Archive for the ‘Customer Service’ Category


Gold Stars

August 10, 2010

For years airlines have been working tirelessly to increase brand loyalty (create brand loyalty?) through frequent flyer programs. When the economy was booming the savvy traveler could rack up thousands of miles a month and be able to take lovely vacations at the end of the year. Businesses paid for travel and the whole “brand loyalty” aspect of the programs seemed to work. I know I certainly benefited from it.

Now we are in more austere times and smart businesses have realized that not every meeting needs to be face to face. I know that as a service provider I always look for ways to give my clients the most value for their money and conference calls beat plane trips most of the time. This has made a huge dent in the amount of travel for many of us.

Through one lens this might mean the death of any loyalty to an airline. What matters now is price. A different perspective is that every trip needs to be optimized to gain miles on a preferred carrier. I know my organization is optimizing for price. That just makes sense. The benefits of a frequent flyer program are far outweighed by the benefits of a good bottom line for the business.

So, last year I failed to achieve “gold” status on my preferred airline for the first time on almost a decade. This year will likely be the same. Am I really losing out on anything? Well, perhaps next year’s vacation will require more dollars out of pocket than miles from my account. That might make the vacation all the sweeter.

Fundamentally, that gold card when I go to the airport got me through the security line faster and made it more likely I would be in a first class seat. I miss it a little, but those perks are not really worth the savings to my clients and my business. Besides, I have a new gold card in my wallet.

Yes, I am a frequent drinker. The marketing team at Starbucks finally saw the opportunity they have been missing for years. Many of us visit Starbucks 2-3 times a week; some people go 2-3 times a day. This is real brand loyalty. It might also be “blind” brand loyalty — we are on auto-pilot as we cruise by and grab our latte each morning. However you want to define it, Starbucks has a strong hold on their customers.

The new Starbucks card program rewards frequent drinkers with a gold card after 30 visits. Every 15 visits after that you earn a free drink. There are some other benefits but they really don’t amount to much. When you present your gold card to the cashier you are treated exactly the same as every other customer — friendly and efficiently. You can’t jump to the front of the line and you don’t get to boot someone else out of the comfy chair while you drink your coffee.

What are the real benefits to me besides that free drink once a month (and a gold card with my very own name engraved upon it)? It is the “stars” you earn with each visit. This handy device for tracking your use of the card is the world’s simplest video game. I visit a store and another star drops into my cup. I can see my cup on my computer or on my iPhone through the Starbucks card app. I can also track the balance on my card. As dollars go down, stars go up. How can I minimize the amount I spend per star? Can I treat a friend to a drink just to earn another star? The gaming possibilities here are limited; and that is part of the appeal.

There are a lot of ways to win brand loyalty. The best way is to deliver an outstanding product or service to your customers at every touchpoint. But, don’t overlook the possibility of giving them a gold star for their efforts as well.


Why I love Nordstrom

February 21, 2009

Sometimes simple and thoughtful efforts on the part of a business can go a long way towards winning the hearts of customers. In this difficult economic time I have been watching how various businesses have approached this issue. Somehow Nordstrom, clearly an up market retailer, is finding a way to position itself appropriately with customers in the midst of the Great Recession. The below letter appears inside the cover of the latest Nordstrom catalog to arrive in my mail.

We at Nordstrom recognize that these are challenging times for us all. Now more than ever, we feel it’s important for us as a company to focus on what we can do to make a difference to you, our customer.

We know the things you appreciate every day, like great quality and outstanding value, are even more important to you right now. So we wanted you to know that our buyers are working hard to find the best items and best values from the brands you love. In fact, it’s our long-standing tradition to offer you the best possible prices, every day of the year. We do it by pricing all of out items fairly to begin with – without relying on one-day sales, discounts, coupons or other gimmicks. And, we constantly shop other stores so that we can guarantee you the best price on our merchandise.

The bottom line is: you’ll never pay more at Nordstrom. And if, by chance, you ever find one of our items priced lower somewhere else, or you receive a coupon that discounts any item we offer, just let us know. We’ll gladly beat that price.

We think of these extraordinary times as yet another chance to earn your business. And, we sincerely hope that your pleasure in shopping at Nordstrom always equals ours in serving you.


Blake Nordstrom, Pete Nordstrom, Erik Nordstrom

Even in these trying times we will all allow ourselves a little luxury now and then. I know where I will go when I do. And, I know where I will shop when the good times roll again.


Cingular follow-up

April 25, 2006

I want to present a fair picture of Cingular and their customer service. After sending the email previously posted (and a couple of subsequent escalation emails to the CEO & COO) I received a call from a very helpful person in their Executive Response department. She was willing to listen to my concerns and admitted that when she looked at my account history she couldn't really understand everything in there. She proposed a solution to me that brought closure to the issue. She followed up that conversation with a confirming email.

I wish it had never gotten to that point, but I was glad that there was finally an individual willing to take some action on my behalf.

All's well that ends.


The death of a customer

April 13, 2006

(I sent this email to my Cingular representative today) 


If a customer receives great service they might tell two friends. If they have bad service they will tell everyone they know.

Sometime in the past six months or so I came to the realization that I was in an abusive relationship with a vendor and had to find a way out. That vendor was Cingular and now you want me to pay for the privilege of leaving you behind and getting on with my life. Well, shame on you Cingular, shame on you.

Months ago I tried to get help from Cingular with my phone service. I tried to get you to do something as simple as meet your own request to switch from “blue” to “orange” (as if any reasonable customer should have to speak in YOUR lingo and understand the issues that surround your merger).  I spent over ten hours total attempting to have you solve a simple problem. Ten hours of my time when I could have been doing productive work for my employer (who is also your customer and your partner) or ten hours when I could have been spending time with my family and friends. But, it was ten hours spent talking to an endless succession of well-meaning, if clueless, customer service representatives. I wanted a simple problem solved so I would feel good about the service you provided. However, it was ten hours that left me feeling sick and disgusted and powerless.

In the past I might have suffered a bit and then told everyone I know. Well, I did more than tell everyone I know, I told thousands of people through my blog. You can read it here — — and this entry is the most visited entry I have ever posted. Why? Because I get people coming to my blog every single day searching on terms like “Cingular customer service sucks,” “bad customer service,” “Cingular sucks”. These are the words used by people searching the internet. These are thousands of people. Through the power of the Internet I was able to tell them all. I suggest you read it for some background (I don’t really feel like recounting the experience again here). If that particular blog posting does not depress and embarrass you, try this one:, or perhaps this search: .

I am proud to be an employee of Microsoft, and if my company treated a customer the way Cingular treated me, I would hang my head in shame. I would also work to fix it. I would work tirelessly to fix it. My customers mean that much to me. Your customers suffer.

Back to the abusive relationship. After that set of incidents with Cingular, and a few sporadic calls to try and get you to stop sending me an bill for $0 each month for an account you created and I never used, I just let it go. But, I didn’t really let it go. It kept gnawing at me. It kept making me feel as if I had been taken by a cheap con artist on the street and was too embarrassed to report it to the police. Finally, I had to do something.

I decided to try Verizon and see how they would treat me. I took baby steps, first just getting a phone and new number there. That took all of five minutes on their website. But then I got a bill from Verizon with a mistake. I called them, my hands practically shaking with dread over the abuse I would receive (I had been conditioned, like a good lab rat, by Cingular customer service). Well, it took all of five happy minutes for the Verizon CSR to solve my problem. No secret lingo about blue or orange, no switching me from rep to rep, no treating me as if I was an idiot for wanting something from the big wireless carrier. Nope, five pleasant minutes of having my problem solved. Then I called them to inquire about porting my number. That took all of 5 happy minutes. I was free at last. It felt so good I called back a couple of days later and ported my wife’s number as well (yes, there were two numbers on my Cingular account – what was I thinking?).

It was a terrific feeling to be free of the cycle of abuse. It was great to wake up and realize that each month when I got the Cingular bill I was holding my breath, fearful that there would be something wrong and I would have to call customer service was over. I was free.

Of course, you want to charge me $175 for that freedom (and another amount for my wife’s number, but that has yet to appear on the bill. I assume another $175 dollars). Yes, you want $350 for me to leave an abusive relationship. As if the abused spouse is the one that has to pay alimony. Frankly, I am disgusted and will take this issue to the Better Business Bureau, to Cingular executives, to the wireless press, and to every customer service blog on the Internet. $350? You should pay me for the time I spent on the phone. You should pay me for being subject to your rude and inconsiderate and abusive customer service.

Did I mention what I do for a living? I am a marketing person. That means I know how to get lots of attention for the products I market. I am very good at it. Guess I will be spending my own time marketing how Cingular treats its customers. Did I mention I used to work in the wireless industry? That means I have lots of contacts that can route me to the most senior Cingular executives. Did I mention how unhappy I have become over the thought of having to deal with Cingular at all?

Go ahead, send me bills for $350. I will send you a bill for $1000 (I figure my time is worth about $100/hr and I have spent at least ten hours dealing with you.)

Maybe, however, you will do the right thing. Maybe you will tell me I can be free of you without the requisite pound of flesh. I can only hope.

And, I will post this email on my blog as well. The dirty little secrets of your customer service woes are not so secret anymore.

Well, the choice is yours.  Is it time for you to be “raising the bar™” or not?

(Look it up: account XXXXXXXX – if you can find it somewhere in your system at all).


(btw, I happened to find this great entry in Guy Kawasaki's blog today)


Top 5

November 9, 2005

Top 5 Types of Interesting People:

5. Crispin Porter + Bogusky People
4. Cingular Customer Service People
3. Starbucks Baristas w/o Names
2. Celebrity Chefs
1. People that read my blog

Some follow-ups:
Cingular and I have come to a better place. Amazingly enough, it was the work of one dedicated account rep that took care of it all. Of course, since I was threatening to go to the person that did the purchasing for one of the largest accounts and complain I am not that surprised.

“12 Songs” (Neil Diamond)
12 Songs is very good. Not cheerful, but very good.

I did manage to lose some of that weight. I did not cut back on the drinking. Or the eating. Perhaps it is all in my head.

I love my new tattoo. Wish I could show it off.

Burger King playing football is not working for me. But, still love those smart folks at CP+B.

Variety is the spice of life.

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Yes, another bill from Cingular came in the mail today

September 22, 2005

And, have a I mentioned the other phantom “account” I have with Cingular (used to have with AT&T) that generates a bill for $0 each month? Has been doing so for more than a year.

It costs Cingular a lot each month to ensure I am frustrated (or amused).

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Cingular customer service

September 15, 2005

This is one of those blog entries where I actually take a company to task for being so incredibly bad at customer service that it enters the realm of the absurd. Cingular is one of those companies.

In fact, Cingular now holds a place of honor in the pantheon of bad customer service.

Yes, Cingular customer services sucks. (just in case any search engines have failed to pick up the topic here, I will repeat “Cingular customer services sucks).

The story is actually too long and convoluted to describe here, so I will just give you a quick summary.

How Cingular customer service sucks:

  • Cingular sends me, a happy AT&T Wireless customer, a piece of direct mail encouraging me to switch my plan to the Cingular network now that the acquisition is done. This is good for Cingular since they have way too many customer databases they are trying to maintain (I know this because I used to deal with both Cingular and AT&T Wireless as customers). This is good for me because they are offering a good rate deal and some free phones.
  • I call Cingular and discuss making the transition. This is the first of many many conversations I will have with these people. I try to explain to them how I want my AT&T plan transitioned and what I want in my Cingular plan. They don’t get it. (I have a very customized AT&T plan dating back to the first introduction of the GSM system and the fact that I use a lot of data and regularly made AT&T give me better deals).
  • After considerable conversation, they say “done! your new phones will arrive soon and you are now part of the happy Cingular family of customers. have a nice day and thank you for calling Cingular Wireless.”
  • I check the next day on their handy online system to see when my phones will ship to me (I am eager to get some new phones). The handy online system tells me the order has been cancelled and will not be shipping. I am puzzled. Instead of doing something useful with my time, I call Cingular again.
  • The new service rep says “hmmm, don’t know how that could happen. Let me check.” And he checks and checks (I am on hold a lot.). He finds whatever was causing the problem and says “All fixed.”
  • I check the next day on their handy online system to see when my phones will ship to me (I am eager to get some new phones). The handy online system tells me the order has been cancelled and will not be shipping. I am puzzled. Instead of doing something useful with my time, I call Cingular again. (sound familiar?)
  • Seems that my order did not go through right, says the rep. I am now frustrated. I begin to pressure him with the fact that I am a great customer and have been for many years with AT&T. I don’t want to move to Cingular system anymore, I want to stay where I am. Plus, I want some new phones.
  • We chat for a long time and get me back onto the AT&T system, but with the better rates of the Cingular plan. Since the phones they offered me to switch can not be used on the AT&T network, I have to choose from some others. I look at the list and say something like “sucky”.
  • Meanwhile, I am looking through the discount offers my company gets for employees (we are a very big technology company and score great discounts). Seems that T-Mobile is offering a better plan than Cingular and will give me a Motorola RAZR for $49 with a contract. Cingular wants me to pay $149 (with their “best” discount). Hmmmm
  • I now start pressuring the rep with this info and tell him I want Cingular to give me a RAZR (two actually, since this is for both me and my wife) for $49. He laughs. I tell him I am flipping to T-Mobile and will file a complaint through our corporate rep about the trouble Cingular has already cost me. I pressure and he puts me on hold.
  • “Oh boy, we can offer you the RAZR at $49” says my Cingular rep. In fact, with the additional discount I get through my company plan it ends up being about $44. He can’t believe he is able to do this, but so he is. I say “sold” and my account is now all set-up and two RAZRs are on their way.
  • All is right, a RAZR arrives in a couple of days. Where is the other one?
  • Oh, another box a couple of days later! Must be the RAZR! Open the box…
  • Inside are the two phones I ordered twice and cancelled twice as discussed above. That’s right kids, Cingular decided to send them to me anyway.
  • And, the other RAZR arrives a few days later.
  • I now have four phones.
  • I call my friends at Cingular again.
  • They are puzzled, to say the least. But, he swears all will be well and he will send me some return labels and I can send the phones back.
  • I get said labels and send phones back. Meanwhile, my wife and I are enjoying our $44 RAZRs.
  • Things are now good and settled and I can forget about Cingular.
  • A few weeks later a bill arrives. From Cingular. For the two phones I did not want, were cancelled twice, and were returned after receiving.
  • I call Cingular. I know the music by heart. My heart aches.
  • Oh well, says the first rep. Can’t help me with this, have to call credit department to get the bill put on hold pending investigation. She gives me the number (why they can’t simply transfer me I will never know). I call the credit folks.
  • The nice lady in credit says “oh no, I can’t help you. You should call customer service at this number (number I dialed in bullet point above). I am really angry now. Really.
  • I call customer service again. I explain again and again. The friendly Cingular rep has to hunt and find out what has happened. He has to call warehouses and other people and maybe even check with FEMA (early warning that they are not in good shape). Finally, they find that my phones are in a warehouse and once they are “processed” (which takes 2 weeks, god only knows why) then my account will be credited. I add one more tracking number and rep name to my long long list.
  • I am at ease. All is right.
  • Until another bill arrives telling me my payment for the phones I did not want and do not have is now overdue and I will have my account cancelled and be charged a $35 re-activation fee if I do not pay immediately.
  • Yes, this is for phones I do not have for an account that does not exist.
  • I am really really a glutton for punishment. I call Cingular. The friendly rep essentially has to go through the entire process the previous rep went through — finding the phones in a warehouse, talking to other reps, calling FEMA — and we spend a pleasant 45 minutes together. Finally, he assures me that the account I do not want using the phones I do not have is cancelled and I should not worry about the bill.
  • That was this morning. How long before I am billed again?

The total amount of time spent in the pursuit of phones and non-phones is in excess of 6 hours. Fortunately I make the calls while doing email in my office in the morning. I am on hold most of the time anyway. I can’t really work without those Cingular ads playing in the background anymore.

No single individual at Cingular did anything bad. They just never did anything good.

This is all the result of the absolute inability of corporations to merge their technology infrastructures the way they merge their legal and business infrastructures. Cingular has multiple systems, agents dedicated to specific systems, and no way to make it all work together. Cingular is busy moving accounts from one system to another, regardless of the fact that customers get screwed along the way.

I have a nice RAZR. Maybe I should call Cingular and see if I can get it upgraded?

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