the same way as the author regarding returns. Often you feel like a suspect instead of a Customer. But to me the friendliness of the representative is determined by the culture of the business they work for. Have you returned items to Target in recent years? A few years back they changed their return policy to be more stringent. Basically for most items you have 90 days and you must have a receipt. If you do not have a receipt they will try to locate it for you (of course you have to know the credit card that was used and be the one with the card). You can fully review their return policy by reviewing here and here. I have witnessed and experience with the no exceptions to the policy, including one person who was at 91 days.

Now let’s look at the return policy for a store I enjoy shopping at. Kohls, often ranked as a top Customer Service retailer, has their Hassle-Free Return Policy. One time I returned a George Foreman Grill that was used but had trouble in the first couple of months. I dreaded returning it because I lost the receipt. I walked up to the service counter prepared for a hassle and instead I was greeted with the friendliest person who said no problem, I would be happy to process that return for you. It amazes me how friendly they have been over the years. Because of this I have spent a lot of money there.

Where would you rather work? Kohl’s is constantly sending messages to the Customer and employee about trust and creating the right experience. Have you ever forgotten a coupon at Kohl’s? No problem here is one for you. I remember years ago working for a different major department store retailer the senior leadership made the decision to not honor coupons unless they brought them with them. How stupid is that to send a Customer ready to buy out of the store. These decisions impact the culture of your employees and the trust of the Customer. I am sure Target’s decision was based on tons of data collected. I am willing to bet, it is impacting their bottom line but not in the way they expected. Including less loyal Customers (I am in that boat) and employee turnover.

I agree we need friendlier returns, but it starts with having an @YourService culture.

Do You Build the Right Messages for Your Customers?

Posted on : 18-01-2012 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Business, Customer Service, Uncategorized

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I had a great experience returning an item to Lowes last week. The cashier made if fast and was very friendly. She even noticed, without me saying, the color difference which was the reason for the return. Even with that great experience I left with a different message and it is something that can help other companies too. Like many retailers, the service desk is located by the front of the store. It is fairly open area, so it is easy for Customers to see behind the counter. I am always fascinated by hand written signs behind service counters. They usually are something about the policy. In this particular location the sign was signed by the Loss Prevention department, so of course, I had to read it! I did take a picture but it was too blurry to share. Basically the message was to the service team. It was a reminder of a policy about Customer or employees trying to exit through the entrance. I immediately thought about all the times I exited through the entrance. 9 times out of 10 it was because I forgot something in the car. No the 1 out of 10 was not theft! It was because they did not have what I was looking for so I was leaving. Anyway the sign tell the service personnel if anyone tries to exit through that door, you are to immediately stop what you are doing, including helping other Customers and confront the person using the wrong exit and guide them to the other exit by the cash registers.

I should be clear that I understand the need for loss prevention, and years ago even did it. There are benefits for Customers in keeping costs low. That being said, telling a service agent to break away from the Customer they are helping to help the loss prevention team, is ridiculous. It is not the Customers fault that the loss prevention team is not able to watch the door properly. I also do not think it is a good practice to dictate what doors a Customer must use.

In this new world of @YourService it is important to know the message you are sending to your own employees and Customers. Their interactions are what define your brand. This handwritten memo is an example of this message. Have you seen message like this? As a Customer how do they make you feel?

Picturesque Service

Posted on : 17-01-2012 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Customer Service

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It seems with all the technology we as Consumers are still growing frustrated by the service experience by companies. It seems to me many companies just created a patchwork quilt to meet the demands of their Customer. Of course many new companies, built from the ground up, are finding new ways to surprise and delight. Today I want to tell you about one of those experiences.

Our story starts with An email from a friend about a free picture book offer from Shutterfly. With the email we began putting together the book of 2011. What a year to watch the kids grow! Anyway, we complete the book and begin the check out process, but we realize the code was already used. No big deal, we check our email and it turns out we had the same offer, but the email went to junk. The friend that sent it to us was not as lucky. See the email was sent to her by another friend. So she emailed Shutterfly and within an they emailed her a code. She is now very dedicated to Shutterfly, because they could have said any number of things, including the offer was intended for select people, etc. They made it easy.

Today we have fairly low expectations of companies especially when it comes to the Customer experience. This is where Shutterfly differentiated themselves. Through the checkout process we decided to order a few more things, totally about $25. As we went through the check out process a $20 credit was automatically applied. It turns out we earned that credit when purchasing school pictures from Life Touch. Shutterfly did not put the onus on us to remember a code or that we even had it. They applied it automatically. The experiences you create are what lead to social media success (or failure). This is an @yourservice world!

Is Service Down the Drain?

Posted on : 13-01-2012 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Customer Service

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I am excited to report that in the coming weeks you will be seeing some changes to this blog.  First I will be updating the look.  But, more importantly, I will be focusing on sharing stories I read everyday regarding Customer Service.  I’ll share the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Hopefully as businesses improve we will see more and more of the good.  I will also be encouraging readers, as well as businesses, to share their stories or ones they come across on the internet.  I think that this will provide a well rounded view of the current state of Customer Service.

All this is in preparation for my upcoming book called @YourService.  The book will include many personal stories, observations and recommendations for the Customer Service field.  The simple fact is the Customer and the employee now control your brand image. Many want to win in social media, but if you want your business to have success you have to start with the basics: your Customer and your employee.  Social media simply highlights the culture you already have.  The Customer service world has changed dramatically over the past 30 years with a lot of impressive technology.  But is that technology designed for the Customer or the business?  The fact is that today Customers feel further and further away from your business, and often we are sending a message that we are not interested in their needs.  We are stuck on process and we provide limited room to move.

In the book you will find many stories about service, some of which I experienced personally.  We tend to make Customers jump through hoops to get things cared for.  Sometimes I wonder if that is intentional.  Are companies just hoping we will just give up?  Of course I like to be more positive than that and hope they are simple mistakes.  Of course they happen way too often.  Here is an example of a situation I just dealt with for a new faucet I purchased.  The final email to this chain, is probably the funniest since I am not sure why I received it.  Our story starts on December 6.  I send an email to Kingston Brass/EOD Faucet because the finish was coming off of the pull knob for the drain of a faucet I bought from Overstock on September 3, 2011.  The original email includes a clear picture, our address, a description of the trouble and a request for a new pull handle.  I do not receive any response, so on January 3, I emailed again.  This time I received a fairly quick response.  The first email asks me to provide proof of purchase, which I respond with.  The odd thing about the email is it cc’ed what appears to be the human resources email address for the company.  This continues through the remaining emails, so I make sure to cc them as well.   The next email asks me to take a picture of the entire faucet “so we know exactly what part to send you.”  My first two emails did include a photo and a request for the part, which was simply the pull.  So this time I respond with two pictures.  One was simply the damaged part and the other was the entire unit.  I then get a response asking me to attach the pictures instead of cutting and pasting them in.  For some strange reason when they received the email the picture were shrunk to icons.  They were full size when they left here.  Anyway I sent the photos with separate emails.  I then get a response asking for the address to send it to, which was included in the first two emails.  Again I respond with that information and we are done with this back and forth.  The good news is I received the part very quickly but now for the odd news.  Remember how I mentioned the agent included the HR email address in the chain?  Well today I received another one which was send from CS103 to Erik Chen at Kingston Brass, the HR email and one that appears to be for tech support at Kingston Brass.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Mr. Chen,

In the morning I answered phone calls and answered technical, order inquiry, and stock status questions. I wrote up warranty request forms and also entered them into Elliot. I entered orders from Kingston Brass Faucet and from SinksPlus. I answered emails from info@eodfaucet.com and techsupport@kingstonbrass.com.

In the afternoon I answered phone calls and answered technical, order inquiry, and stock status questions. I wrote up warranty request forms and also entered them into Elliot. I entered orders from Kingston Brass Faucet and from SinksPlus. I answered emails from info@eodfaucet.com and techsupport@kingstonbrass.com.



After writing the book, and a chapter about an inside look at a call center, I immediately started putting together my own backstory to email, including the fact that the agent cc’ed HR on every response.  Is the agent in trouble for something and that’s why he was doing it?  I suspect that the different emails were not due to him but the process they have in place, including lack of history to identify the address.  All this is part of our Customer experience.  The key to winning in the social world is creating a good environment for agents where they can be empowered, such as possibly just sending the pull since the cost is so low, instead of the multiple emails creating frustration.  The book was fun but this will give you a feel for what this blog will be like moving forward.  Thank you for your continued support!  Please send your Customer service stories to frank@frankeliason.com  I’m looking forward to hearing your stories!

A Tale of Expectations

Posted on : 16-12-2011 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Customer Service, Social Media

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A tweet says so much yet may not provide clarity. A few days ago I tweeted about two experiences over the past week with hotels. The more I think about the tweet the more I realize it is a tale of expectations. We tend to tweet or post to Facebook items we are passionate about or the extremes of our own expectations. This is the story of both extremes of my expectations.

When it comes to service I typically have very high standards and I am frustrated often by poor Customer handling. At the same time I have come to expect poor service. It is a sad state of affairs for the service industry. We were attending a wedding at a resort in Atlantic Beach, Florida (near Jacksonville). I had low expectations for the hotel. I knew it would be nice based on the Internet pictures, but I never expected to be wow’ed by the experience. I can count on one hand how often I was wow’ed by a hotel. Anyway the One Ocean Resort was not only able to wow me, they have moved to the top of my list for hotels. It all started upon arrival. We decided to drive down from New Jersey. The plan was a few days for the wedding and a few days in Disney prior to driving back. Due to a police incident in Virginia, we were stuck on the highway from 11:00 PM until after 2:00 AM. At that point stopping at a hotel seemed a waste, so we drove straight through, arriving at the resort around noon or 1:00 PM. We pulled up to valet, introduced ourselves to the attendant, and let him know we first wanted to see if the room was ready before off loading. He turned to us and said “Mr. Eliason, not only is your room ready, I have your key right here. There is no need to check in, let me take your bags right up”. It was a tremendous start. The hotel room had a beautiful view of the ocean and loaded with snacks to meet any tastes. The hotel, prior to arrival, also emailed asking snack and drink preferences. The room was loaded with our selections. What a great touch. During our two night stay we were greeted by name from many of the staff members. The wedding was beautiful and a brunch we threw for the wedding guests was perfect. I loved One Ocean!

After the wedding we took the few hour ride to Orlando to visit Mickey and all the Princesses. This was my third trip to Disney and the other two were magical, so I had very high expectations. This time, using credit card points, we were staying at the Grand Floridian. It was just going to be one night, so why not. During the few hour drive and after reviewing the weather, we decided to extend our stay 1 night, if the hotel had availability. So we arrived at the hotel. The guard was exceptional directing us to the front of the hotel to leave our bags before taking the car to self park. The bellhop was really nice as I have come to expect from cast members. We then drove to self park, which was full. We then found ourselves in cast member parking, which did not seem right, so we drove back and did valet. As we went past the security guard again he did let us know we could have parked in cast member parking but I decided to valet instead. Finally made my way to check in. Again another nice gentleman greeted me. I asked about extending the stay. He checked me in then had to call the reservation desk to see if they could extend (why he could not do it seemed disjointed to me). He then informed me that the reservation was not done through Disney but he could add a night at a different rate. I was fine with that. That night we attended Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. It was a magical, although wet experience. It was great being in Magic Kingdom with less of a crowd. The next day I got up and the first thing I did was work with the concierge for the girls to attend a dinner with Cinderella. I then went back to the check in desk because I realized our car pass had the incorrect date. The woman at the desk was confused by the reservation and was telling me it was not right. She made some changes and said that should fix it. It was at this point I started to expect problems ahead. Anyway it was time to head to Animal Kingdom to start the day. As soon as we arrived at Animal Kingdom I made a purchase at the gift shop (waterproof bag after the wet evening before) and charged it to the room. We then went in the park. I love Animal Kingdom, especially for the character access. After meeting a few characters we went to make another purchase. This time charging to the room was not going to happen. Our card was deactivated. I called the number on the card. The first person was very nice and listened carefully, she then had to transfer me to the hotels front desk. The next person seemed confused and had to connect me with someone in the back office. I am not sure what she did, but I found myself back in the queue and about 20 minutes later back at the front desk. I hate loops! Needless to say the new person had no clue, so I reiterated the story. Instead of reactivating the cards, she issued new keys that they would keep at the front desk. If I wanted to make any purchases, I just had to tell the person to key in the code at the bottom of the key and change the last two digits to 07. I would guess they can not reactivate existing keys. There system, to avoid risk, creates trouble for the Customer. Not uncommon but very frustrating. When we finally got back to the hotel, shortly before the scheduled dinner, I went to the front desk to pick up the keys, again explaining my frustration with the experience. Instead of getting the keys already cut, they printed new ones and handed them to me. I provided my wife her key and suggested she shop and I would take the kids back to the room. The hotel is spread over multiple buildings, so heading to your room can take time, especially with 2 girls. I finally made it there and you probably already guessed, the key did not work. This most likely meant my wife could not make purchases or get in the room if she beats me back. I made my way with the girls back to the front desk. I again explain the situation and my frustration. He seemed to think it was about charging back to the room an hands me back the key and says now you can charge. I said great, of course my goal now is getting into my room. He then reviewed a few things and said he had to go back and check with his manager. He then came back and printed another key and promised that one would work. All the other keys were now useless. I was fine by that. I was surprised that if he went back and relayed the story to the manager, I would have expected then to come out and apologize for the trouble, but none of that happened. Well the key did work, the bill seemed correct and the rest of the trip was as magical as I expect from Disney. I have seen similar key trouble in many hotels, but I had higher expectations for Disney, especially the Grand Floridian. I did not see the empathy from the staff as I would have expected. I loved the trip to Florida and I know I will be back to Disney but maybe next time my expectations will not be as grand.