Monday, September 24, 2012

Manager Mondays: The Gap in Customer Expectations, Part 2

In this week's Manager Mondays post, we tell a horror story as we revisit the problems that pop up when employee performance doesn't match your brand messaging.

This blog's first post on this subject talked about the critical importance of making sure your employees are aware of your website's current content.  But there's another dimension to the gap between your glossy brand image and your customer's actual experience.

Swindled By The Shack

My son Pete arrived last Tuesday from Europe, where he now resides full-time.  He was looking forward to a month-long visit back in the United States.  One of his first tasks was to start up his iPhone, since his regular cell phone service contract doesn't extend to this continent.  He wanted to get it to function stateside for four weeks, data plan and all.  Where to go for help?

Radio Shack was nearby, and having been told about its new brand emphasis as the one-stop shop for smart phones, Pete walked in. He hadn't been inside a Radio Shack for years, so the store's drastic redesign elements were new to him.  Expensive shelving installations, displays, and signage gave the premises a fresh, techno feel. Radio Shack has done a lot to revamp its image in the past few years, both on its website and at its locations.  It certainly seemed like a cool and different world in there.

The coolness extended to two staff people who were stationed behind a modern-looking circular counter in the center of the sales floor.  One of them, a woman, looked up.  She did not smile.  (Maybe it's not cool to smile?)  "What's up?" She said. (Her greeting sounded more like a tweet.)

Pete held up his phone and explained what he wanted.  The Radio Shack man asked one question: "Is it a 4 or a 4S?"  He pulled out a SIM card in a blister pack, which he sold to Pete for $25.00.  Pete asked what his new American phone number was, and he was told that to get it he would need to install the SIM card, then call AT&T.  Transaction over.

After going home and following these instructions, Pete learned the following during his call with AT&T:

  • he didn't have a new phone number;
  • his phone wouldn't work without a contract;
  • his new SIM card hadn't come with a contract;
  • AT&T could sell him a contract;
  • if he gone to an AT&T store first, he would have been sold the same contract -- and given the SIM card for free.  
Pete went back to Radio Shack to complain and ask for a refund.  "Sorry, we can't refund SIM cards once they're out of the box," the "What's Up?" woman told him. When Pete said that AT&T would have given him one for free, her male compatriot pointlessly pointed out that SIM cards cost Radio Shack $24.99 and they weren't making any money on the sale.

Politely, Pete clarified that since he had clearly stated that he wanted to equip his iPhone with an American phone plan, he felt that he had been misled to believe the SIM card came with a plan.  He said that when the Radio Shack people said to call AT&T, he had assumed that the call would be about activating a plan -- not purchasing one from scratch. So now he was wondering, if they couldn't take their SIM card back, what else could the Radio Shack people do to make it right?

What do you think should have happened at this point?  Should the Radio Shack representatives have:

  • made an exception, taken back Pete's card, and issued a refund?  
  • called AT&T to try to get him a better deal?
  • offered to pay for at least part of the AT&T plan?
  • offered him one of their own no-contract phones for free for a month?  
  • offered him store credit?
  • given him a coupon?
  • at least let him pick out a nice iPhone case from their beautiful redesigned product display wall, to partially compensate him for his trouble?

Here's what did happen.  The Radio Shack man said:  "Look, you asked for a SIM card and I sold you a SIM card."

Whoa.  That's right.  Go back and read it again.  Radio Shack didn't give him anything, except a revised history of the problem which placed the blame on Pete, the customer. Pete's communication had been faulty. So now Pete was stuck.

This is Exhibit A for what NOT to do, and Radio Shack did it.

What's the moral of this story for you?

If you're a sales manager, no matter how well-informed your sales staff may be about your product line, if they don't know how to listen to the client, then tailor your company's products and services to the client's needs, they're still not knowledgeable enough.

Lost Connections

People expect a lot when they speak with your company representatives. They expect what they hear from your people to match what they saw on your website.  They expect your folks to at least try to fulfill the promises you made in your advertising.  But most of all, they expect to get something they want or need.

In my opinion, you're already approaching the danger zone when your staff starts a conversation with "What's Up?" instead of "What can I do for you?"  And you're certainly in trouble when your staff is so eager to sell something that they don't take the time to make sure it's what the customer had in mind.

A huge part of brand identity is simple quality of service.  If your staff can't treat your customers right, your glitzy new promotional campaign doesn't matter, and neither does your store decor.  No matter how glamorous your website is, if your staff isn't paying attention to your customers' needs, your company is still doomed to sink into the crowded field of mediocrity that makes up the bulk of any industry.  Without skilled, enthusiastic and responsive service, all your highly-engineered "wows" will turn into one big expensive "meh."  Or worse.

Pete held onto his useless SIM card, took it to an AT&T store and bought a plan from AT&T.   With his iPhone finally working, he immediately called several friends to arrange his stateside social calendar.  The next day, he met up with his old college posse at a Manhattan dance club.  The day after that, he had breakfast at a diner with relatives, then attended a wedding in Brooklyn.  And so on.  And he did it all with his iPhone in his hand.

How many people do you imagine have heard his "I Was Swindled By Radio Shack" story by now?

How many of your clients are carrying around -- or driving in --or looking at -- or using on a daily basis -- things that remind them of the disappointing service they got from your company?

Have you communicated a clear service delivery plan to your client-facing staff?  Do they know that you want them to listen first, and sell later?  Or are they going for the sale so diligently that they are wrecking your service image in the process?

Training programs cost time and money, so a lot of companies don't have them (though I think they would see a big spike in revenue if they did).  If you're in charge of a sales team, and your company hasn't provided a customer service training program, guess what -- you're their training program.  You need to give adequate messaging about the importance of customer service so that your sales staff at least knows to do four things:

  1. Listen to the customer.
  2. Meet the customer's needs.
  3. If you can't meet the customer's needs, find someone who can.
  4. Never blame the customer.
If your troops can't cover those four bases, you shouldn't stay in business.

By the way, if anyone out there is looking for a great customer service training program for their client-facing staff, check out this link: 

Even if you're not in charge of a sales staff, if you're in charge of ANY staff at all, tell your people to treat people like people.  Make sure they have the systems and tools to do it.  Make sure their compensation plan and employee recognition programs reward them for good people skills, not just productivity -- because in the long run, success comes from helping people, not from being productive.

Keep communicating the importance of putting people first, not only by your lofty words, but by your living example.

When was the last time you coached your team on how to listen?

When was the last time you listened to your team?

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