Jon Michaeli’s Blog


Giving thanks for superior customer service

Poor customer service is one of my biggest pet peeves, and lord knows, we encounter it virtually every day. Here’s my most memorable recent example, largely because of the sheer silliness of the situation. I visited Sel de la Terre Boulangerie, an upscale bakery serving gourmet breads, pastries, sandwiches and coffee.

  • My offense: I ordered a medium coffee in a large cup so that it doesn’t spill in my car.
  • The response: With a straight face, the cashier rang up a large because “we need to charge you for the extra milk you will be using.”

Brilliant – annoy a customer over a measly…get this…10 cents. Once I realized she was serious (which took an awkward 10 seconds or so), I dropped the extra dime on the counter and walked away, never to return. (There are at least 5 other places within close proximity serving as good or better coffee.)

Now for a positive spin. Because of this experience and countless others like it, we have come to expect such treatment, which is why it’s even more noteworthy when someone representing a company or brand surprises and delights you. And since the Thanksgiving season is all about showing gratitude and giving thanks, I want to call attention to someone, who on multiple occasions, has gone way above and beyond in providing me with superior service. His name is Kyle Cunningham, manager of the AT&T Mobility store at the Natick Collection in Natick, MA. For all of the legitimate criticism of AT&T’s shoddy 3G network and customer unfriendly policies, this guy makes up for all of it, and then some.

A bit of background. My BlackBerry Bold is near death. Despite OS upgrades, the device is super sluggish, has memory leak issues, and is powered by two almost completely drained batteries. Time for a new phone.

  • The problem: I am not eligible for an iPhone 3Gs for another 5 months, and the “powers that be” will make no exceptions to this policy. Sound familiar?
  • The solution: The best offer AT&T could make is $399 for the 12GB version, and only if I extend my contract for another 2 years. That is $200 more than the price I’d pay if I were eligible.

Sheer stupidity. I can cancel my account for $175 ($24 less), walk over to Verizon – whose network is far more reliable – port over my mobile number, and get a brand spanking new Motorola Droid for $200 with a 2-yr commitment. In other words, AT&T is telling a customer who has always paid on time, has 2 accounts (my wife is also a subscriber), and spends well more than the monthly average, that it will give him $24 to take a hike and go its biggest competitor. I guess AT&T doesn’t use CRM, segment its customer base, or care about retention or loyalty. Or if it does, it doesn’t know how to apply these tools and disciplines to real world situations. Maybe instead of spending time, money and resources on suing Verizon for false advertising, AT&T should focus its efforts on serving its customers.

Now that I got the marketing jargon in, back to the story. Despite it all, I am still with AT&T, because quite simply, Kyle provides the absolute best customer service on the planet. Having worked for mobile app company, WorldMate, I called on Kyle countless times over the past two years. In this particular case, Kyle not only did everything in his power short of risking his job, but he also offered to lend me his virtually brand new Bold until I am upgrade eligible. How often do you experience that caliber of service? I am 36 years old, and so far, just once in my lifetime. With nonsense business practices that create negative switching costs, AT&T puts an unfair burden on Kyle to keep subscriber attrition in check. I’m sure upper management doesn’t realize how lucky they are to have him.

In the spirit of the holiday, please express your appreciation to those who’ve served you well in the past year. If we let these folks know and share our stories with others (it’s as easy as a tweet or brief mention in conversation), just maybe kick-ass service will start to become a trend.

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Starbucks and CRM don’t mix

This isn’t the first time I’ve gone on a rant about Starbucks (nor will it be the last I’m sure). Each time I feel slightly guilty, because it’s not uncommon for me to blog from Starbucks. Then again, they get more than a fair share of my wallet, so I’ll get over it by the time I’m midway through this post.

The subject of this rant is the Starbucks Card. First, some background. The card itself offers customers the convenience of electronic currency, though I’m pretty sure baristas get screwed on tips now that fewer customers are dipping into their pockets and receiving loose change. Registering a Starbucks Card means creating an online account where contact details, credit card info, etc. are stored. This gives you access to free Wi-Fi, lets you avoid $0.40 surcharges for soy milk, and enables you to auto-reload your card. This last feature could backfire for certain folks who are super-vigilant of their credit cards transactions (as I am). In fact, ever since I saw how often Starbucks was charging my card 20 bucks, I’ve cut back, perhaps not on my total caffeine consumption, but certainly in downgrades from espresso drinks to house blends and dark roasts.

No, I’m not complaining that Starbucks has made me more financially responsible. As a marketer, I am in disbelief that the company has not better seized the opportunity that registered card holders present. It’s a database marketer’s dream to have access to such a wealth of customer data, including purchase history, buying habits, personal preferences, etc. We’re talking about brand evangelists here, engaged and loyal clientele who are presumably the most receptive to special promotions and offers. Why not a rewards program? A referral incentive? Or dare I say something even more tailored and creative – “Because you like X, we think you’ll like Y, so here’s a one-time coupon.” I have my “regular” drink, but I’m always open to something new.

This is just another example how Starbucks has vastly underutilized the power of CRM. As far as I can tell, aside from an occasional offer to complete a survey and receive a free drink (which may be completely random anyway), I’m not aware of any targeting that Starbucks does to uniquely position its product to the various customer segments it reaches.starbucks-logo-thumb1

This isn’t the first time I’ve gone on a rant about Starbucks (nor will it be the last I’m sure). Each time I feel slightly guilty, because it’s not uncommon for me to blog from Starbucks. Then again, they get more than a fair share of my wallet, so I’ll get over it by the time I’m midway through this post.

The subject of this rant is the Starbucks Card. First, some background. The card itself offers customers the convenience of electronic currency, though I’m pretty sure baristas get screwed on tips now that fewer customers are dipping into their pockets and receiving loose change. Registering a Starbucks card means creating an online account where contact details, credit card info, etc. are stored. This gives you access to free Wi-Fi, lets you avoid $0.40 surcharges for soy milk, and enables you to auto-reload your card. This last feature could backfire for certain folks who are super-vigilant of their credit cards transactions (as I am). In fact, ever since I saw how often Starbucks was charging my card 20 bucks, I’ve cut back, perhaps not on my total caffeine consumption, but certainly in downgrades from espresso drinks to house blends and dark roasts.

No, I’m not complaining that Starbucks has made me more financially responsible. As a marketer, I am in disbelief that the company has not better seized the opportunity that registered card holders present. Think of the wealth of customer data it has collected, including purchase history, buying habits, personal preferences, etc. It’s a database marketer’s dream to have access to such information for segmentation and targeting purposes. We’re talking about brand evangelists here, the most engaged and loyal clientele, presumably those most receptive special promotions and offers. Just another example how Starbucks has vastly underutilized the power of CRM.