Verizon’s Arbitrary Pricing Leads to Customer Confusion

There are three schools of thought on product pricing:

  1. Set it and forget it
  2. Set it and haggle
  3. Leave it open for interpretation

We are used to the price being the price and unless there is a coupon or special, the marked price is what you are expected to pay.  Conversely, if you have traveled to Mexico or other countries where pricing is a bidding war; you are also familiar with this entertaining debate where pricing becomes more of a game of “chicken.” Who ever blinks first is the loser.

But this last mode of pricing was new to me and I recently experienced it at the local Verizon store. Both of my children’s phones were up for a new phone. It had been two years and so I knew that I would be offered a significant discount on the purchase of a new model.  I went first to replace my son’s phone, knowing he didn’t care what it looked like so long as he could text and take pictures. He was still in the hospital so I went on a lunch break to replace his phone.

I was shown three models that met his needs and chose the middle model, one with a touch screen and nice camera feature. The price on the example was for those that weren’t due an upgrade so I looked for the sales person to tell me the price.  $99 before rebate, he told me. And the phone was eligible for a $50 rebate.  Cool.

We processed the paperwork, he transferred the data from old to new and bada bing bada boom, I was back at the hospital with a new phone. $106 and change with tax.

My daughter is more selective so I knew I would need to take her with me. Two days later we went to the same store but a different sales person was on duty. She was offered the same three choices and selected the same phone as my son’s. Unlike the first sales person, this one didn’t engage us in conversation as he went about typing in the information and so I took that moment to pull out my checkbook. The last check I’d written was the one for the other phone and so I said “So that will be $106 and change, right?”

He stopped typing, looked at me with a strange look and said, “Where did you get that price?”

“I bought the same exact phone two days ago, has the price changed?”

“No.”

“So it is $106 with tax, right?”

“No, it isn’t.”

“So, how much is it?”

“$150.”

Imagine my confusion. I explained that I just bought the same exact phone under the same exact conditions and didn’t understand the pricing difference. He told me, quite hacked off, that I was obviously given a special price.

I said that was a surprise to me as I hadn’t asked for a special price. I just asked for the price. I said, perhaps you aren’t familiar with the pricing of your inventory.

Well, that led to more indignation. Finally he looked at me and said “I can charge what ever I want for this phone. I can charge you ten cents if I want but I’d be out of business in a month, now wouldn’t I? Clearly the other person decided to give you a different price which I will honor but just so you know, that isn’t the price of the phone.”

Wow.

Here is a case, where a company has given their employees some freedom with discounts but forgot to teach them the benefit of making sure the customer knows up front that they are receiving a discount. Not to mention, teaching employees how to be gracious.

I still don’t know why I got the better deal the first time around (the second person did match that price) but I left feeling like I was cheating them out of their due. I felt embarrassed and uncomfortable. In the end I took the new phone before all of my daughter’s data was downloaded from her old phone because I felt so uncomfortable. I left with a bad feeling. I left feeling like I was a bad person. 

Now some of that may be my own personal issues 🙂 – but the bottom line is that when companies allow their employees to price willy nilly, it can back fire.

Today I am filling out the rebate forms and I notice that the first guy filled out the form for me so all I have to do is sign it while the second guy didn’t.  The bad taste continues.

Has this happened to you? Have you found yourself in a situation where there is pricing confusion and the employee makes you feel at fault? Did you go back?  Would you refer them?

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Crying Baby – Fancy Restaurant – Piece of Pie

Now here is a dilema for you to chew on.

Friends of mine just went out for a fancy dinner. They don’t normally go out, married over 30 years, both busy in their careers, they are lucky if they have time for a quick spin through the local drive through. But last weekend they decided to “dude” it up and go out for a special evening.

Seated at the table next to them was a couple with a baby. The baby was crying.  Not little delicate sounds but full on screaming crying with tears and hiccups and the whole nine yards.  This must be the baby’s regular mode of communication because the parents continued to enjoy their dinner without missing a beat.

Meanwhile, the guests at the nearby tables could barely hear themselves talk.

The waiter came up and apologized to my friends. “I am so sorry. The management would like to offer you a free dessert. Would you like a piece of pie?”

My friend replied, “Why on earth would I want to stay here longer? Isn’t there something you can do – say something to the parents? Suggest they take the baby out in the hall for a minute to calm her down?”

The waiter said “Oh no, I couldn’t do that.”

“So basically, what you are saying,” my friend surmissed, “Is that their money and their dining experience is more valuable to you and the management of this restaurant than all of the other people having to endure the screams.”

He didn’t know what to say and so quietly left the table. He brought them their check – no discount – no coupon for a return visit – no futher word about the fact that the evening out for my friends was ruined.

So what should have been done? Do you favor one customer over another because it is easier than confronting an unpleasant discussion?

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Preparing for Customer Disappointment

angry1This topic seems timely on the eve of Black Friday frenzy.  Retailers are expecting a record breaking volume of shoppers and sales this week . In an effort to gain the customer’s first dollars they are opening even earlier – some on Thanksgiving day! 

The ads, the offers, the promises being offered in pre-Thanksgiving day adverisements lead me to believe there are going to be some tired, cranky, disppointed customers when they get to the front of the line and discover that even getting in line at 2am wasn’t early enough to get the biggest gift at the best discount.

So how do you prepare for that disappointment? More importantly, how do you prepare for your employees, because they are the ones that will be dealing with customer’s frustration?

In a recent article by Andy Hanselman entitled Dealing with Customer Disappointment, he talks about companies training their employees to listen for key word phrases that might indicate a customer is less than happy.

Gee, in the optical world, we knew a customer was disappointed when they threw their glasses and said “these don’t work, I want a refund.” But perhaps some times the disappointment is a little more subtle.

Andy provides these valuable steps for preparing for customer disappointment:

  • Acknowledge it: we are going to make mistakes – customers appreciate it when we face up to that and then make it right
  • Empower for it: give your employees the tools necessary to correct the situation
  • Prepare for it: brainstorm with your staff – what things typically disappoint your customers?
  • Look for it: don’t wait for the verbal disappointment – keep your eye out for someone that is less than happy and fix it
  • Deal with it: bottom line – make it right!

I would like to add one thing and that is “step in your customer’s shoes” for just a minute. We  can acknowledge, empower and deal with it without really connecting with what customer is feeling. We grit our teeth, roll our eyes when our back is turned to the customer and grudgingly give them what they want.

Trust me – they can sense it.

However, if you stop for a minute and put yourself in their shoes, you will deal with the situation in a more empathetic manner. This too will be noticed by your customers. Noticed and appreciated.

In a recent study 92% of consumers said they would be willing to go back to a company after a negative experience if they received a follow up apology and/or correction.

Are you prepared for handling customer’s disppointments this holiday season? Are your employees empowered to fix the situation on the spot? Here is where we can take a page from the Ritz Carlton way of doing business.

Here is a listing of what an Employee of Ritz Carlton represents:

Service Values: I Am Proud To Be Ritz-Carlton

  1. I build strong relationships and create Ritz-Carlton guests for life.
  2. I am always responsive to the expressed and unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.
  3. I am empowered to create unique, memorable and personal experiences for our guests.
  4. I understand my role in achieving the Key Success Factors, embracing Community Footprints and creating The Ritz-Carlton Mystique.
  5. I continuously seek opportunities to innovate and improve The Ritz-Carlton experience.
  6. I own and immediately resolve guest problems.
  7. I create a work environment of teamwork and lateral service so that the needs of our guests and each other are met.
  8. I have the opportunity to continuously learn and grow.
  9. I am involved in the planning of the work that affects me.
  10. I am proud of my professional appearance, language and behavior.
  11. I protect the privacy and security of our guests, my fellow employees and the company’s confidential information and assets.
  12. I am responsible for uncompromising levels of cleanliness and creating a safe and accident-free environment.
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US Soldier Sends Message to HP Support

I have to be honest – I don’t think I have any words to add to this message from a PRIOR HP customer. Talk about poor customer service! 

HP – do you have anything to say for your approach to helping customers?

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Being Right Doesn’t Win Friends and Influence Customers

Happier Days

Happier Days

I  just had an argument with my son.  Not the first.  It comes down to a basic difference between what is right and what is wrong.  I’m the parent and so therefore, I am right.  No really.  I am.

But that apparently doesn’t matter as I’m watching him pack his suitcase. He has decided to move out.

The same holds true with our customers. We can be right from morning until night but if that isn’t the perception of the customer, they will also exercise their Two Feet Right.  The right to walk their two feet out of our business and on to the competition.

In both cases, I think we might re-evaluate the importance of stressing how right we are in favor of keeping a relationship with our customers.

And our sons.

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I Hate My Customer

The stories are coming in fast and furious.  I put the question out there:  “Has there been a time when you hated your customer – if so, what did you do to overcome the situation?  Did you save the day or choose to walk away?”

Here’s one story from Claire:

When I was younger, just starting out in a customer service/training role with an animal clinic, a very crabby couple would come in regularly with their dog. No one wanted to wait on them! I decided to take the challenge and give them the best customer service regardless of how they treated me. Apparently, they enjoyed the service so much that they tipped me! After that, each time they came in, they were a bit less crabby. I still gave them great service and received a tip in turn.

It was my first real “aha moment” with a customer that I didn’t like. I think that many difficult customers have had poor service in the past. Dazzle them and they may surprise you! Today, I am a Quality Systems Manager and still love getting that “aha moment” with both internal and external customers!

Talk about turning a bad situation around.  Check out more I Hate My Customer stories at my new blog.  Do you have a story to share?

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Top Customer Service Mistakes Companies Make

We learn so much more from our mistakes, don’t we?  I watch my kids, in particular my older son learn everything the hard way. Wouldn’t it be easier to just learn from others and not make the same mistake?

Dennis Snow recently wrote a white paper about the 5 Mistakes Companies Make with Customer Service.  In the nut shell they are as follows:

 

  • Not clearly defining what the customer experience is supposed to be.
  • Designing processes for the company’s convenience, not the customer’s.
  • Hiring the wrong people.
  • Not making customer service a significant part of new-hire orientation as well as ongoing training.
  • Tolerating poor service performance from employees at any level within the organization.
  • He nails it on the head.  I would just add two additional thoughts:

    1.  Failing to build the company on the needs and expectations of the customer. So often we decide we have an idea for a business but we fail to take our targeted customers on as thought partners. We can learn so much about what they really want and what expectations they have for the experience if we just ask them before we start down a wrong path.

    2. Creating a customer-first culture that holds true at every level of the organization and is the first thought in every meeting that determines marketing messages, policies and procedures.  We tend to focus our efforts on the employee that has the actual customer interaction and say that they are ones to provide the service. Yet if the management doesn’t support their efforts, it becomes challenging and often impossible to provide that service because employees’ focus is fractured by conflicting messages.

    As Dennis says – understanding expectations, hiring the right people and providing ongoing training, feeback and encouragement are key components to providing a great customer experience.

    What mistakes have you experienced in customer service? Help us learn from the error of your ways.

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    Is it a Good Experience?

    “Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.”

    That quote comes from Randy Pausch and his book The Last Lecture. I’m behind the rest of the world in reading, what I would classify as one of the most inspiration books I’ve ever read. Randy’s book offers so many wonderful nuggets of truth in relatable, bite sized pieces.

    In the last section of the book he writes a series of very short thoughts each focused on a different life lesson. This quote comes from the lesson Be the First Penquin.

    I’ve underlined so many passages in this book and in this chapter the opening quote – mentioned above – really struck home.

    Think about our life experiences and the experiences our customers have with us. We don’t always get what we want. And sometime, unlike the Rolling Stones classic hit, we don’t even get what we need.

    But we do get an experience.

    Just like the old adage – God always answers, it is just that sometimes the answer is “no.”

    So what do you do with that experience? The one where the answer is no and you don’t get what you wanted or needed or expected?

    It makes me think of my customers.  If I mess up and don’t deliver as promised – do I at least make sure the resolution is a good experience?

    Am I proactive in letting them know I’m going to be late or it will be not quite what they expected? Or do I wait for them to call, hoping they forget?

    If I bite off more than I can deliver – do I own up or hope they don’t notice?

    We can’t always please everyone. So when our customers are unable to get what they want…what kind of experience do we give them?

    And now, just cuz sometimes you should get what you want….

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    Toyota Rebuilds Trust

    Boy, Toyota has sure had a run of back luck recently.  Accelerators that stick and brakes that don’t work.  A bad combination.

    So how are they handling the situation?

    Check out the video commercial about how Toyota is focusing on customer cars FIRST“To restore your faith in our company.”

    • They aren’t hiding from the issue
    • No excuses are being made
    • They outline what they are doing to fix the problem
    • Every employee and dealer is involved
    • Number One Goal – Restoring Trust

    I applaud Toyota’s approach to a bad situation and feel confident that they will find a solution to the immediate problem and in the long run, they will continue the relationships with their customers and will probably gain new customers because of how they handle a crisis.

    Do you have a crisis management plan for your organization?  With Real Time Reviews a number one trend for 2010, you need to be ready to respond to online comments and concerns from customers.  Jonathon Bernstein offers 10 suggestions for using SEO in a Crisis situation. Communication is key. 

    Customer-focused communication, like Toyota is using in their ads is the best.

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    Silence is Deadly

    There is nothing worse than silence.  Whoever said “no news is good news” or  “silence is golden” must have been the parent of a new born because as an entrepreneur and the mother of a college student – there is nothing worse than NO NEWS.

    It’s Friday.  The end of the work week.  I should be wrapping things up – preparing for a girly weekend with my middle schooler, but no.  Why?

    SILENCE.

    On a personal front, my son is facing the consequences of his actions today and I’m awaiting news.  His phone is turned off – probably to avoid my text messages – and the silence is killing me.  So I focus on work.  Except, guess what??  SILENCE.

    I am presenting a series of four workshops on Social Media scheduled to begin February 10 and follow for three additional Wednesdays.  I’m very excited about the events and have receive great feedback from potential attendees. 

    Using the social media I so strongly believe in – I set up registration for all four classes on Events Bot.  It was a fairly simple process and even included HTML code for spreading the word and creating cutsie REGISTER NOW boxes.  Except here’s the rub.  Sign up for my class and get charged an unexplainable shipping and handling fee of $19.80.  What needs to ship?  Who are we going to handle?

    So I contacted the help desk.  The email gave me no answers.

    I sent another message to the help desk.  Nada.

    So I sent a message to the abuse email.  Nothing.

    I changed my account and paid for premium service thinking that maybe there was a glitch in the free service.  I got a lovely canned welcome email.  It included another customer service address to contact.  So I sent them a message. No return message.

    This is my first time using their service and could have been a long and mutually beneficial relationship as I am now using their premium service.  But no communication isn’t sitting well with me.  I see from the reports that a really good number of people are clicking on the events.  If only 10% of them purchased, my classes would have been filled yesterday.  So how many are getting to the invoice – seeing an additional $20 charge and cancelling out on their reservation?

    Silence from Events Bot is not helping my business or theirs.

    I was reading a recent post by Drew McLellan on follow up and the importance of being available and touching base and being responsive to your customers.  HA. 

    How true is that?   

    So once again, I’m hoping social media will work for one of two things:

    1.  You might know of a different event site I can go to and set up my events – please share and quickly.

    2. Events Bot has a Google alert set up for their name – will see this and finally give me an answer.

    Cuz here’s the deal.  I’m new. This is my first time.  It could very well be my fault.  In fact, I’m sure it is.  I’ve probably clicked something I shouldn’t have. But TELL ME. 

    As for my son?  Prayers.

    Okay.  don’t be silent – help me out here.  Anyone have advice for me?  Thanks a bunch!

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