Church of the Customer: Companies behaving badly archives
December 21, 2011
FedEx's apology: expertly delivered
We've seen this before: 1) company makes an egregious service mistake and is outed by a customer via a YouTube video, 2) video goes viral, 3) mainstream media picks up the story and amplifies it, 4) PR nightmare begins.
This week's culprit is FedEx. A California FedEx driver is caught on a security-camera video flinging a package containing a computer monitor over the fence of a gated Southern California house. At no time does the driver attempt to ring the bell for delivery. Just a toss over the fence, and he jumps back into his truck. In two days, the video has over three million views.
News media around the world have jumped on the story and FedEx public relations is in a world of hurt.
However, what we haven't seen before is the speed in a company's response to the PR hit. In less than 48 hours after the video is posted, FedEx has gone to YouTube to acknowledge the video, and explain that this behavior is, in their words "Absolutely. Positively Unacceptable." A senior VP from the company says the company has apologized to the customer, has replaced the monitor and is building this example into their training programs as a "constant reminder of the importance of earning -- and keeping -- [customers'] trust with every single delivery."
This is a terrific lesson for companies in how to respond quickly and expertly to these types of fast-moving, negative customer service stories. Nice job, FedEx.
September 05, 2009
AT&T and the 2 most important words
That's what you say when a large number of your customers are upset with you. AT&T customers have been complaining for months about dropped calls, spotty service, delayed text and voice messages and slow download speeds for the iPhone.
So, AT&T released this video on YouTube.
In it, "Seth the Blogger" (no, not that Seth) says AT&T has heard all the complaints but then congratulates his company for pioneering the smart phone industry. He also explains how cell networks operate with snoozingly detailed graphics and finally tries to explain how the company is spending money to fix the network.
But never he says what customers really want to hear: "We're sorry."
April 13, 2009
Anatomy of the #AmazonFAIL protest
Amazon recently deleted the sales rankings of hundreds of gay- and lesbian-themed books. Writer Mark Probst blogged about the de-ranking and was told by an Amazon representative that the company will no longer include sales ranks for "adult" material on the site.
Reaction was swift: anger over lumping gay-themed books with pornography accompanied by cries of censorship.
Probst's blog post was dated Sunday, April 12 at 2:08 am. In 24 hours, here's a quick look at how things developed:
- Twitter. Users begin using the hastag #AmazonFAIL. It was the number-one trending topic on Twitter search all day. After an Amazon spokesperson told CNET news that the de-ranking was "a glitch in our system and is being fixed," Twitterers responded with a new hashtage: #glitchmyass.
- Facebook. The AmazonFail Group launched, quickly gathering 1,200 members out of the gate.
- Online petitions. Online petitions sprang up protesting the "adult" policy. One gathered more than 9,000 signatures in a few hours' time.
- Google bomb. A blogger launched a campaign to redefine "Amazon rank" on Google. It's working. This page is #2 in the search rankings.
- Hacking. Protesters started tagging the de-ranked books on Amazon site with #AmazonFAIL. At last count, 882 books were tagged.
- Logos. People created logos for the protest.
- Merchandise. #glitchmyass boxer shorts, t-shirts and other apparel are for sale!
- Complaint templates. Customers wanting to complain and who need writing help can use this pre-crafted complaint letter.
The anger of injustice spreads quickly and can take on a life of its own. For a company that helped pioneer using customer comments to sell books in a flattened, democratized context, this sure seemed like a fail moment for Amazon.
(Feel free to post any items or updates I may have overlooked or tell me on Twitter: @jackiehuba!)
- Follow the real-time Twitterstream for the #AmazonFAIL and #glitchmyass tweets here
- The list of de-ranked books that have been tagged by customers as #AmazonFAIL is now 1,1371,335 books.
- Online petition is close to 16,000 signatures.
- Over 335 mainstream media articles related to this story, including Wall Street Journal, Wired, and NPR.
UPDATE: Amazon has released a statement calling the issue a "embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error." The spokesperson said it wasn't just gay and lesbian titles that were affected, but also the error included 57,310 books in a number of broad categories such as Health, Mind & Body, Reproductive & Sexual Medicine, and Erotica. Amazon also refuted the rumor that a hacker had caused the glitch.
There are still a lot of questions that were not answered here. How did the cataloging error occur? Was it man-made or computer-related? Regardless, Amazon waited too long to address the building outrage with some kind of explanation.This is a great case study for PR professionals on dealing with today's 24/7 real-time Twitter-fueled word of mouth world.
UPDATE: The Seattle Post-Intelligencer says that the "cataloging error" was the result of a single Amazon employee in France who flipped the wrong switch, causing over 50,000 books to be flagged as "adult." This is according to an anonymous souce inside the company.
February 24, 2009
Leading by example 24/7
All of us meet a sports, movie or business star by chance. Typically the first question from friends is: What's she like? People who meet Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, often report he's just like the way he is in various speeches, blog posts and tweets: passionate about customer service but also approachable with a good sense of humor. To paraphrase former Arizona Cardinals coach Denny Green, he is who we thought he was.
So here's a paradox: What if you love a company for its change-the-world mission, then meet its visionary leader and discover he's a jerk?
We once blogged about a change-the-world entrepreneur who isn't nearly as visible or well-known as Tony. With about a dozen employees, this leader's company is still small. Over the course of several months, we discovered his behavior doesn't match his company's pious values. I've had business colleagues privately tell me how much they disliked doing business with him. This weekend, a different friend told me of his obnoxious and rude behavior while simply hanging out in a condominium lobby!
I still love the idea of the company, but now I distrust its leader. Will I evangelize the company any more? Probably not. Cognitive dissonance.
A company can still grow when its founder is a jerk -- Steve Jobs and Sumner Redstone are two well-known examples -- but piety and helping the world's poor are hardly the values of Apple or Viacom. That's the disconnect. When the public and private behavior of company leaders don't match established company values, especially when those values are purposely marketed, word will spread quickly through the back-channel grapevine of blogs and Twitter. That's no way to grow a company.
December 08, 2008
Life in the bubble
If the company you were running lost $10 billion this year, then you asked for a $10 million bonus, you'd be laughed out of the room, right?
Might you even be fired?
Not unless you work on Wall Street, where the CEO of Merrill Lynch says he deserves $10 million because the company would have lost more if not for his leadership. Perhaps, but he was stupid to ask for $10 million when he already makes an enormous salary with stately perks while nearly everyone thinks his industry is already overpaid and reckless with money. His bubble prevented him from sucking it up on a $750,000 salary until his company was profitable.
Before Detroit's Big 3 CEOs first showed up on congress' doorstep asking for monetary help, public opinion was about 50% against bailout help. With half of the country thinking the Big 3 don't deserve a nickel in help, each CEO takes an expensive company jet to Washington to ask for money. The symbolism of cluelessness couldn't have been more obvious unless they'd worn powdered wigs and gold-laced frocks to the hearings. After their first appearance before congress, public opinion against the bailout surged to 61%. Their bubbles made them oblivious to the obvious.
Socially constructed reality has changed so rapidly in the last few years it's a bit mind-boggling... but only if you haven't been checking in with blogs, message boards, social networks, or Twitter streams.
Companies incorporating in 2008 understand the importance of the word-of-mouth drivers of today's socially constructed reality, but we're seeing the tectonic fissures at nth-generation companies that don't. The more that established companies prevent the black-sheep variables inherent in a bigger bubble from entering their decision-making equations, the more they'll suffer the effects of socially constructed reality -- i.e., word of mouth driven by the jetstream of social media.
November 19, 2008
How much is that doggie ticket?
If you fly with a small dog, be prepared to pay a lot.
I wanted to take Mini, my 10-pound toy poodle, with me during a Thanksgiving trip. My round-trip ticket cost: roughly $300.
Here were the round-trip costs for Mini to ride under the seat in front of me:
- American Airlines: $200
- USAirways: $200
- JetBlue: $200
- Continental Airlines: $250
- Delta: $300
- United Airlines: $350
- Southwest Airlines: does not allow pets (except service animals) $150
On most of the airlines, it would cost nearly the same to stow Mini as a carry-on bag under the seat in front of me as my own seat. On one airline, Mini's ticket would cost more than my own.
Just a few years ago, airlines were touting "fly with your pet" programs. This year, most airlines have raised all of their fees across the board, including pet fees.
Can someone explain the economics of extremely high pet fees? Are the airlines trying to disincentivize carry-on pets, or do they see it as easy money because of well-heeled dog owners?
As for my travel plans, I'm staying put.
UPDATE: JetBlue just announced a new pet program, JetPaws. A few extra perks but it still cost $200 roundtrip to bring your pet.
August 19, 2008
eBay and the nuclear option
I decided to sell my iPhone on eBay last week. I just got the new 3G one. Bids were going well and the auction ended today. Just as I was about to invoice the winner, eBay sent me this email:
We recently learned that someone was using an account to bid on items without the account owner's permission. For this reason, we have canceled all bids on the following listing:
160271650734 - iPhone 2G 8GB 2.0 great condtion
All associated fees have been credited to your account. Please note that we're working with the account owner to prevent any additional unauthorized activity.
Unfortunately, we're not able to automatically relist the above item for you. To relist the item, you'll need to use either the Sell Your Item process on eBay, or another listing service.
If you have any concerns or questions, you can contact us by clicking "Help" at the top of any eBay page.
We're sorry for any inconvenience, and we thank you for your patience and cooperation.
eBay Customer Support
Good that eBay spotted suspicious activity. Bad that it deleted my entire listing. To relist my phone, I must start over. From scratch. Too bad for me, even if I had nothing to do with what went wrong.
eBay's reaction -- to cancel all bids, and delete my listing -- is typical among companies that rank cost savings above customer service. Let's call it the Nuclear Option: Protect the company with a companywide onerous rule or process, even if it inconveniences many people.
Some companies favor the nuclear option because they've quantified it as cheaper than delivering personalized service or diplomacy.
But the long-term costs for the nuclear option are significant. Home Depot CEO Frank Blake has had to spend the majority of his tenure cleaning up the radioactive waste left by former CEO Bob Nardelli and his repeated use of the nuclear option, whether it was trying to save labor costs by converting a big chunk of full-time workers to part-time, removing $1 billion of store inventory or spending billions on catering to professional contractors rather than its core customer base. All of which did nothing for the stock price and yet devastated employee and customer loyalty. Good combo!
I'm but one example; have you experienced other uses of the nuclear option at eBay?
July 18, 2008
Handling fee, or manhandled?
Last week I bought a $50 gift certificate for my friend's birthday from her favorite day spa.
As the clerk filled out the certificate, I admired the spa's luxury surroundings. Finished, the clerk said the total would be $51.50.
"What's the extra $1.50 for?"
"The handling fee," she said.
"What kind of handling is involved?"
"Writing out the certificate," she said. "It's labor-intensive." A long pause. "Sorry, I don't make the rules."
Have you ever encountered a "handling fee" on a gift certificate, and what do you think of this spa's use of it?
UPDATE: The owner of the spa has responded in the comments. She says that the fee is for the upgraded gift certificate card and the employee didn't explain that there are card options.
June 03, 2008
Buy a car, get a gun
March 03, 2008
Out of Vocus
I've had many anger-inducing run-ins with a company called Vocus, a software firm that sells access to its database of journalists and media outlets so companies can pitch them.
Vocus first came into focus last year with the release of a white paper called "Five Golden Rules for Blogger Relations." Rule number one in the Vocus paper: "Don't spam bloggers." In a classic PR blunder, Vocus spammed bloggers to tell them about the paper that instructed them not to spam bloggers.
Undaunted, Vocus powered on in its spam-like ways by adding the contact information of bloggers to its system. A few months ago, without warning, I've been spammed regularly by Vocus clients like the Virginia Tourism Board and Eight O'Clock Coffee, telling me about some wonderful new campaign. I will use this space to say to the Virginia Tourism Board and Eight O'Clock Coffee: Please, get a clue.
Once you're in the Vocus system, it gets Kafka-esque. Bloggers can unsubscribe from Vocus PR spam, but from the spamming client only. Other Vocus clients can, and will, spam you because you are still in their main database. This takes "captive audience" to a new level and seems like a possible violation of CAN-Spam laws.
Four times in four months I used the contact info on the Vocus website (firstname.lastname@example.org) to ask for full removal. No reply to any email. Finally, I called Vocus' main number and asked to speak with someone. Julie returned my call 30 minutes later and promised to remove my name from their system. It seemed like a good time to ask Julie about Vocus' practices:
- How do bloggers get added to the database? Vocus monitors top blogs in certain categories then adds their contact information to the database. Without permission, I asked? Yes, she said. Most bloggers are OK with that, she said. How does she know if they don't ask first?
- Why couldn't I opt out entirely? We're working on that, she said, and promised to investigate why no one responded to my four emails.
Julie also said a client could have copied my email address from the system and might continue to send me emails. Lovely.
Hey Vocus clients, such as Scottrade, People's Energy, and Southwest Airlines: You should know that Vocus has simply tacked an old-world model of media relations onto the new-world model of blogging. Vocus doesn't get it. I'm hoping that you do and you'll tell Vocus to clean up their act.
UPDATE(3/11/08): Just got an email from the Director of PR for the Virginia Tourism Board who apologized and said she was also contacting Vocus to make sure my info is removed from their system. Nice to see they are listening to comments about them in the blogosphere : )