Monday, October 29, 2012

Big Retailer has Big Problem

A friend of mine recently emailed a complaint to a large online retailer. He received a reply, obviously generated by a computer, that was designed to placate and dismiss. While my friend was aggravated by the lack of personalization, he will continue to do business with the company but will no longer buy the specific product that caused the complaint.

According to marketing guru Seth Godin, if a customer service protocol (your call center/complaints department/returns policy) is built around stall, deny, begrudge and finally, to the few who persist, acquiesce, then it might save money, but it is a total failure.

This particular retailer recently reported a quarterly loss.  While I suspect that part of that loss is that people have less disposable income, could some of it be the result of lousy customer service? This company operates on such thin profit margins that it has no financial reserves for providing good customer service. In addition, its formula for low prices and lousy service is spreading as it acquires other online retailers that are successful.  For example, my favorite shoe outlet is now part of this behemoth.  An employee there told me that the minute the reins passed from the original owners, his benefits were cut.

The only way any retailer can continually undercut the market is to shave costs in benefits, salary, quality, and service. You cannot do it any other way.  If we want to pay ridiculously low prices for everything, we must be willing to give up good service and good quality. 

I do not fault the retailer. It has made its position clear. I know exactly what this company stands for - low prices. It has been most successful in communicating this to its customers. It is up to us to decide whether or not we find this business model acceptable and are willing to support that corporate behavior by continuing to do business with the company.

Businesses communicate with customers through advertising and through service. We express our pleasure or displeasure with any company by where we spend our money.  Perhaps this retailer needs to listen to what we are trying to tell it.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Constitution Change a Secret

Changes to a constitution are a big deal.  Any proposed alteration to a constitution should be banner headlines, the lead story.  Not so in Illinois.

Imagine my surprise to go to my mailbox last week and discover the blue booklet that heralds a proposed amendment to the Illinois constitution.  I admit that I try to avoid the watching broadcast news during an election cycle but I do read the newspaper. This booklet was the first I'd heard about an amendment. I checked with several friends, several of whom are news junkies. They, too, were unaware of the amendment proposal.

I can only assume that the reason for the incredible lack of communication about this amendment is the subject matter.  Illinois is famous for its $83 billion in unfunded pensions. (The national problem is estimated to be over $1 trillion.)  The proposed amendment to the state constitution would require a super majority, 65%, to approve any increase in pension benefits. It is, at best, an effort to halt the practice of buying votes with benefits. At worst, it is a ruse.

Instead of facing the pension issue head-on and dealing with it, someone came up with this amendment idea.  It doesn't matter whether or not the amendment passes, the politicians can point to it and say they are working on the problem. This amendment, good or bad, is merely a ploy to avoid doing what needs to be done. 

I get the politics behind this measure. The boys in Springfield are saying a lot without uttering a word.  Again.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

If You Can't Say Something Nice

Boy are we a bunch of jerks. (There are other, stronger words I might use but they would be inappropriate.)

Did you see the posting about the news anchor, Jennifer Livingston, (watch it here) who received an email criticizing her weight?

The point isn't merely that she received the email; the point is that it was sent.  Livingston calls it bullying. It is certainly that. But it is also the act of a coward.

It has become obvious that we say many things electronically that we would be unwilling to voice in person. We hide behind our smart phones and our computers feeling smug and superior.  Somehow having access to world-wide forums removed our ability to be kind and thoughtful. Instead we are filled with rage and hate.  I addressed this in an earlier blog back in August and find myself doing it again.

And, just as I observed two months ago, the person who wrote the email, Kenneth Krause, is backpedaling.  (That clip is here.)  While I do not know the real reason for Krause's apology, I suspect it has a lot to do with the strong adverse reaction to what he did. The whole world has formed an opinion of this man and there may be unwelcome consequences for him as a result.

Many times this summer, such events made me remember the Disney movie Bambi and the instructions Thumper received from his father. "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."

Ripping each other to shreds does not improve our own lot in life. Telling someone she is fat doesn't make us thinner.  Calling a person stupid doesn't make us smarter. 

There are times when we all would benefit if we followed the advice from Thumper's father.  When you want to verbally assault someone, take a moment and think about whether or not anything will be gained by it.  I'll bet not.