No Stamp Needed

So I am the queen of writing letters when I feel I have had a  poor customer service experience (I write them when I have a good experience,too). I have written such letters for friends and family and I have been almost unilaterally pleased with the responses from companies. Home Depot agreed that having to go to their store 42 times for a bathroom renovation was worth some rebated money.  The Ritz in Naples, FL offered my mother in law a brunch on the house to make up for a disappointing dining experience.  My mother recently reminded me of a letter I wrote at 8 years old complaining about a Tootsie Pop that was tootsie-less.  I even taped said stick to the letter. I still remember getting the coupon for a free replacement bag and feeling vindicated.

But now customer service letter writing has a new twist – you don’t even have to send your letter anymore to get resolution.  For instance, a blog that I read pretty regularly called A Day in My Life chronicles the trials and tribulations of a very cool California mother of three whose husband has been deployed for the better part of the last year.  A few days ago, she wrote about a horrific customer service experience she had going to Sea World with her teenager and toddler twins.  In a nutshell, the admissions staff wouldn’t give her the military rate for her family due to a technicality even though she has been there many times in the past and been given the rate without question.  So she vented on her blog in the form of a letter to Sea World but life got in the way and she never got around to sending it.  Well wouldn’t you know that somehow, someway that post made it into the right hands at Sea World! Within a day they contacted her to rectify her disappointment and basically buy back her love with a free pass. It worked and a new blog was posted cheerleading the gesture . In turn the 32 people who had commented on her original post called off the dogs.

What does this mean for brands like yours? If you ask me it means making sure that someone on your staff scours the blogosphere and message boards to see if/when your brand is getting trashed and then does the right thing.  When women have a good experience with a brand they tell 4-7 people but when it is a bad experience she tells 13 and will keep re-telling the story for 22 years! I have absolutely no plans to go to Sea World in the next decade but when I do I will feel good about them versus feeling mad.

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The Anti-Vigilante

While it’s easy to rail against bad customer service, I wondered how hard it would be to fix it instead?  I’ve had my share of rude clerks and late deliveries, but I realize that there are some retailers that I’ve actually become “friends” with.  Could there be a magic formula that would personalize all my transaction interactions? So as an experiment I decided to become the anti-vigilante. As simple as it sounds, I began to ask people their names. Not the way we typically ask, as in “What’s your name so I can rat you out to your supervisor?” but “What’s your name, so we can know each other?” 

Most mornings, I get coffee from a nice guy who has a cart a couple of blocks down from my apartment. But it wasn’t until yesterday, that I asked, “What’s your name?” “Nazir,” he smiled (and secretly slipped a donut into my bag.) Now, this friendship comes with calories but what a transformation! It’s isn’t coffee anymore; it’s a chance to chat with Nazir.

It worked at the vegetable stand, with a building security guard, with a florist. Eureka! Everyone is so much nicer. I’m lucky that I have a pretty amazing memory, so I can recall my mental Rolodex on a dime. Could we actually recreate service with a smile in a Vigilante Consumer service world? Could a cold digital relationship warm up with a little old-fashioned courtesy?

The new campaign for Dentyne Ice jumps on this intimacy bandwagon with a new campaign called “Make Face Time” reminding consumers that the original instant message was a kiss. How about a hug to replace Reply All? OK, I’m not going that far with the coffee guy, but there’s something to this.

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Gold Medal Service

goldmedal.jpg 

On behalf of women, I like to rail against customer service snafus, but in this Olympic Week, I thought I’d salute some winners who can teach us what good service is all about. Lately, I’ve had good experiences with smaller, newer businesses who either get it because they have to or because they don’t have big, bad habits.

Here are a few examples of understanding the simplest but most effective basics.

Ishta Yoga, which opened recently in my neighborhood, has vaporized all the bad karma I’ve ever felt from NY yoga studios, namely, Intimidation with a capital “I”. I always feared doing downward dogs next to an angry, acrobatic Madonna or trying to fit in to the crunchy cliques of serious devotees. At Ishta, I felt immediately at home. Why? Tracy at the front desk quickly learned (and has since remembered) my name, enthusiastically shared the credentials and class choices and never oversold too long, pre-paid packages. And with their $40 all-you-can-ohm two week trial to be sure I fit in, I’m hooked. They delivered what they promised. Namaste. 

Devonshire Optical, a small eyeglass shop near my apartment, has been around a long time without losing its personal touch. Jennifer immediately picked up that I wanted “funky frames”, as she called them (a change from salespeople who assume I want something ‘my age’) and wasn’t afraid to take charge of making me cool. She convinced me that I’d look good onstage with fresh, rectangular frames and thanks to the new technology of the special lenses, I’d see like I hadn’t seen before.  A simple tech explanation, honest fashion advice, and fast, no fuss measurement for a speedy exit.  Precise 20/20 service.

Finally, the ultimate personal service. Today, on my way to work, as I was thinking I looked pretty pulled together, a young woman came up behind me to say, “I hope I’m not being impertinent, but the zipper on your blouse is halfway down. May I help you fix it?” (Honest, she actually said “impertinent”! Loved that!) Rather than being mortified, I felt saved by her sympathetic, polite gesture. Identify the need, help the ‘customer’ without criticizing and get the job done. Service gets personal…and wins the gold! 

Tag-a-long blog

Reading Mary Lou’s blog, I thought of a similar gold-star customer experience I recently had at JackRabbit Sports, a fitness apparel and shoe store in Union Square. 

If you are a rookie runner, you often don’t realize the importance of finding a shoe that fits correctly.  Most novices either gravitate to the coolest-looking shoe on display (a mistake I have made) or the most inexpensive (another personal mistake—I live in NY, cut a gal a break). Both are behaviors that can result in serious injury.  At larger sporting goods stores this mistake often goes undetected—the best you can hope for is a half-hearted push on your toe (if you get any service at all), and then you’re hustled to the checkout gripping a box without knowing anything about its contents. 

At Jack Rabbit they take the coach approach to selling to you.  For starters, they refuse to sell you shoes without having you try them out on a treadmill in the back of the store.  They film you while you run and after playing back the tape they are able to “diagnose” your running style and prescribe the perfect shoe–taking into account your stride, the amount you plan on running and the type of terrain you’ll be on.  They’re also friendly—no scary triathletes who drink 4 protein shakes a day and judge people for not having a six pack.

As an extra incentive to come back, once you have purchased a pair of shoes you get 10% off any future purchases!  You leave a more educated runner and satisfied customer.  Love them!

-Lily Wagner

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The Art of How NOT to Sell to Women

Where some women may feel nervous approaching their doctor at their annual appointment or feel apprehensive in a car showroom, I start feeling unworthy when I walk into an art gallery. I’m sure Perfect Looking Gallery Gal will give me that negative once-over, without even bothering to look up. Funny, because I love beautiful things and have started to collect local Pennsylvania landscapes.  

I can deal with being overlooked. But I don’t expect to be unsold. Recently, a nearby gallery posted a “Meet the Artist” sign. I was struck with two conflicting thoughts:  I’ll be pressured to seem enthralled by her light/shadow technique. Or, maybe the artist will tell me why she painted something I like and I’ll have a good story to tell. 

My guard up, I shook the artist’s hand and started to wander around. But she growled after me, “What do you do?” so I told her I listened to women to figure out how to sell to them. “What do women tell you?” she demanded. “That they don’t feel listened to,” I answered. Her response? “The problem with women is that they whine. They should be more like men.” Great warm up to get me to shell out a thousand bucks for a painting that I decided I didn’t really like anymore. 

When they shop for most everything, women make personal assessments. Who am I buying from? What am I buying into?  I was no different. I only wish I hadn’t decided, prior to shopping, to change out of my T-shirt that says “It’s not all about you.” As a message to her, it said it all. As a guide to any company selling anything to women, priceless.

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Bed, Bath & Beyond Expectations

Lack of customer service has been plaguing me recently…making me wonder, is it me?   

From UPS shipping back my order after delivering it to the wrong address (even after I called twice!) to the contractors I am trying to desperately hire to work on our patio who won’t call back or worse, just don’t show up to the accounting department of a reputable appliance store who won’t return my phone call about rebates they were supposed to send me for my brand new washer/dryer. What does a girl need to do to get help around here?

So last week when I tried to order a gift from Bed, Bath, and Beyond’s bridal registry, I wasn’t surprised that after submitting my order I got an error message without an explanation and then when I went to re-do it I found that the items on the registry were marked as already being ordered (ahhhh, that was the week I was having).

I immediately called customer service ready for the fight but to my pleasant surprise, the rep I spoke to put me at ease immediately. And when their computer system hadn’t updated yet he even offered to call me back… I thought for certain I would have to call back and explain my situation multiple times before getting it solved. But again, to my surprise, he actually called me back and in record time! 

In this economic climate where women are starting to become even more conscious of what they buy and where they buy it, retailers and customer service representatives will need to be on their game. As anxiety increases, she will be more of a vigilante shopper than ever and she’ll be taking her wallet with her.

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Off the Hook

Well, now there’s a service that you can pay for to enable an undercover behavior you may have been doing for free. A new technology called Slydial allows you to direct your phone messages directly into someone’s cellphone voicemail so you don’t risk talking to them live. “Why?,” you say? You’ve never called someone after hours with the secret prayer that they wouldn’t pick up, so that you could leave the “I’m late, I’m sorry, I don’t want to” message and avoid a drawn-out conversation or possible recrimination?  

Let’s face it—thanks to a culture of bad customer service, most of us choose to avoid human contact and look at E-ZPass, self-checkout and online shopping as godsends. But in a world where we love the sound of our own voices, posting personal videos or blogging to perfect strangers (like right now), it’s funny that we shy away from hearing opinions in return.  Saying our piece is easy. Listening to someone else is hard. 

It makes me understand how challenging it can be for some marketers to feel comfortable in our research sessions, face to face with consumers. Behind the two way mirror, there’s comfort; the food’s better. But most of all, back there, without the risk of being confronted by female consumers, you can keep the listening under control and check your BlackBerry instead. Sort of like leaving her a voicemail about your brand and hoping she likes it when she picks it up in store. If only it were that easy to get off the hook.

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November 27, 2020
by Mary Lou Quinlan

A look at an early production of WORK

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The God Box Goes Global!

“The God Box” has grown to include an app, audio book, philanthropic venture and solo show performed by Mary Lou across the US. Now The God Box Project goes global to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
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