As a psychologist, I am always amazed at how foolish companies can be in terms of customer service. I recently had two experiences which demonstrate this.
The first one was with Orchard Supply Hardware (OSH). They had published a 20% off coupon for this past weekend. It was a two-day coupon, and I didn’t look at it terribly carefully, assuming that it was good for Saturday and Sunday as most weekend coupons are. On Sunday I went over to Orchard Supply Hardware with my significant other. We were shopping for a new backyard umbrella and stand. A very nice sales clerk, Pilar, showed us the options. We then asked her if we could apply the 20% off coupon. That’s when we found out, according to her, that the coupon was actually only for Friday and Saturday. We asked her if it was possible to have the manager override it so that we could still get the discount. We told her that we would buy an umbrella and a stand if we could get the discount. She told me it was impossible, that the computer would not allow it.
As we checked out, buying a few small items that we needed, but not an umbrella and not the stand, we saw almost everybody presenting the same coupon and being told the same thing. In several cases the person shrugged and then said well I don’t want to buy this, walking out of the store in disgust.
So here’s an example of terrible customer service. You have a large group of people who bring in a coupon one day past its unusual expiration date, asking for the coupon to be honored. All of these customers want to give you money! Rather than give your managers the ability to do this, you have a rigid computer system, and you lose sales. Anyone who has come into use that coupon on a large item most likely walks out without buying that item. Epic fail!
Another example was my interaction today by phone with JetBlue Airlines. I recently flew round-trip from San Francisco to Boston. JetBlue has a tie-in with American Airlines such that you can choose to receive American miles rather than JetBlue miles. At the airport I had specifically given my American frequent flyer number, and requested that I receive American miles rather than JetBlue miles. When I checked my statement I discovered that I had been incorrectly credited JetBlue miles and had received no American miles.
So I called JetBlue and spoke with Monica in their True Blue frequent flyer department. I should add that first I spoke to a regular customer service person who kept me on hold for 5 min. and then transferred me to Monica. When I explained to Monica that I would like her to switch the miles over to American, she curtly told me that once the miles were credited it was not possible. Even worse, she gave me a ridiculous explanation telling me that since I had bought my ticket after logging into my True Blue account, the ticket would automatically accrue True Blue miles even if I had my American frequent flyer number in the account. Since there’s no way to buy a ticket without logging in, that was pretty ridiculous.
I then asked to speak with her supervisor, which resulted in another long hold, at which point I decided to give up since it was clear that JetBlue had no interest in fixing this problem.
Once again, epic fail. I had been really impressed with the actual flight, the comfort of the seats, the friendliness of the staff. This had been my first JetBlue flight. But I have to admit that given my poor customer service experience regarding the frequent flyer miles, it leaves a sour taste in my mouth regarding JetBlue.
The key point in the JetBlue customer service failure and the Orchard Supply Hardware Customer service failure was the inability of the front line sales person to have the authority and the power to fix the problem instantly. So many companies seem to believe that empowering front-line people to fix problems is somehow a huge mistake. This is wrong!
In summary, there are a few key points.
1. Customer loyalty and satisfaction is difficult to gain, but incredibly easy to lose. Once you betray a customer’s trust, it’s almost impossible to regain it.
2. Customers repeat bad experiences much more than good experiences. From a marketing perspective, when a customer has a bad experience it potentially drives away many other customers as that customer tells their experience to other potential customers.
3. The goal of all customer service should be to leave the customer feeling good about the interaction. The best outcome is to give the customer what they want. In this case, for Orchard Supply Hardware, it would have meant honoring the 20% coupon. In the case of JetBlue, it would’ve meant transferring the miles over to American Airlines.
4. If you can’t give the customer exactly what they want, offer something else good. For instance, Orchard Supply Hardware could have offered another type of discount, or a coupon good for future use. JetBlue could have offered me some bonus miles under their own program.
5. If, for some inexplicable reason, you cannot offer the customer something good, at least be very apologetic. Neither the clerk at Orchard Supply Hardware nor the customer service rep Monica at JetBlue said the magic words. “I really wish that I could do something more for you, but I can’t. I really apologize.”
The failure to even apologize leaves me as a customer just amazed. Epic fail! Shame on both Orchard Supply Hardware and on JetBlue Airlines!
(See my update to this story here, where JetBlue compounds their failure, and Orchard Supply Hardware makes it right, with amazing customer service.)
Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, and other difficulties using evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.