Eerily Similar to My Dell Experience

Guy Kawasaki points out a possible challenge to the iPhone's success...its involvement with AT&T.  Does this transcript of the help session sound familiar?  It's a non-native English speaker from somewhere else that has absolutely no capacity to understand something outside of the scripted possibilities.  This is the number one reason I don't do business with companies.  (my Dell experience post)This type of "customer disservice" wastes my time and theirs and damages the brand (AT&T doesn't need more damage). I think what really makes these auto-foreign chat service rooms more distasteful is the constant apologetic nature of the agent.  Stop apologizing and start DOING @@#$%@$%!!~%#$^

Customer Service Case Study: The Marketplace at Jordan Creek

I've given The Market Place At Jordan Creek numerous free passes.  I've spent 20-30 minutes wandering the isles and asking questions of employees.  I've queried others on their experiences there.  Now, I feel obligated to ask the question of the store's management:  Where is the customer service experience?  On the scale of 1-10...with 5 being neutral, I'd give the place a 4.  Here's why.

  1. I've never been greeted nor has any employee even made eye contact with me while passing by.  Most seem interested with performing a task or getting to "the next thing" whatever that is.  I offer a fresh clean canvas every time I go into a place like that.  It's as though I have a sign hanging that says, "Please paint your masterpiece on me...sell to me, educate me, let me experience this store as though it's an offshoot from my own gourmet kitchen!  I will loyally buy and send as many people as possible to increase your revenues if you'll just ask me in!
  2. The meat counter consistently has items that don't look very fresh.  The Marketplace only offers Prime Dry Aged Beef.  Thus, when I'm spending $19.99/lb vs. $7.99 from Costco, I expect excellence.  Today, I stopped by for a coffee at 12:30PM and found all of the meats in the counter still wrapped up in plastic with many slots for more trays vacant.  The fish looked a bit dried out around the edges.  Again, if I'm buying Ahi Tuna for a gourmet seared rare tuna better be fresh like nobodies business. Today, a gentleman approached the meat counter while I was there.  He asked, "Do you have any lamb or other specialties?  The meat clerk replied, "No, just beef, chicken, and pork."  The gentleman casually replied, "Sounds like a HyVee or Dahls to me," and walked away.  (For non-Iowa readers, those are our supermarket chains in town and to their credit, they have much more attractive meat counters than The Marketplace at this stage.)  Now two meat clerks present, they simply sat mute after that statement and the gentlemen went off..most likely to spend his money elsewhere.

This is the kind of store that must have massive overhead.  Their inventory is huge.  Selection is probably unrivaled.  But guess what?  It's going to bleed to death slowly unless it makes raving fans out its potential client base. 

Please engage someone to train in customer service effectively so that EVERY employee (partner, associate) is engaging the customer and attempting to go above and beyond. 

I guarantee that if you took surveys on the experience there for 30 days...then put a black apron on me or many other readers of this blog and you'd get a massive boost in scores and repeat business. (Shall we develop a charity customer service roving team?)

It's simple.  Build a connection with those customers and they'll come back because they love you.  You aren't selling food and beverages, you're selling an experience.  Thus far, my experience is exponentially better at HyVee where I'm greeted by literally every employee that passes me.

If you do pay attention to the blogosphere Market Place management, I'd gladly sit down with you or do some mystery shopping.

Here's their front splash page blurb on how they approach customer service:

We strive to provide exceptional customer service through extensive training for our store associates.  Stressing knowledge, courtesy and prompt response to the needs of the customer, our goal is to develop loyal long-term customer relationships. In addition, we strive to develop a long-standing relationship with customers who are interested in pursuing culinary arts with our specialized culinary and cooking events, as well as, guest chef appearances.

Bite Your Tongue

I've been verbally and electronically accosted a few times in the last month.  The topic has always been the same:  technology.  More specifically, I've been on the receiving end of a technology reaming, given by a technologist, over something that I cannot understand beyond superficially knowing the terms being used.
In all cases, the situation was actually not my doing...rather it was the technologists emotional overreaction to:

  1. The technologist not having all of the facts.
  2. A problem that was created and fostered by people at the technologist's company.
  3. The immediate human reaction of trying to assign blame.
  4. Having their rear chewed.

My gut reaction is to lash out and throw down.  My professional senses have learned to listen, acknowledge, and accept what the person is saying as a "temporary truth".  Additionally, I take the drop everything and resolve the situation approach. In all cases, the lashings I received were unwarranted and in fact, later the true causes were discovered and addressed.

I received no apologies or atonement for having been the whipping boy.

The Lesson:
There will be many situations like this in your business.  Avoid gut reactions.  Sit on those flaming response emails for at least 24 hours to cool off.  Accept that when emotions are hot, blame will fly.  Understand the it's entirely possible that the person on the other end is missing chunks from their posterior because the boss man/woman ate them for breakfast.  Calm down and work methodically to resolve the issue.  Don't expect's the price you pay sometimes for excellence. 

Airline Frequent Flier Programs

UsairI know working for the airlines is tough and that the industry has suffered.  You can "taste" the cutbacks in food (or lack thereof), drink selections, attitudes, delays, and general service quality.  One area that seems to have suffered heavily is the frequent flier programs.  For years they've been making the rules stiffer and reducing options, but what I've noticed recently is an absolute absence of human bodies in these departments.  I've emailed and faxed to no avail many times recently on at least 3 airlines.  My issue is one of those that I'd prefer to handle via email or fax since it will inevitably require me to fax/send paperwork anyway.  The bottom line here is that I emailed US AIR about two weeks ago, receive the automated "we're working hard for you email" and then have received nothing back now.  American still provides me excellent service in this category by the way.  Then, I receive a marketing email, asking them to vote for them in the Freedie Awards, the industry's way of slathering gravy on each other I guess.

I hope the airline's culture has not shifted to "well, that's just free stuff anyway so it can wait or be cut" because that "free stuff" is called MY LOYALTY.  I actually make conscious decisions to fly with you over and over again to get some modicum of reward for being absent from my family XX days per year.   I know things are tough but they're tough all over.   

Amateur Move But Fixed

I use GoDaddy email forwarding for my domain.  Silly me let the mailbox fill up since day-to-day, I filter everything through gmail.  Anyway, the problem is fixed so if you've received a bounced email when trying to contact me, I apologize.  No wonder the volume has been low the last few days.

[email protected] is fully engaged.

Fox is back baby

Mediacom and Sinclair reached an agreement today on bringing FOX back to Des Moines cable.  I'm not sure what the catalyst was this time...but it's a done deal.  I can now watch 24 anytime I please on DVR.  Thank goodness this is over.  Thanks to Scott Westerman again for being a voice of reason and customer care during this bad situation. 

Three Cheers For Panera!

I'd like to tip my hat today to Panera.  Today I was greeted by name (wow!), I was asked about what I was doing, there was a comment about my lack of attendance lately (coincidental travel not staying away on purpose), and was engaged in conversation about my business travel and was made an offer to swap jobs for a while!

I felt more connected there than ever before.  I don't know if our blog posts have reached someone...and frankly that's not important to me. 

Today, Dorothy brought some added joy to my hectic day and made me feel like a valued customer.  I appreciate this immensely and can't wait to engage again. 

My telecom nightmare

I moved to Iowa about 13 months ago. Upon arrival, I was welcomed and really hooked up by Mediacom, the cable company presently embroiled in a battle with Sinclair Communications. I've posted on that deal before.  At the end of the day, I'm at the nexus of the perfect storm regarding my whole telecom infrastructure:

  1. I no longer have Fox (24 being the main issue) so I cannot DVR it and must switch over to rabbit ears to see it in scratchy low def.
  2. All of my discounts just expired.  I now have a $180/mo bill for internet, phone, and cable.  That does include a $20 discount on phone.  Mediacom seems to have no interest thus far in keeping me as a customer.  They must be trained with shock therapy to not even flinch when you say, "I'm going to take all of my services elsewhere unless you sharpen this pencil."
  3. My wife wants to keep a local 515 Des Moines, Iowa phone number (now with Mediacom using their excellent unlimited VOIP.  I'm in favor of ditching regular phone all together.  Our cell phones are CA area codes and must remain that way for another reason not worth explaining.
  4. I have Vonage for business already in the house
  5. I have a skype account and skype IN phone number but they don't even offer 515 area code for that nor does Yahoo Phone.

My buddy forwarded me a link to Grand Central where you can use one 515 phone number and it will ring to any phone you want it to ring on (cell, office, etc.)  It's free right now but probably wont be forever and it's a bit clunky.

Anyway, I'm anxious to hear someone's suggestions if they have them..but I'm pretty sure I've covered every conceivable way of doing this..and that I'm left with bending over for Mediacom and living with rabbit ears, or going the DirecTV / Qwest phone/DSL route.      

I'm Having Trouble Holding On

I'm really having trouble remaining entrenched Panera.   I don't want to launch a revolt, rebellion, or negatively impact their business but here's my feelings at present.

  1. I've been going there for over 6 months now.  I'm a stranger EVERY day to the employees and managers there.
  2. Not a soul has remembered my name...ever.  Even when I've provided the mnemonic.
  3. I've been introduced to most that work there by Mike Sansone.  I've tried to interact and create a sense that I care at the register, etc.  No luck. 
  4. Unlike Starbucks, my Panera doesn't care much about the "cafe" area.  They clean it infrequently, usually only after the entire rush is gone...and sometimes that's hours.
  5. The coffee is frequently empty or past is "expiration date" posted on the pot.
  6. I have no complaints about the food quality whatsoever.
  7. Yesterday, I was there from 10AM-5PM.  I'm like a big rock in the middle of the road.  It must take special care to avoid me.  How is this possible?

I will hold on for a while and will likely continue to utilize Panera as my office away from home...but I am looking.   Is it just University Panera?  I did visit the Panera on 86th in Johnston (Urbandale maybe?)...and I felt more of a sense of community there immediately from the employees.  There are many businesses around town with free wireless connectivity.

This Just In On Mediacom-Sinclair Situation

A news story just hit the wires moments ago.  Here's the headline and the link.

Mediacom runs out of free antennas

"Three Mediacom employees with signs stood outside the cable company's office at 2205 Ingersoll Ave. in Des Moines this afternoon, notifying customers there were no free antennas left and that more would be available on Tuesday."

Cue the circus music.  If you're going to bridge the absurdity gap, make sure you buy enough Acme Absurdity Gap Fillers.

Fox is Wacked: Mediacom - Sinclair Saga Continues

I posted my piece on the Mediacom-Sinclair debacle and within 24 hours, I received a very nice note from Scott Westerman, a Vice President with Mediacom.  Doing a little research on where my visitors come from, I think he found my blog by searching technorati for the Mediacom and Sinclair tags.  Excellent and Admirable!  I'm posting our follow up email chain below.  The bottom line here, Mediacom gained a notch on my respect totem pole because they are watching, listening, and reaching out.   Below is my answer to his first response but the link at the bottom will get you the entire chain.

Doug's Response to Mediacom:

edited here but full letters available at link below.

The key thing that all parties should remember here is that (in the nicest way possible here)  the customer doesn't care what your businesses are squabbling about. We care that something we desire is no longer conveniently available to us at a price point.  We're being forced to look elsewhere or take additional inconvenient action to get get "back to ground zero".  How many of your customers use DVR?  I'm guessing an ever larger number. We cannot use DVR to watch 24 at our convenience anymore and that's a problem.  I bet the sports fans are REALLY angry and considering the myriad NFL packages on DirecTV and Dish, this will really damage you over time. 

Somewhere, some very smart analysts have probably provided you the top secret report with the "Bend over and take the losses vs. bend over and take the Sinclair price tag equation mapped out".  As you approach that break even point of losing customers and/or paying out whatever it takes to get the programming back, I'm guessing we'll see action.  So the question is will I and enough of those like me, all Mediacom VIP's with all of your offerings bundled, switch quickly enough to trigger the "oh crap" button. 

I'm stuck in the middle...and it's the WORST place for a customer to be.

Thanks for listening and participating in the conversation.  I'm not sure where you are located...but Des Moines has a vibrant blogging community that would like to know that someone in "big corporate America" case you'd like to meet some of them.

Scott Westerman's email to me with all follow up messages.


Mystery Shopping

Lately, I've been assisting my wife with some local mystery shops (where you engage in certain scenarios designed to measure and test customer service in a technical way in exchange for a small payment + reimbursement of a set expense limit).  What I'm more and more convinced of after doing how undervalued Starbucks Coffee stock is.  As I've said before, "It's the people" that make your brand.  By and large, Starbucks hires right and its baristas live the brand. 

There are shining stars to everywhere to be certain (glass half full approach) and some baristas have flamed out I'm sure...but it fascinates me that Starbucks can achieve excellence on such a grand scale.  I visited a Starbucks last night randomly wandering through the mall and was seriously impressed with the barista's abilities to connect with my wife and I. 

I know that more companies are attempting to reinvent themselves into a service excellence culture.  Are you aware of any that are succeeding on the Starbucks scale or close?

Maybe I just need to get out more!   

National Rental Car - 3 free days

Hey readers, I have 3, 1-free day coupons good on National Car Rental that must be used by December 31, 2006.  I'm pretty certain now that I will not be able to use them so please advise if you're interested. 
First come, first served.    They are not valid in San Jose, CA or Manhattan, NY and can be used together (up to 7 in one shot).  I'm traveling but have them with me.  It will be a lot more convenient if you tell me by 6PM Pacific, tomorrow the 4th of December. 

It's the People...duh

Lately I feel like starting a competitor to every service business I run into.  Whether it's getting a quote for tree trimming, buying home improvement supplies, or eating something...the service and attention I'm getting is sub-par (save the experiences I've noted in my blog before) I had a chat with a friend about "The ubiquitous decline of service quality" I'm experiencing and it always comes back to the people. 

It's the people you hire that are the face and quality of the experience you provide, i.e. your brand.  If you think that simple cash register ringers are all that's required at a home improvement store, you're wrong.  If interaction with regular clients isn't happening, those people will cease to be regular clients.  I've been a regular customer of a certain coffee shop for months now.  Not once has a manager taken the time to get to know me or why I'm sitting in their facility hours at a time...many days per week.  If not for other regulars that meet there too, I'd jump ship in a heartbeat.  This place even asks for your name...and they ask me, every time because they have no acknowledgment that I'm supporting their brand and their profits.  Remember it's not just my coffee purchases that's every meeting I have there, every family lunch, client lunch, and gift card that I buy for others that factors into the equation.      

Does this investment in the right people affect short term profitability? Probably.  Is it the right thing to do for the long term.  Certainly.  I'd rather be my "customer's darling" than Wall Street's darling any day. 

Red Robin Brand Save!

Some of you will recall a detailed customer service rant about an experience my family and I had at the couple month old Red Robin here in West Des Moines called The Power of One Bad Experience.  I'd like to share with you what's happened since then. 

  • I wrote the piece on Monday October 30 and sent it into RR corporate at 10:05AM.
  • I received an email from Corporate that was copied to a list of additional managers and higher ups at 12:58PM same day, October 30 expressing deep sorrow and regret for what we'd gone through.
  • I received a call from the RR manager at 3:30PM that same Monday 3:30.  Juan Salinas handled this situation as expertly as possible. 
    • He made no excuses
    • Expressed his extreme embarrassment over what had happened
    • Made no attempts to explain away what happened (people calling in sick, etc.)
    • Offered to win us over again and to show us what Red Robin is really all about at our convenience
    • Offered to send us gift cards but encouraged us to come back as a family to be his guests
    • Gave us his cell phone number so he would be sure to be there when we came in
  • We were finally able to schedule our visit for last night the 17th of November.  We arrived and took our booth without telling anyone that we were "the ones here to see Juan". 
  • We were served perfectly by Kristina and introduced to Juan.  He continued to take full responsibility for what happened, explained how he used this as a team building and learning experience, and most importantly...didn't overdose on the "love" giving since he knew it would have come off as "make up love".
  • Finally, the real professionalism and customer service recovery came near the end of our meal when Juan provided us with gift cards and asked that we come back, totally unannounced (undercover) and then report back to him in case our viewpoint was "tainted" by the extra attention we thought were getting on this night.

Now that's fantastic.  Bravo Red Robin!  Let's break this down in simple economic terms...devoid of emotion:

  • Value of a lifetime RR customer:  ~$3k-$15k depending on family size and booze consumption
  • Cost of Recovery for Mitchell's:  $100 (aka the freebies)
  • Net economic gain to RR over lifetime $3k-$15k - $100 = CHA CHING

I would highly recommend that you visit this establishment and please ask for Juan.  Tell him that  you read Doug Mitchell's blog experience and are now certain that Red Robin gets it!  You made a big deposit in the Red Robin brand today Juan and Kristina.

I wish that Bankers Trust would have had a chance to read my post here before my buddy Drew McLellan posted his piece on what a $115 dollar "duh fee" charged to a loyal client can do for your  brand image!  Bankers surely would have understood the economic "lifetime value" of a client...right?

Do you think that Red Robin and Bankers Trust are a bit more interested in what blogs can do to support your branding?  Doing a Google search on Red Robin customer service yields 4th place for me on my original rant. I'm just ahead of a very nice announcement touting Red Robin's use of Six Sigma through partnership with GE Capital to improve milk shake quality.  I didn't try for that or expect it...but it's happening.  I hope this post ranks even higher. 

Dualing web cams

After a year of sitting on my desk, the Mitchgroup web cam II is up and running. Now I will likely leave the stationary home office cam in place and move the other around to different spots.  I know some of you actually DO check back often because when the cams are down...I get emails!


I've also reduced the size of video window so both will fit nicely on one page.  It should also help with loading speed and video quality.

It took another support call with DLINK that went very well.  Good job DLINK.  It helped that I had the same router brand as the cameras. 

Red Robin: The Power of One Bad Experience

Caveat Lector:
I am beside myself today as I type this entry so forgive any disconnections, ravings, flourishes, or lobbing of verbal putridity. 

My wife and I have been loyal Red Robin fans (NASD: RRGB) for over 10 years.  In fact my wife was an Assistant Manager at a many Red Robin restaurants back in CA before we had kids.  We went to the approximately 3 month old Red Robin in West Des Moines, Iowa last night to celebrate my daughter's second birthday with a grilled cheese and ice cream Sundae.  We continue to patronize Red Robin, even though since opening, the folks there have been unable to get a simple order correct.  After sitting down and waiting for 10 minutes without a server approaching us...someone came over and apologized.  Things were looking up.  We gave him our "free burger coupon" and he took our drink orders.  About 3 minutes later, he came back and said, "I need to get you drink orders" (pointing to my wife and I)...which we'd just given. Uh oh. 

Over the past few months, we've given them 6 chances to execute the following:

California Chicken Burger, with Pepper Jack Cheese (vs. the swiss it comes with), cut in half, and on a plate (versus the baskets typically used for burgers/chicken sandwiches).  Does this sound like an intense request that strains the very core of the "chefs" in the back room?  Incomprehensible for a server to execute?  It gets worse.

To date, it has never arrived on a plate.  Never.  6 times the sandwich has arrived in a basket.  Sometimes cut in half, sometimes split into two baskets, sometimes with the proper cheese.  The last time I was there with the family...I commented to the manager what has happened...just casually.  I was told that "Yes, there is a button the screen for "ON A PLATE" but that somehow I guess the waiters just weren't entering this properly.  For our trouble (and we didn't expect this)..the manager comped something on our ticket.  This was a generous move and we handled this with the casual "We want you to be better approach" and expected nothing for it.  Nice move.

Fast forward to last night, my wife's order arrived ON A PLATE (huge victory)...but the sandwich was plain...all of the vegetable condiments were on the side...and there were no sauces on the sandwich at all.  Where did the server get this instruction?  We have no clue.  The waiter in NO WAY offered to take the sandwich back, accept responsibility, etc.  He waited there as my wife asked how this could have happened.  He took a laissez faire attitude and after much protest and specific instructions from my wife that she get another correct order, he took the plate away.  Mind you he never said he wasn't going to take it back, never made any kind of suggestions at all...rather he seemed to be waiting until my wife stopped talking to see if he'd have to do anything. 

Please, if a discussion is had around this letter, don't resort to "That was the customer's perception of what was happening,"  approach.  It was the perception of what was happening by two reasonable, educated, caring, parents that have had plenty of experience in service and sales.

We ordered fruit for the kids instead of fries.  The fries arrived...the fruit didn't.  We ordered another round of fruit since my daughter dropped a NEVER arrived.  We told the waiter specifically that it was my daughter's birthday and he acknowledged that he'd bring her the little sundae and come sing.  That NEVER happened.  Our bill arrived, no coupon used.  There was nothing comped, no additional sorries, no managers coming by, no attempt to assuage our passionate desire to come back again if someone would just take the time to understand that we have a serious problem with their behavior and performance.  We were effectively begging you to keep us as customers at this point...but no one listened.

My wife confronted the waiter and had obviously reached her breaking point with this inability to get things right.  I sat back and listened to her and watched the waiter's response.  He barely acknowledged that there was a problem...before he launched his counter attacks (wrong move in the customer service business folks).  He started interrupting about how busy it was, how he had typed it in correctly but that he didn't know, "What those guys in the kitchen are doing and why they can't seem to understand something so clear." When my wife (knowing the basic Red Robin ordering/cooking/delivery process) said, "I know that at least 5 people probably see this order and could check it for accuracy before it arrives to the customer wrong." He said, "You know...I've got two managers in the back cooking right now...and they can't even get things right."  During one of the sessions of venting these frustrations..the waiter interrupted and stated, "You know I have to get these kids milk over here," and walked away.   Attempting to blame, redirect, and otherwise push off issues to your management (who you're implying are incompetent) is not a good approach. 

When we left, we asked the two young girls and a server who were chatting and filling balloons for the manager's name the store's phone number, they had to look in a cell phone for the number and could only provide the manager's first name.  They seemed a bit annoyed with the request and though no one was entering the restaurant, they continued to man the front post instead of assist with the damage on the restaurant floor.  Maybe that's all they can do.  Maybe that's all they're allowed to do...but to the somewhat educated appears that whomever was doing or not doing the managing wasn't deploying labor properly. 

There were at least 2 tables around us that were expressing  non-verbal anger cues about wait times, getting up to get their own ketchup bottles, etc.  I'm guessing that a cook or two called in sick but at the end of the day, this was the WORST experience I've had at a restaurant as far back as I can remember.  As a business traveler and frequent restaurant eater, this situation was beyond the pale of acceptable customer service behaviors. 

I'll borrow the Red Robin Core Values to contrast my post mortem analysis (literally because my relationship with them is 99.9% dead at this point) and that which should be driving every behavior and decision each partner/manager/waiter/host makes.

Our Core Values                                                            

HONOR ­ Unbridled caring for the Team, Guest and Company.

Besmirching your managers and treating us poorly provides no honor.  The company's honor is now tainted.

INTEGRITY ­ Doing the right thing!

There were at least 10 key moments when someone could have done the right thing.  I saw what looked to be a few managers in the kitchen...but not on the floor addressing this issue.

SEEKING KNOWLEDGE ­ Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

In all of our "pre-relationship damaging" one sought out the knowledge or cared to educated others as to how orders can be made to show up on plates.  We sought to understand why it was a problem and whether it was servers not listening, the "system" not having the ability to indicate "on a plate", the kitchen not reading what the servers order said.


HAVING FUN ­ Make the ordinary extraordinary and the mundane fun. 

The only thing extraordinary was the distress we felt from this visit.

I'm going to send this blog post to the Red Robin comment email address at the corporate level, the local store via regular mail (I'm sure they'll get the e-copy forwarded quickly), and to the CEO of Red Robin via regular mail in case there's a buffer between the corporate email and the executive office.

Instead of an unbridled act last night...the Red Robin horse bucked us right out of the door.  It wouldn't have taken much to turn this tale of woe into a tale of excellence.  Are you familiar with blogs Red Robin?  You probably are now.

I hope these call center folks are well trained

Tom Peters posted today on an ABC News special that highlighted "Outsourced Surgery" and how a company called PlanetHospital handles the logistics and arrangements for surgeries that...for whatever reason, couldn't be done here in the US (cost to much, not covered, lack of insurance, etc.). 

What a fantastic example of the inefficiency of medicine these days...but encouraging to know that this is an option.  The piece described how a woman flew 30 hours to have a 30 minute surgery at 1/3 the cost.  Unreal.

I am just hoping that when you call to describe your situation and set up the surgery...that the call center agents are NOT outsourced.       

Mediacom's Continued Service Recovery

Last week, I posted on a Mediacom Cable VIP program customer service experience that went from bad to good....while pointing out some serious marketing program flaws that I assumed larger companies like Mediacom had the smarts to avoid.

Here's an update since my phone service was out for a day until I reset my router last night.

1.  I called the VIP phone number that was given in the marketing documentation: 1-877-304-7466.  It now identifies as "The VIP customer service line". 

2.  The website for VIP's is working now.

I'm not sure if my post had anything to do with these victories...but at the end of the big beefs have been resolved.  Power to the people.

Marketing & Customer Service Fumble and Recovery: Mediacom

It seems like I'm attracting customer service incidents these days.  I'm a walking trouble ticket apparently.  I'm really not trying, but as an advocate, watch dog, reporter, blogger, dad, concerned netizen, value conscious consumer and evangelist...I must do my duty.

A few days ago, I received a very impactful direct mail piece from my cable company Mediacom.  This piece was shiny opalescent light blue and had the words "Open to explore your VIP benefits".  I'm hugely in favor of being treated well by them since I get my TV, Phone, and Internet service from them...resulting in a monthly bill upward of $120.  I shrieked like a school girl and ripped the envelope open with eager anticipation.  Then I read this....see below.  Read the sentence marked with an arrow at least 2x and get yourself in the state that you get in when you're given something pretty darn cool..absolutely FREE!

I was about to actually PAY FOR THE UPGRADE to the higher bandwidth about a month it was being handed to me as a VIP!  I was told back then, "It would be $59.99/mo (versus the $29.99/mo I am paying now) and that my equipment had to be upgraded along with an installation fee. (I have a VOIP Aeris telephony modem)....Now all costs were to be waived...oh joy! 

I decided right away to visit the special web site that had been created just for me!
Wow, my very own special place.  Notice that there's an 800 number just for me too.  I figured the website would likely answer all of my questions and allow me to upgrade at will (after all, cable companies are big into "ON DEMAND").  I typed in the URL and found this:

Not good.  I tried again and again...and at the time of this posting, the website still doesn't work. 
Next I called the 800 number.  It's nice to have your own "hot line" and I let the website issue slide.  When I dialed in, there was nothing special about the menus or the options.  It was simply (so it seems) a generic 877 number created to track response to the direct mail piece. 

Fine.  So I reach a human.  He was very kind and I explained my new VIP status and asked for my free upgrade.  He had no idea what I was talking about.  After 5 minutes of explanation, he put me on hold for about 5 minutes (not feeling much like a VIP now).  He came back on the line and proceeded to explain that actually, what automatic free upgrade means is that my price is going up to $59.99/mo and that Mediacom is only waiving the "fees to upgrade".  When asked what's involved, he said he said he simply "changes a setting in his software" and my speed is upgraded those "installation fees".  Even though I've cropped the letter in this post...there are NO fine print sections and no small * sections explaining that free is actually quite expensive.  For once, I really thought I had scored big.   After reading my letter verbatim and having the rep politely say that he checked with 2 supervisors and 2 managers and that I was wrong and he was correct...I informed him that I would not be taking my "free upgrade" today.  (He did refund a pay per view movie that I had purchased quickly and efficiently that had awkward pauses in the audio recording on the DVR).

After two days of stewing in my own juices and discussing this offer over and over again with my lovely wife, she said, "The way I read it, you don't even have to DO ANYTHING!" rather this upgrade should just happen.  After another 10 reads...I concurred! 

I called back my VIP hotline again and a nice woman answered the phone.  (A+ for politeness).  This time I took a new approach.  Instead of being verbose (my curse)...I simply said, "I'm calling in for my VIP free upgrade to the faster internet connection" and shut up.  The woman proceeed to handle the change and when asked about why I'd been derailed a few days earlier..she told me explicitly that this offer was not explained to anyone there and that she had peformed the same customer service labotomy on a few people before realizing that this offer was REAL and had been sent to potentially thousands of subscribers.  She (like the other rep) had to go through many layers of management before getting to the truth.  The upgrade was requested and I was a happy customer once again. I did have to email after 48 hours since tests confirmed that I was still at the slow speed.  By morning, a tech had replied and apologized that things didn't happen the way there were supposed to but it was done.

Here are some lessons that I would have thought were learned a long time ago by big highly profitable companies:

  1. If you send out a direct mail piece with a marketing offer, make sure your people actually know about it.  I don't care if they're trained directly...but at least have this in the "intranet or customer service wiki (yeah right) so the reps can access the details and find the "codes" they need to authorize things.  Nothing is as embarrassing as having no clue, then confirming with 4 different supervisors that you really don't have a clue, nor do they.  Goodness.
  2. When you publicize and send out a URL for VIP's make sure it works!  Marketing 101.  Don't buy the super bowl commercial and give the phone number and URL...when the website doesn't work and the phone number is piped to a single line somewhere in Peoria.  Companies don't often get a second chance so get it right the first time.  I guess cable monopolies get two chances..but I was within 48 hours of switching to DIRECTV or DISH.
  3. If you say it's a special toll-free number, make it so.  I want to be acknowledged for my big check every month...not the subject of a direct market "response percentage".  I was very disappointed and expected to reach a human upon first ring since I'm their "golden child"  Where's the gravy?

I'd like to personally thank Jill at Mediacom for making this upgrade happen.  My video conferences are flying now and I'm on top of the bandwidth world!  Close call Mediacom...but you still have me.