Will Donald Trump’s personal brand take a hit from all his recent tomfoolery?

Check out my second blog for the post, TRUMP IS JUST BEING TRUMPY.

A couple days ago, I returned a dress to Kenneth Cole in NYC. Clearly criminal behavior, based on the way I was treated. The staff seemed almost surprised that I had the receipt AND the credit card associated with it.

Once the associate began the return, he asked for my phone number. I declined to provide it. He said “they” needed it, or he couldn’t process the return. Since the card associations (in this case Mastercard) do not require a phone number for a return, the “they” in these cases is clearly the retailer. But in some cases – where providing a phone number is the shortest path between me and my money – I provide a phone number. Sometimes it’s mine and sometimes, not so much.

Since I squeaked out a weak protestation, I suppose, the associate snarkily replied, “Are you having a good morning, miss?”

Grr.

I said yes.  What I really wanted to say was, “Why? Does Kenneth Cole require a phone number AND a good attitude for a return?”

How much business do these companies need to lose to Internet shopping before they realize that they’re going to have to make a face-to-face transaction really, really good?

Which reminds me of another experience I had recently at Best Buy. I bought a not-unusual item for about $30. I paid cash. Simple.

‘Turns out the item did not have the feature I needed, so I went back to the store a few days later to return it. I had not opened the blister pack, etc. – the item was pristine.

The rep at Returns asked for my phone number. Then I think she may have asked for my email address. Since I use an email specifically for this purpose (cataloguers and the like) I gave it to her. I did ask why it was relevant for a return, and again it was the mysterious “they” who needed it.

Sidebar: Do you think there’s a “They Club” somewhere where all the theys hang out, eat candy and plot their next diabolical scheme? The TSA could run it.

So anyway, the associate has my phone number and my email and I’m holding on, I can do this, go with the flow. Then she asked for my driver’s license.

This is a problem.

My driver’s license for a $30 item? My driver’s license number is not a retailer’s business, particularly when I make a (low-value) purchase with cash. I don’t recall anyone at the store when I purchased the item having any trouble taking my cash: they only appear to have a problem giving it back.

But this post isn’t about the fact that fraud and theft have driven some retailers to do crazy lengths and that they clearly believe an employee can’t do hard things like ask for a driver’s license only for items priced at more than, say, $100.

No, this post is about creating an environment where employees and customers feel welcome and understood.

This “they” thing is pervasive – and completely unnecessary. What it means is that associates are either trained to say “they” – which would be super obnoxious – or they’re not trained for pushback from the consumer at all, and squeeze out a “they” because they truly do not know what to say. In either scenario, the retailer has pitted some innocent, often 19-year-old kid against an unhappy customer, transforming this stranger across from me into the faceless “they” – The Corporation.  And no harried consumer appreciates this when s/he’s trying to get something done.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The associate is human, the shopper is human. Why aren’t employees trained to diffuse the situation but making eye contact and saying something like (insert head shake here): “I know, but Best Buy requires me to do it. I’m really sorry.” Or replace the “sorry” with an “I know it can be annoying.” Or “I know it seems silly and I will try to get you out of here as quickly as possible.”

Something – anything – that reinforces and reminds the customer that the employee is not the company. We all do things we don’t like to do: when a sincere rep looks me in the face sympathetically and says anything close to the phrases above (and the smart ones do), it is a far warmer transaction for both parties.  Then we’re in this together.

And let’s not forget the employee’s feelings too, by the way: how does Best Buy think this rep feels about her job if half of it is occupied by unhappy shoppers? So the company is whittling away at morale by tossing these kids out on the floor without the appropriate “human interaction” training, as well.

Once again I am inclined to say… Grrr.

So the next time, gentle reader, an employee says that “they” need you to swab the inside of your mouth to prove that you’re you, take a deep breath, consider writing an email or letter to the retailer and assess all of your shopping options. Fortunately for us, there are more choices than ever.

Mojo readers know that I follow two wise business cartoonists and like to share their work once in awhile. On my second blog, Marketing Observations Grown Daily, it’s David JonesAdland. Here, it’s Tom Fishburne’s Brand Camp.

Enjoy!


That’s a trick question.

Check out my second blog for the new post, “BEYAZ CREEPY AS POSSIBLE.”

And thanks.


In December 2007, I went to a breakfast about women and financial services and wrote the post you see below as a result.

Flash forward to February 2011, and Wells Fargo launches a new Web destination for women thinking about retirement, backed by the results of a new study on the same topic. 

As I surfed over to Beyond Today, I was optimistic.  Unfortunately, I found more of the same.

Really happy older couple

Why why why must we continue to alienate big blocks of women? 51 million women in the United States are single and I’d wager that a lot of them, like me, don’t cook.  To start a blog post about investment allocation with “Pasta, pot roast, peas… ever get in a rut with your menus?” is just old school. Not to mention the shot of the hysterically-delighted older couple (maybe he’s on Viagra) on the home page while 40-50% of marriages end up in divorce, 32 million people live alone, women live considerably longer than men, etc.  Or the primary involvement of Jean Chatzky: an expert I like, but one who is frequently seen in other venues (like The Today Show and Oprah).

In other words, there’s no new news here – still Version 1.0.  I guess I expect more.  Maybe the thrashing is because gender is no longer (or shouldn’t be) a primary segmentation characteristic in the first place.

Women And Financial Services
December 2007

I attended a breakfast last week entitled “Marketing to the Female Investor.”  I was pretty jazzed about this because, in addition to a pretty good expert panel, the core of the event was a review of fresh research on the topic and I was looking forward to getting a sophisticated update on my own experienced-but-possibly rusty notions.

That’s not exactly what the audience got.

The research’s executive summary declares that “single women are on the rise” (is this the 70′s?) and the study confirms that women are living longer, marrying later, get 58% of all undergrad degrees awarded in the US and are opening businesses at 2x the rate of men.  Speakers presenting the research still referred to this as the “women’s market” – despite the fact that 52% of all US citizens are female – and declared that members of this group have “special needs.”  The research itself, as in years past, said that 71% believe that financial services marketing is targeted to men, and fewer women then men say they understand financial services products well or extremely well (e.g. mutual funds, stocks, IRAs, trusts).  A nervous presenter inadvertently plunged me into a moment of despair when she explained that, while the female respondents may not have an equal understanding of said products, “they are still intelligent.”

Good grief.  Had nothing changed in 15 years?

When the morning (mourning?) turned to the panel, however, the tone began to change for the better.  Most of the panelists’ real-life priorities and programs focused on women’s changing roles in society, and how these role changes are increasingly non-linear:   that women, more so than men, may move back and forth between the core roles of provider and caregiver… and may, as a result, be more or less educated about financial services, may be shopping for products at different times, etc.

So is there a primary segmentation scheme more relevant than gender?  Is it more valuable to target based on whether a person of either gender is home taking care of a child or aging parent vs. bringing home the bacon?  With roles, education levels and life span all changing, is gender becoming a secondary variable, rather than a primary one?

I sketched out the following during the session (and since I can’t draw in 3D, I just inserted the “Decision Maker” axis in here so I wouldn’t forget about it…):

There’s no question that, when observed in as close to real circumstances as possible, men and women tend to have different ways of consuming information, choosing financial advisors and so on.  But, right or wrong, “women’s marketing” has frequently been housed in retail bank groups focused on special niche populations – and this has not served to create a breakthrough positioning for, well, anyone.

Maybe we’ve reached a critical mass at which point it’s not whether one is female or male that should drive marketing communications and sales process design, but rather the role a person plays that dictates her – or his – financial needs, habits and buying behaviors.

Readers know that I’m partial to a couple cartoonists and like to share their work now and then.  On my second blog,  it’s David Jones‘ Adland.  Here, it’s Tom Fishburne’s Brand Camp.

In honor of Valentine’s Day, here’s a cartoon from Tom.  I like to think of it as…  sort of a budding Internet mogul run amok. Enjoy!

Anyone remember Mona Shaw?  I wrote about her in March, 2008 after Comcast stepped on her last nerve and she smashed every computer, phone and keyboard within swinging distance at their local office.

She was upset, and understandably so.  It’s worth re-reading the story if you have the time.

Many of the customer service horror stories we hear are characterized by just this kind of anger and accusations of incompetence.  But what if a customer service rep is fantastic, and it’s the brand that falters?

Such was my experience when I called Verizon Wireless to find out why my voicemail wasn’t working.

I sat on hold for two or three minutes, listening to hold messages about new products and services (The iPhone is coming! The iPhone is coming!), before a rep came on the line.  She was a good listener and really got into it.  She tried to reactivate my phone three or four times.  She seemed very competent, so I let her keep trying.  This went on for fifteen minutes.

When she could not solve the problem on her own, she put me on hold while she hunted for someone at the technical help desk.  This time, I was on hold for nearly ten minutes, sitting in total silence.

She then put me on the line with a tech specialist, and stayed with me on the call.  Here’s how that call went:

Tech help desk dude: “Hello, Miss Fierman.  Where are you right now?”

Me: “In New York City.”

Tech help desk dude: “We have a citywide voicemail outage in New York right now.”

Oh.

Wait – WHAT?  I’ve been on the phone for 30 minutes, a customer service rep tied herself in pretzels and Verizon knew about the problem all along? But no worries, said Dude:  it’s been submitted with a “critical” ticket.

Here’s what should be submitted as critical, Ms./Mr. Service Provider: your customers’ time and sanity.   Within a couple hours, voicemail was working once again.

This experience reminded me of a key principle of customer service that seems so hard for many companies to navigate:  We (consumers) don’t need you (product/service provider) to be perfect 100% of the time.  That’s not going to happen.  We’re not perfect and we know you’re not, either.  HOWEVER:  please demonstrate that you can think like a customer by respecting both my time and emotional intelligence.

That’s where Verizon Wireless really fell down on this one, when only one or two small gestures could have made all the difference:

1.  Leverage technology.

a. Use your website. Companies like VW have consumers reasonably well trained to go to their personal home pages on the provider’s site.  While a company may not want to broadcast its failures to the universe, why not give me access to a “Known Issues” list once I’ve logged in?  I’d be one click away from learning that something was happening and when I might expect relief.   No phone call needed.

Assuming that the problem was corrected in an acceptable time frame, this would have been a good customer service experience.

N.B: it’s not always the initial problem that really irritates customers, it’s how a company handles it.

b. Use your VRU.  I occupied the first few minutes of the call listening to hold messages and staring into space.  Had one of these recorded messages mentioned an outage, or if I’d been able to find this information via the phone tree, I would have been satisfied and hung up.  Time Warner Cable offers this feature in New York City, and it’s quite useful.

Ditto the good customer service experience.

c. Use my email address. Why did I give you my email address and opt in for messages if you don’t use it to send me information that is actually important?  A company like VW could use notifications like any airlines and banks do.  And like the airlines and banks, such alerts could be promoted as a customer benefit.

2.  Leverage your team (even if you have to rethink your definition of “team”).

The blowback from this kind of episode reaches far beyond an unnecessary thirty minute call.  A talented customer service didn’t have the information she needed and poured herself into an unsolvable problem.  Then she was embarrassed and apologized when she heard what the tech said (even though I assured her that the situation was not her fault).  This should never happen: there are many ways that a company like VW can communicate with its call centers in real time.  A rep reads a screen, and it’s over.

And how about the tech guy?  He’s taking what I would consider non-technical calls, his queue is endless and he can’t help customers the way he would like.

What do these circumstances do to employee morale?

Will these two employees stay, but harden their attitudes (and complain to fellow employees)?

Will they ultimately talk about their work experiences on the Web?  Could that keep good prospects away?

If you multiply my experience by a thousand or two, will either of them quit, thereby producing more churn, more expense (which VW will pass on via its pricing) and more customer interactions with less-experienced staff?

And so the wheel turns…

Gestures that may seem small can produce mighty ripple effects from one end of a business ecosystem to the other.  As consumer behaviors and habits change, as technology changes, as internal systems change… a company must constantly put itself in the path walked by the customer (and its own staff) in order to discover and address opportunities to make things better.  And the real day-to-day magic isn’t in the big system rewrites or product announcements – it can be in the small adjustments. 

Observe the small things, and the ripple effect might just flow in the opposite direction.

A version of this post was originally published HERE on the Marketing Executives Networking Group’s blog, MENGBlend

Groupon Groupies

January 24th, 2011

Readers know that I’m partial to a couple cartoonists and like to share their work now and then.  On my second blog,  it’s David Jones‘ Adland.  Here, it’s Tom Fishburne’s Brand Camp.

This entry focuses on a favorite topic of mine: group buying blindness.  In fact, I thought it perfectly echoed a post I wrote recently titled “Now with More Groupon!! Gets Whites Whiter!” Or maybe my post echoed his post…

You get the idea.

Enjoy.

Remarks of Senator Robert F. Kennedy to the Cleveland City Club, Cleveland, Ohio – April 1968

This is a time of shame and sorrow. It is not a day for politics. I have saved this one opportunity to speak briefly to you about this mindless menace of violence in America which again stains our land and every one of our lives.

It is not the concern of any one race.  The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one – no matter where he lives or what he does – can be certain who will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. And yet it goes on and on.

Why? What has violence ever accomplished? What has it ever created? No martyr’s cause has ever been stilled by his assassin’s bullet.

No wrongs have ever been righted by riots and civil disorders. A sniper is only a coward, not a hero; and an uncontrolled, uncontrollable mob is only the voice of madness, not the voice of the people.

Whenever any American’s life is taken by another American unnecessarily – whether it is done in the name of the law or in the defiance of law, by one man or a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence – whenever we tear at the fabric of life which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, the whole nation is degraded.

“Among free men,” said Abraham Lincoln, “there can be no successful appeal from the ballot to the bullet; and those who take such appeal are sure to lose their cause and pay the costs.”

Yet we seemingly tolerate a rising level of violence that ignores our common humanity and our claims to civilization alike. We calmly accept newspaper reports of civilian slaughter in far off lands. We glorify killing on movie and television screens and call it entertainment. We make it easy for men of all shades of sanity to acquire weapons and ammunition they desire.

Too often we honor swagger and bluster and the wielders of force; too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of others. Some Americans who preach nonviolence abroad fail to practice it here at home. Some who accuse others of inciting riots have by their own conduct invited them.

Some looks for scapegoats, others look for conspiracies, but this much is clear; violence breeds violence, repression brings retaliation, and only a cleaning of our whole society can remove this sickness from our soul.

For there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly, destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is a slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter.

This is the breaking of a man’s spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a man among other men. And this too afflicts us all. I have not come here to propose a set of specific remedies nor is there a single set. For a broad and adequate outline we know what must be done. When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies – to be met not with cooperation but with conquest, to be subjugated and mastered.

We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as aliens, men with whom we share a city, but not a community, men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in common effort. We learn to share only a common fear – only a common desire to retreat from each other – only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force. For all this there are no final answers.

Yet we know what we must do. It is to achieve true justice among our fellow citizens. The question is now what programs we should seek to enact. The question is whether we can find in our own midst and in our own hearts that leadership of human purpose that will recognize the terrible truths of our existence.

We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions among men and learn to find our own advancement in the search for the advancement of all. We must admit in ourselves that our own children’s future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or revenge.

Our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in our land. Of course we cannot vanish it with a program, nor with a resolution.

But we can perhaps remember – even if only for a time – that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short movement of life, that they seek – as we do – nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.

Surely this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our hearts brothers and countrymen once again.

Robert F. Kennedy
Cleveland City Club
April 5, 1968