How to Mess Up a Perfectly Good Customer Experience

As a marketer, you should be overly concerned about how your customers experience your brand, products and customer service. I evangelize how in the internet age it’s very easy for a company to wind up getting skewered via social media.

But all isn’t the same out there. I come across businesses daily who don’t have their proverbial act together. All could really learn some lessons on how customers must be king or else.

I love to go to the movies. The local theater I go to recently underwent a complete makeover, including new, wider reclining chairs; a bar with real food and alcoholic beverages; and more. This theater already had a really great loyalty program in place: it seemed for every couple of movies I went to, I wound up with a free ticket. Very cool!

Even more cool (guilty pleasure alert), it actually used real butter on its popcorn. Oh, and free refills. And it was never too crowded like the mega-giga-multiplex in town where you need a shuttle bus a la Disney to get from the parking lot to the theater.

Enter Frank Theatres a few short months ago and the mega-giga-multiplex doesn’t look so bad. It upped the price of a movie ticket by a few bucks, made it harder than winning the lottery to get a free ticket via its points-based loyalty program and in general tortured me as a customer by making the $6 popcorn nonrefillable. Now you have to buy the $7.50 size (maybe you city folks pay that for 30 cents of corn, oil and seasonings, but down south here that’s a big jump) in order to get refills. I’m pretty sure the $6 bag and the $7.50 bucket are about the same size, so why not just charge me $1.50 for a refill and stop with the subterfuge already.

I won’t even tell you about how customers are supposed to understand how to wait in one central line for the candy counter until the next person is called without any velvet ropes or a queue. Ridiculous! Is it one line or three lines? This is for sure going to turn into a fistfight one day soon because people try to form three lines only to be told they’re cutting the line.

The kicker: I took my family to the movies last weekend knowing I’d drop close to $100 for the latest 3-D flick (an additional $3 just to use the theater’s 3-D glasses), but I couldn’t even use a $100 bill. The girl at the ticket booth told me flatly, “We don’t take that, it’s our policy.”

So by now the moral of the story should be obvious — wait for the movie to come out on cable. Wait, that’s not it.

The moral is your customers have expectations. If you meet or beat those expectations, you’ll do well in business. If you don’t, there will likely be consequences — i.e., lost sales. Your customers are creatures of habit. They like their little creature comforts. If you take them away, they tend to get upset and take their business elsewhere.

So a note to Frank Theatres: This is the internet age. Get it together or deal with some very vocal customers who like what they like. If it’s going to take over another theater, keep the customs of that theater or risk losing business (or at least go with gradual change). It’s OK to add to a better user experience. Be careful that progress isn’t taking one step forward and two steps back.

Does humor belong in business?

Folks, business is serious business!

I’ve worked for too many companies who took themselves way too seriously.  And why not be serious – its important work bringing great products to consumers, right?

Wrong!  Given the growth of social media and its ability to put a human face on your companies business, its time to have some fun.  There are so many great options for you these days to inject a little humor into your business (caveat: be real and genuine) with Facebook, Youtube, blogs, etc.

I know I have spoken about them before, but one company I work with, The Fresh Diet is ALL about fun.  Their Facebook page is constantly holding contests, many of which are designed just to be engaging and fun.

Last week we upped the ante on their fun level and created a video spoof of the show Undercover Boss for our customers and fans.  It took us a half a day of shooting and another half a day to edit it (yes we used a professional video company).  The feedback from our customers and fans on Facebook has been great.  We even plan on doing other spoof videos in the future and turning this into a regular event.

So I wanted to share it with you here.  I hope it sparks something for you that you can use with your customers and fans.

On another note, I want to wish each and every one of you a happy and safe holiday!  Speak to you soon!

6 key takeaways for getting a handle on this new-fangled social media customer service

A few weeks ago, I downloaded a Monopoly game from a company called GameHouse. My son was itching to play the computer version with us on our family night (mostly because I move too slow).

Downloading was a success, but I had problems finding the activation code for the software, so I went in search of a company contact.

I jumped on GameHouse’s website, and my first instinct was to look for a phone number to call its customer service department. If you read part 1 of my “You Lost Me There” series a few months back, you know that I’m an adamant believer in having your contact info prominently displayed on your website. Another one of my pet peeves is the ubiquitous page with the contact form. Or, more importantly, how long it takes to get a response from said form.

To me it’s simple: Make it easy to speak with me or my business goes elsewhere. I couldn’t find a satisfactory way to contact GameHouse, and I grew frustrated. But there was a big (really big) “Follow us on Twitter” button, so I clicked it. I sent a tweet to GameHouse — and the rest of its followers — on how I was having problems and was aggravated that its website had no contact info. For good measure, I joined its Facebook fan page and sent the same message.

It didn’t take GameHouse long to respond. Thanks to Kristy, who manages GameHouse’s Twitter presence, I had an easy way to establish communication with the company and resolve my issues. Turns out that I also ordered half a dozen copies of Monopoly as I tried to get the activation code. Kristy helped me get squared away with GameHouse’s billing department, too. It took about a week of back and forth to get all the additional orders credited to my account. Kristy had one of GameHouse’s customer service reps work closely with me throughout the process.

Then — and this one blows me away — about a week later I got a package from GameHouse with a different version of Monopoly inside. Also inside was a handwritten card thanking me “for my patience” signed by Kristy with the note: “A little gift for all your troubles.” My son loves it, and everywhere I go (including a lecture I did last week) I tell of my exceptional customer service experience with GameHouse. With this in mind, I offer up some useful pointers.

6 Customer Service Takeaways

  1. I sent my “You Lost Me There” article to Kristy, who said she’d pass it up the food chain. I hope GameHouse heeds my advice and makes it easier for customers to be served by adding a prominent phone number to its website. I’m not sure everybody will use Twitter like I did, however, meaning the potential for a negative customer service experience is present.
  2. I was also quite surprised by how seamless the customer service experience can be without “traditional” contact methods being in play. As a “stone age” customer, once I adapted I was happy again.
  3. Serve your customers in all channels. Social media is having a dramatic impact as a customer service tool; customers will self-select the channel of their choice.
  4. Exceptional customer service can (and should) be the rule in all channels — online and offline.
  5. If your customer service isn’t exceptional, expect to see negative reviews expressed publicly. Also expect to see bad customer service stories spread virally. Had I not been totally satisfied by the work of Kristy and her team, this column would have read very differently.
  6. Upset customers can easily be turned into advocates with proper service. Today’s angry customer is tomorrow’s best customer.

Welcome to 2009, the Year of Engagement, Social Marketing and Web 2.0, Part 1 & 2 (updated)

Note to readers. This is the first post in 2009.  Happy New Year!  As promised, there will be another 3 posts in the coming week.

As I mentioned in my most recent column — a recap of the National Center for Database Marketing conference last month — it’s not good enough to merely serve your customers anymore. You must cement them emotionally to your brand, your products and your customer service.

With social media strongly in play (whether you like it or not), you don’t get to choose what’s said about your brand. Control of your brand image has been passed, torch-style, from the marketing department to your customers.

Your customers are becoming more and more voracious in their pursuit of information that’s not simply put forth by brands, but spread by their peers as brand advocates. Actually, it’s more like brand advocates and brand detractors. Your customers, much like plus/minus statistics in a hockey game, keep score — a plus point for a positive customer experience, a minus for a negative one.

Why the social media explosion? It’s simple: When you add the current overload of marketing messaging sent and received in a given day, coupled with a growing distrust of said messaging and a more jaded customer base, the result is an environment primed and ready for customer-induced growth.

The plus/minus as it relates to your marketing efforts. Your present and future direct marketing efforts only get you part of the way there. Customers and prospects alike search for information on your company to help with their buying decisions. The people who interact with your brand and the way they interact are the deciding factors in your success and/or failure. You don’t have to look into a crystal ball to envision a future where companies have less and less impact on buying decisions.

In the concept of the outward-facing, customer-focused business, there are two business models in the multichannel world:

1. Merchants: The first type is brand/product-centric. These are merchants who’ve built their companies from the ground up with an intuitive feel for what their customers want and need. Culturally, these companies are focused on merchandising, product development and brand building. They have a sort of “if you build it they will come” feel internally.

2. Marketers: The other type is the sales and marketing culture. Here, the focus is less on product/branding and more on the process of direct marketing. Marketers are more numbers-focused, and the feel you get when you visit is that it’s about list building and what gets sold to that list.

If I had to guess which of these cultures will better adapt to Web 2.0, I’d have to say the marketing culture. But the truth is, it’s anyone’s guess.

Check back next week for part two, where I’ll look at the role social media occupies for catalog/multichannel marketers, as well as how it can be a good thing to hear the negative things customers have to say about you.


Adapt or Die!
Clearly, the way to adapt to changes in the marketplace is to get out in front of the wave. It’s not too late, so don’t fret if you’re not. As a direct marketing consultant, I’m in the same boat. With a background steeped in the more traditional direct marketing principles, I need to be more on the cutting edge, too. In the last year, I’ve become enamored with social media as a marketing tool and its potential to engage.

What Are You Waiting For?
I conducted an informal survey over the past few days on how catalog/multichannel marketers have integrated social media into their overall marketing mixes. Here’s what I found:

  • Half of the catalog/multichannel companies I surveyed had MySpace pages and/or Facebook groups.
  • Only one was tweeting away on Twitter.
  • I didn’t see much blogging or message board adoption.
  • Usage of Flickr and YouTube didn’t even register a hit.

These results dovetail with a recent poll we ran on For the poll results, click here.

Compared to another group I looked at, pure-play Internet retailers (let’s call this the control group), catalogers’ social marketing adoption was minimal.

So why is that? The biggest concern I hear from catalog/multichannel marketers is negative publicity around their brands, which brings us back full circle to our control issues and the whole concept of customer centricity.

Learning Opportunity
Ask yourself the following questions about what kind of role social media plays in your business:

  1. Are you afraid of negative publicity? If you are, why? Do you not want to find out what your customers are talking about? Or what you can do to fix or improve your company? If you bury your head in the sand, the ruthless truth is your customers will bury you. Like the proverbial Chinese alphabet character for “danger” having the same meaning as “opportunity,” now is your chance to become truly customer-centric — to finally understand by listening to the Internet chatter about your company.
  2. If you’re using social marketing within your business, is it just a tactic? Are you using it strategically to understand your customers? I’d guess the big question here is this: Does the data/information the marketing team obtains from its social outlets trickle up to the C-level executives?

Maybe the new paradigm shift should be, “If you listen, they will come!”

Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll begin to share what I’ve learned about social media. I’ll talk about Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn (mostly for B-to-B), Facebook (groups vs. pages), YouTube, Flickr, blogs, message boards, on-page ratings and reviews, and more — the strategies and tactics you need to know to build a customer-centric multichannel company.

And I want this to be a dialogue, because I’m not a social marketing expert by any means. It’s very much a trial and error process, and I hope to learn from you, too!

Customer service now!!! The convergence of customer service and social media (and a moral)

In my last column, I cautioned readers about social media and the negative effect it can have on online reputation management. Here’s a quick recap: The key to a positive reputation is to look at every possible customer and prospect touchpoint and make sure it’s buttoned up tight. Every interaction, every touchpoint needs to be quality-driven, otherwise your brand is going to take a social media beating.

There’s just too much prime opportunity online — e.g.,  Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, etc. — for brands to get dinged when they screw up. In the few weeks I’ve been back from vacation, I’ve been thinking about this as I go about my day-to-day dealings with companies.

Twice in the last few weeks I’ve gotten dinged: once by a salesman and once by a so-called customer service rep (CSR). But helping to restore my faith in our industry, I also recently had a fantastic customer service experience as well.

But first the negative:

  • I have a TV that for the last year has had sound problems. The sound intermittently stops working. With the TV under warranty, I called CompUSA’s warranty company to remedy the problem. It sent someone out who couldn’t find the problem. After another unsuccessful attempt to fix the problem, I again called the warranty company to get a new TV. The CSR told me there was nothing she could do except send out a third company to look at my TV. I calmly explained to her the facts of the case. She calmly explained that there’s nothing she can do. So I asked for her supervisor. The supervisor gave me the same speech — same language, same dull, disinterested, flat demeanor. Like robots, only less interesting. By then I realized that the company is just going to run out the clock on the warranty instead of giving me a new TV. The moral of this story: Some companies teach their frontline people to hold the line, not help customers.
  • I recently paid a visit to my local Honda dealership to trade in my son’s car. This will be my third lease with this dealership. The salesman I normally use is busy, so he puts me in the capable hands of “Bill.” I tell Bill that I want the special that was advertised on the dealership’s website because it’s the lowest-priced car it sells. Let the games begin. I know how it works, but I never let car salespeople play. Bill makes three attempts to get me into a more expensive car by asking if I want this or want that on the car. I remind him for the third time that I only want the least expensive car the dealership sells of that model. You know, the one listed on its website. Bill responds to me with the following: “You want the lowest price in that model, OK, but don’t you want a car with air conditioning?” (F.Y.I., I live in Florida.) He says this with actual contempt. One minute later, he’s back waiting for another customer to annoy. The moral of this story: I’d have fired this salesman on the spot if it was my dealership. You cannot risk offending any customers, much less repeat customers.

And the positive:

  • One word: Apple! I had to call its customer service department multiple times in the last few weeks with questions before installing its latest operating system. Each time I was greeted by a helpful human who worked with me patiently in a relaxed manner to get my issue resolved. Apple even offered to send me (for free, no less) operating system disks. (Mine were lost, hence the call.) I swear, it was like talking to the Apple guy from the TV commercials. Great job, Apple! You “get” customer service.

I don’t know about you, but every time I have to call a company’s customer service department I get a bit nervous in advance. Most of the time I know I’m going to be treated poorly by poorly trained, poorly managed people who are totally indifferent to me and my plight.

This message is for all of the C-suite people who read my column: Go to your call center now! Listen to your CSRs’ interactions; then do something about them. People are talking about you whether you like it or not. Positive or negative — it’s your choice.

Social Media and the United Breaks Guitars Video – A Cautionary Tale for ALL marketers

With more than 5.3 million people having already watched it, Dave Carroll’s  “United Breaks Guitars” video has become an internet social media phenomenon.  I first saw the video posted on Facebook by a friend.

For the last year I’ve been saying — screaming actually — that companies better have their acts together, otherwise they’re sitting ducks in this new age of customer centricity. If your customer service, products and brand image aren’t all buttoned up, you risk getting skewered on the internet, i.e., the people’s media.

The video I’m referring to is really amazing to see. Here’s the story behind it: United Airline’s baggage handlers break a passenger’s guitar, and the next thing you know 5.3 million people hear about it in a catchy, four-minute ditty on YouTube. Viralocity at its finest (and scariest).

The song has gone so mainstream that you can now buy it on iTunes. For just 99 cents, you too can help spread negative publicity about an airline. I hate to admit it, but I actually feel sorry for United. Well, to a point anyway.

As a marketer and consultant, I’ve seen every variation of apathetic customer service and crappy products sold by spin and hype alone. As a 30-year student of marketing and advertising — and, of course, firsthand experience — I’ve witnessed brands whose positionings were so far divergent from their actual customer experiences that you have to wonder what the C-level execs were thinking when they were sold hook, line and sinker on some overzealous, over-researched agencies’ campaigns. I can just hear it now: “Well, our market research says that if you … ”

But none of that scares me more than the internet and social media, and their power to kill your brand dead with a song, tweet, Facebook status update, blog post, thumbs down, etc.

You should be terrified, too. If you’re reading this column, let it be a call to action for you. Let my words galvanize you into looking into how your customers and prospects experience  — I’ll say it again — your customer service, products and brand image. I know I sound preachy, but how would you like a song written and gone viral about your company?

I strongly urge you to get together with your key staff members to pick apart every one of your company’s touchpoints to ensure every contact in every touchpoint is handled in a pristine manner.

To close out my sermon for the week, I want to leave you with a personal recollection from my early days in direct marketing. In the ’80s I was selling direct marketing media, and to hone my craft I read a book called “How to Sell Anything to Anybody,” written by a car salesman named Joe Girard. Girard had this rule, the rule of 250, which basically stated that any person you come into contact with knew and could influence 250 other people — positively or negatively. That one rule both terrified and inspired me. Here it is expressed mathematically: 1:250.

Thanks to social media, Joe’s rule has expanded just a little, I’d say. Take the United Airlines case, for instance, and do the math. It’s 1:5,322,806.

Oh, and by the way, check out the sequel to “United Breaks Guitars” here. It takes square aim at United’s policies and people who refused to pay for the guitar to be fixed. It’s already climbing the charts.

Blogging Primer – WHAT to blog for success

When used correctly, blogs can be an excellent tool for engaging prospects and customers — especially in today’s environment, when the companies we deal with are more machine than human. We call in and get interactive voice response rather than a live person. We read FAQs instead of speaking to customer service reps. It’s an isolated feeling.

So when I create a blog for a client, I do the following three things: Continue reading

You lost me there part 5 – Your call center is bleeding!

I recently had the opportunity to do some work with a company that had a pretty decent DRTV campaign running. I say decent because it had a good product and the DRTV campaign’s production values were excellent. But the product was complicated and lent itself to a complex offer that a two-minute spot couldn’t fully explain. The spot generated much interest and strong call volume, which would suggest that the campaign was a winner, right?

Until those calls hit the call center.

What do you get when you mix a complicated product offer with call-center staff that doesn’t have the training (or sales acumen) to convert? A company that’s bleeding potential customers in the call center. In essence, a lower than what should be call-to-order ratio, with a giant chasm between the prospect’s understanding of the offer and the customer service rep’s (CSR) ability to close the sale.

(For part 1 of this series, click here; part 2, here; part 3, here; and part 4, here.)

The Great Call-Center Disconnect:
Companies need to function under the guise that great — even sometimes so-so — direct marketing will make the telephone ring, but expertise in the call center will make the cash register sing! Ask yourself the following questions when evaluating your call center’s effectiveness:

  • How’s your call-to-order ratio?
  • Is there blood in your call center?
  • Can you convert more inquiries to sales?
  • Are your CSRs properly trained?

My Biggest Pet Peeve (and One for You to Ponder)
Ask yourself this question: With the millions of dollars companies spend on inventory, marketing, and general and administrative expenses, why are the people on the phones the least educated and, most importantly, lowest paid employees in the company? These are the people on the front lines of your business every day. Every penny of spend filters through either the call center or your website.

Forget sales conversion for a moment. What about contact capture?

What are you doing to ensure that every call that comes into your call center becomes an opportunity? Are your CSRs doing all they can to entice callers who aren’t ready to buy into giving out their information and blessing to continue the sales dialogue? Some examples include the following:

  1. Are you offering callers who don’t buy some sort of company literature — brochures, catalogs via regular mail, PDFs via email?
  2. How about an email newsletter opt-in? If they don’t buy, this is a perfect opt-in point.

Handling Missed Opportunities
There are many ways to capture consumers’ contact info in your call center. But be sure to also look at missed opportunities to convert more sales.

  1. Are you downselling a less expensive product or a different, yet related, product?
  2. How much time do you spend listening to your reps on the phone? I’m often shocked by how little time call-center management spends on listening. I’m less shocked that marketing and merchandising people don’t listen to calls. And when was the last time someone from the C-suite listened?
  3. How much time do you spend training your reps?

I’ll continue this series next week with some simple, yet effective, call-center training techniques that’ll help you convert more sales.

Jim Gilbert is president of Gilbert Direct Marketing Inc., a full-service catalog, direct marketing and social media agency. His LinkedIn profile can be viewed at You can email him, follow him on Twitter at or read his blog

9 Ways to Use Twitter as a Marketing Tool

(Note from Jim – article originally written for Catalog Success Magazine)

It seems that Twitter is all the rage these days. The topic seems to polarize people: Some find it a useful and productive marketing tool, while others find it a waste of time and “much ado about nothing.” I fall more into the first group, in that I remain cautiously optimistic. I use Twitter to build my personal brand ( and drive traffic to my blog.  

In this multiple channel, integrated world, I see Twitter as a great tool to help you engage your prospects and customers and take them to the next level. Turn prospects into customers, customers into advocates. Above all else, ask for and receive the much needed feedback a 21st century company needs to thrive.

The following are nine quick tips on how to use Twitter to your benefit:

1. Call out and provide specials to your customers. Make sure these are real-time specials or offers, but try to not be too pushy. Fit the offers and specials into the context of your customer conversation; don’t overpromote. 

2. Let people know when to expect their catalogs.  

3. Drive prospects to catalog request and/or e-mail sign-up pages.

4. Link to and broadcast your blog posts. These are great ways to keep people informed. 

5. Tweet news and information about your company and products. New products, company news, press releases, corporate milestones, testimonials and “meet-the-employee” articles are great examples of things to tweet. Anything you think will get people both familiar and, more importantly, emotionally involved with your brand is worth your while. 

6. Ask questions. Twitter, like any social network, is all about conversation. Have someone who can spend time working with your followers to answer their questions. Engage your followers to provide information about how to make your company even better. If harnessed correctly, Twitter can be an exceptional customer service tool as well. 

7. Encourage key employees to open Twitter accounts as well, creating more than one voice for your company. Have them add their Twitter addresses to their e-mail signatures. 

8. Add Twitter badges to your Web site. This enables customers and prospects to easily join in on the fun.

9. Add Twitter links and badges to all of your outgoing promotions and collateral. Build Twitter into your branding.

Jim Gilbert is president of Gilbert Direct Marketing Inc., a full-service catalog and direct marketing agency. His LinkedIn profile can be viewed at You can e-mail him, follow him on Twitter at or read his blog at

FDMA Catalog Marketing Summit From The Basics to Beyond Thurs 4/16

FDMA Catalog Marketing Summit From The Basics to Beyond!

Host: Florida Direct Marketing Association

Date: Thursday, April 16, 2009
Time: 11:30am – 2:30pm
Location: Westin, Fort Lauderdale
Street: 400 Corporate Drive (I-95 and Cypress Creek Road
City/Town: Fort Lauderdale, FL
Phone: 786-357-3275


Description: Catalog Marketing: From the Basics and Beyond.

What does it take to manage a multi-channel catalog and thrive in this economy? Come join us on April 16 as our frank 5 person panel of experts teaches you from the inside out. Each expert has been hand chosen due to their expertise in specific area’s of catalog management. After each panelist makes their presentation, you will be able to get hands on and ask questions. Topics include: 

• Knowing your customers! – Metrics, business intelligence, LTV, and repeat behavior.
• Printing – Optimizing size, page configuration, postal discounts, co-mailing.
• Creative- designing catalogs to sell. A case study in redesign.
• Operations – Insource, outsource, case studies call call center and fulfillment.
• Lists – a broker’s inside info that will help you challenge and get more from your broker.


Fatemeh Khatibloo, VP of Strategic Services Binger Catalog Marketing, Inc.
Kathy Duggan-Josephs, VP, Multichannel Marketing, RMI Direct 
Tim Holody, COO, Seta Corporation (Palm Beach Jewelry Catalog) 
Scott M. Kaczmarek, Sales Manager, Quad/Graphics, Inc.
Fred Neil, President, Spectrum Management Associates, Inc.

Moderator: Jim Gilbert, President, Gilbert Direct Marketing, Inc.

11:30 a.m. – 12:00 pm Registration Check-in and Networking
12:00 pm – 1:30 pm Program and Lunch
1:30 pm – 2:15 pm Expanded Bonus Speaker Tracks

Register early to avoid additional $10 walk-up fee. 

Interested in attending our Board meeting at 10:00am and learning more about getting further involved with the FDMA, please let us know at 786-357-3275.

Thursday, April 16, 2009 11:30 AM – 2:15 PM

Westin Hotel Fort Lauderdale
400 Corporate Drive
(I-95 and Cypress Creek exit)
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33334