Beware of the fine print in Terms of Service before you complain online

unhappyfaceJohn and Jennifer Palmer of Layton, Utah are suing an online retailer over a $3,500 charge assessed to them by KlearGear.com, a Grandville, Mich. company which the Palmers posted a negative online review with Ripoff Reports.com.

Perhaps you have never read the fine print in the Terms of Service when ordering merchandise, but this situation might encourage consumers to pay attention, since it is well known that litigation costs money. So let’s start from the beginning.

In December 2008, John Palmer ordered a desk toy and key chain from KlearGear.com; the entire purchase added to less than $20. It seems the tchotcheke never showed up, so after a number of unsuccessful attempts to reach the company, the couple canceled their order via their Paypal account. Pretty standard fare one would say, except Jennifer decided to post an unfavorable review of her dissatisfaction with the company on Ripoff Reports.com, a site that doesn’t remove posts unless legal fees are involved. Jennifer’s criticism, in part, included the following:

“There is absolutely no way to get in touch with a physical human being. No extensions work.”

So who would have thought after three years, the KlearGear company would seemingly send the couple an email giving them 72 hours to remove the unflattering review. According to CNN.com, the company’s demand was based on an obscure (or maybe not so obscure) “non-disparagement clause” which stated:

 “Your acceptance of this sales contract prohibits you from taking any action that negatively impacts KlearGear.com.” The Palmers say this clause was added after they purchased the items, citing their 2008 customer agreement which they found.”

The Palmers claim their credit has been adversely affected by the company who reported the $3,500 charge to the credit bureau as an unpaid charge. The couple is taking this to court and have vowed not to give up. CNN legal expert, Paul Callan stated the terms of use of the company would most likely be deemed as unfair and be thrown out of court.

“We don’t want them to get away with this,” Jen Palmer said. “We are apparently not the only ones that they have done this to, but we are the only ones who are fighting back. And we’re not giving up.”

Meanwhile KlearGear seems to be taking a lot of heat and criticism.

Interestingly enough, the First Amendment does guarantee us the freedom of speech, however you better be sure it’s accurate because you could be sued for libel; even without a “non-disparagement clause.”

During this busy holiday shopping season, take the time to read the fine print.

The golden rules of customer loyalty

It’s well recognized amongst all business owners that it cost more money to find new customers than to keep the customers we already have while trying to attract more clients to climb aboard our growing organizations. No matter how we try to dazzle, the golden rule of presenting the best product and doing it right, continues to successfully align our future for growth and success.

The ultimate satisfaction for customers is receiving the best product at a reasonable and competitive cost. We must strive to deliver all that we have promised on our websites, in our flyers, and on social media. To add to the best product or service we can supply, can we then deliver more? How do we step out of the box to help our customers realize the extra mile is what we are anxious to provide? Most of us have experienced customer service at its best and its worst. I treasure the shoe store where the salesperson knows me by name, knows what I like, and sends me a quick email when new merchandise comes into the store. And when I get a moment and arrive at the boutique, I am greeted with a big smile by my name and can always be assured the best is yet to come.

Now on the other side of the customer service grid lies the company only interested in viewing me as a dollar sign. “Look around, and if there’s anything we can help you with, just holler,” was the only interaction I received after having been in the store for 15 minutes. Those were the words the salesperson uttered as she looked up from the customer she was assisting seemingly annoyed; as if I was going to interfere with her lunch break.

Studies have shown that retail and restaurant customers will spend 40% more if the service provided is outstanding, so everyday we as business owners, should try to do better. Understanding their reality and adapting our programs, efforts, and products to enrich our customers lives show how we value each person.

Here are the Golden Rule suggestions of showing customers how much we value their business:

  • Treat all customers equally. Of course, some customers may spend more than others, but the referrals are what help us to succeed and grow. One never knows who just might walk into your store one day or call upon you for your expert services.
  • Value each customer and make everyone’s experience as efficient and as pleasant as possible.
  • Appreciate people and show them your appreciation by being on time, listening, acknowledging them as they walk into your store even if you are with another client, be polite and smile, and be well informed.
  • Have a process formulated to thank your customers; whether you send out personal thank-you notes, email appreciation letters, small gifts, or coupons for discounts on subsequent business.
  • Use loyalty reward programs. Especially useful now during the holiday shopping season when customers are plentiful, plan something special for after the holidays when business slows. Take that time to work on customer retention.

Although it is human nature to cater to the top tier of our business customers, we must never forget that earning the trust and respect of everyone is what helps us to succeed.

Image courtesy of Andres Rodriguez

Brick and mortar stores can still outdo Amazon with ‘Amazon Can’t Do That’

Hurried ShoppersIn a study titled “Amazon Can’t Do That” polling 1,500 consumers spanning the three generations of Millennial, Gen X, and Boomers research group, WD Partners concluded that shoppers still prefer feeling, walking around, and gathering with friends and families during the holiday shopping season. Whereas Amazon is no longer just a store for books, the grand giant now sells everything that can be sold or delivered, so how do local stores compete, and what needs to be done to gain customer loyalty even after the last ornaments have been neatly tucked away?

As convenient as it was to shop on Cyber Monday, the news media burst  with headlines displaying throngs of shoppers postponing their family turkey dinners to stand in line for incredible deals such as 50″ flat screen televisions for $199, kitchen appliances at hefty discounts, or the most popular toys being sold in record numbers at Toys R’Us on Black Friday. Mix that with movie stars such as Jessica Simpson, Justin Bieber, and others superimposed talking to Kris Kringle in the Macy’s Department Store advertisement, which for the first time ever, opened on Thanksgiving Day, there’s still some profound popularity for the brick and mortar experience to find good service, good sales, and the nostalgia of the Season.

Still stores can’t depend on that warm and toasty experience shoppers love as they purchase gifts for their families and friends. Stores need to give customers what they want and make the experience pleasant if they want to see these same people post holiday time. If the shoppers’ experiences wind up with poor customer service, it’s apt to show up quite quickly on social media, and that could end up in a long run to recovery. It’s about making the experience stand out; some bonuses the shopper may not experience if they chose the online shopping path can also help build loyalty. For instance:

  • Offer free attractive gift wrapping and have numerous employees there to keep line waiting time to a minimum.
  • Offer free shipping for more expensive and luxury items with insurance.
  • Make customer assistance convenient and quick for shoppers. Use email, telephone calls, and live chats to help with service.
  • Use loyalty cards and give one out to every customer during the holiday shopping season that can quickly add up and provide a benefit or discount after the season. Make it an attractive offer and build customer loyalty at the same time.
  • Make sure to thank every customer, apologize for any oversight, correct the problems, and ask how you can be of any further assistance.
  • Offer discounts for multiple purchases. Everyone likes “buy one get one free.

According to WD Partners, however the brick and mortar store should be ” a place of inspiration and ideas that leaves shoppers with a high or sense of euphoria. The in-store shopping experience must offer more than a warehouse does. Retailers who provide this type of shopping experience will be successful this holiday shopping season.

“The store should be a place of inspiration and ideas that leaves shoppers with a high or sense of euphoria,” Lee Paterson, executive vice president of creative services of WD Partners, said in the study. “The in-store shopping experience must offer more than a warehouse does. Retailers who provide this type of shopping experience will be successful this holiday shopping season.” – See more here.

The top remedies to quell ‘customer rage’

Cliente enfadado?

In the world of social media, where consumers publicly speak out against poor customer service, it has been estimated that U.S. businesses can lose $60 billion in future sales of goods and services. A recent report from a cloud contact provider stated  85% of consumers retaliate against a company with bad customer service. “Customer rage”, as it is called, has caused 49% of consumers from doing business with a particular organization, and interestingly enough, the 18 through 34 year-old age groups are three times more likely to vent their frustrations out on social media.

For at least 70% of the purchasing population, the first line of complaint begins with a phone call. As so many  large organizations utilize call centers, customers get easily frustrated with the maze of number presses, the disconnects, rudeness from call center personnel, language barriers, and of course, the incompetent service representative.  That adds up to a lot of complaints when 43 billion calls a year are processed through these call centers.   The major companies which notoriously press a customer’s “rage button” include cable television providers, satellite providers, telephone products and services, electronics, retailers, banking institutions, and automobile manufacturers. Ironically these most often are big ticket items; thus involving more hard earned income and therefore more serious consumer consequences.

So what enrages customers the most and how can we improve our services? Oddly enough, out of the ten most popular solutions to improving customer service, six suggestions have no bearing on prices. The overwhelming top response from unhappy consumers centered around being treated poorly and the lack of respect. Although we may laugh at some of the popular “customer rage” videos popular on YouTube, the message to be conveyed is not to have to call back, explain the problem to someone else, and repeat the vicious cycle of ineptness until the proverbial cork pops out of the bottle.

It’s hard to find a company who actually admits blame, but unhappy customers want to hear a company acknowledge they are sorry, and then to make an offer to correct the lack of service or fix or replace the defective product.

“I’m not asking for a miracle, but I want the company to acknowledge my time is valuable, my business with them is important, and they will try their best to make it better for me,” explained Pamela Davis, a former AT&T Bell Labs executive assistant. “I’ll even settle for mediocre now before I change companies, but I want them to resolve my conflict.”

Customer service, despite all of the edginess of progress and innovative tools available to businesses,  still boils down to the importance of communication. “I’m sorry you are unhappy,” and “Thank you for your business,” aren’t  complex formulas, but it brings the humanity back from a very complicated world; and although it doesn’t cost a lot, it certainly encourages brand loyalty.

Service with a snarl: What to look for and how to avoid it

No doubt we have all been victims of bad customer service, and no doubt we have left companies and moved on to their competition because the experience, at least in our own eyes for the moment, had been intolerable. Of course, we all have those particularly heinous stories of sub par service and indignant insults, but fair is fair, and perhaps some of those “fly off the handle” experiences could have been handled better; both by the customer and the service person.

Whereas the warning signs of poor customer service seem to be universal in this day and age of technology and good old personal one on one intervention, the adage of the “customer is always right” can never be a one-size fits all solution. It is true that waiting in line or a long telephone “hold” wears down a customer’s patience, and could very well be the foreshadowing of a busy and understaffed company, statistics state Americans spend 37 billion hours a year waiting in line for such services as cash registers, amusement parks, movies, fast food restaurants, and the list goes on.

The real payoff happens when we get to the front of the line or the representative answers the phone. How is the customer treated? Is there an apology for making us wait? Is the service we expect now provided? Is the customer service representative owning the problem, or are we told someone else will have to get in touch with us? The popular recording:

“Your call is very important to us. Please do not hang up. All of our representatives are busy helping other customers,” is only believable to us if we can expect our problems to be corrected or addressed.

The real solution is a customer service representative who is well-trained and intelligent who tells an unhappy customer:

“We’re sorry, and we will make this right.”

On the other side of the customer service debate, however we must remember that customers need to own  respectable codes of behavior. Customer service agents are not FBI hostage negotiators and should not be expected to tolerate screaming profanities, unrealistic goals, and vulgar behaviors. Agreed, everyone can get slightly miffed from waiting in line or being left on “hold” for more than a customer thinks is acceptable, ( could be one minute, ten minutes, or an hour) beginning the conversation in an arbitrary manner is not likely to get the desired results. Try to throw, “it’s the principle” out of your mind and concentrate on the desired end result; whether it is to be a refund, a replacement part, or a better seat in the auditorium for a Katy Perry concert. Nothing replaces the time honored old English proverb:

“You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.”

Organizations have

to figure out which way they want to operate. Low levels of service are inexpensive, but the high costs of customer dissatisfaction, the lost business, and the money spent to process and repair the damage, takes its toll. High levels of service are expensive, and it costs more to provide those services, but the costs for dissatisfaction issues are much lower.

So the next time you think you are a victim of a snarly customer service person, why not take a deep breath and imagine the “best in life is yet to come.”

Customer service sparkles with romance at St. Augustine specialty boutique

2011-11-05 023While Cupid may not have the reputation for worrying about customer service when it comes to thoughts of love, it’s clearly evident the diapered imp of romance has never had to deal with an epic proposal like Kanye West and Kim Kardashian in the middle of AT&T Park in San Francisco; all resplendent with a 50 piece orchestra and a $3 million 15 carat diamond ring. Still love isn’t always dependent on dazzling drama nor is it only for the privileged or the rich; “WOW” customer service can make even the simplest proposal an affair to remember.

In one of 14 unique stores around the world, Filthy Rich located in St. Augustine, Fla. offers affordable, high quality reproductions of celebrity replica jewelry from collections ranging from the Golden Era of Hollywood to Jacqueline Kennedy and even fast forward to the contemporary collections of Carrie Bradshaw. It’s a store “all about the fun” where a shopper can also find movie props, film cell art, Elvis Presley memorabilia, and even a life size statue of Marilyn Monroe wearing the iconic white dress from the movie The Seven Year Itch.

And so one day a young couple in love walks in to the store to browse the elusive gap spanning the past to the present of Hollywood’s most glamorous and romantic times, and the young woman falls in love with the store, where of course “diamonds are a girl’s best friend.” She stopped at every display, read all of the posters, learned, laughed, and left happy.

The next day the young man returned and spoke with the owner about how much his girlfriend enjoyed the experience at the store, and wanted to ask the store owner for a specific favor; the young man wanted to propose to his lady in the store since she found the store to be so romantic. And that is what happened, but with a clever twist and the kind of customer service to be remembered and passed on to friends, relatives, and coworkers. The store owner and the young man arranged the date and time he would bring his girlfriend back into the store. The engagement ring, a genuine diamond purchased from a nearby fine jewelry store, was brought in and carefully placed in one of the contemporary collection display cases awaiting the arrival of the couple.

And so the fun began. The boyfriend told his girl to choose a ring for fun, and pointed to the  real diamond ring. Of course she said it was beautiful, and as the shop owner pulled the ring out for the young woman to try on, the would-be groom fell to one knee and proposed.

Perhaps it is the unconventional and innovative way the “WOW” was delivered that made this an amazing experience because the end result made an emotional impact on the receivers. Since there was no monetary reward for the shop owner, (remember the ring was purchased at a fine jewelry store) could this be another example of going “above and beyond”? While there are no magic formulas for small businesses to guarantee their success, sending customers away who are happy and therefore pass on positive feedback, are the building blocks to repeat business and loyalty. Good service starts at the top; when the owner makes it their mission to set goals of greatness, continue on the challenge for excellent service, and train the staff to be courteous, knowledgeable, and helpful. Keeping promises, paying attention to complaints, and answering the phone help to form those very important relationships because we are judged more by what we do than by what we say.

Of course, throwing in incredible experiences and being helpful even if no immediate compensation is realized is sure to catch the attention of many others. Where do you think that couple will shop the next time?

‘Social listening’ can help businesses become more effective

Catching up on e-mail...The buzz phrase “social listening,” also known as social media monitoring, can help organizations and businesses be more effective and build stronger brand relationships. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept, media marketing software combines both monitoring and analytics to help us listen, understand, and engage. Through Facebook and Twitter, conversations can be measured to help attract new customers, and ultimately these customers can become advocates helping our businesses to grow.

Perhaps the Dell story with the “power to do more” further explains the concept of “social listening.” Dell’s social media 10,000 employees are tuned into more than 25,000 conversations about Dell every day claiming the more information gathered, the better the company will be able to deliver the precise products and services customers want. The company considers social media an extension of their brand, however it’s not that easy, and it’s not just about purchasing the software. Michael Dell’s “direct-to customer-heritage” starts with training. At the Social Media and Communities University, associates are fully trained and then empowered to listen and focus – transforming “online ranters into ravers.” Eleven languages, 24/7 availability, and participating in social media for the sake of the company, help Dell to continue growing stronger brand relationships with customers.

One can’t separate however, customer service with “social listening”; as Dell states it is a key part of the brand. The company combines customer service phone calls, social media engagement, online strategies, traditional print advertising, and everything in between to further Dell’s recognition.

Once upon a time, businesses would learn how customers felt about them through polls, surveys, and focus groups. Now with “data mining,” specific keywords on social networking, websites, and blogs can identify what is being said, where it is being said, and who is saying it. Of course, the anonymity of sitting behind a computer screen can easily make for bogus complaints, (unfortunately there are no mental stability tests required to type on a computer) but knowledge is a way to be prepared for an action plan if needed.

This information can come from Google Alerts to sophisticated applications, but knowing what to do with the results is as important. Obviously, one can’t join every social network on the Internet, so identifying those who need your product or service, and then joining and being active, will help to build a solid customer base and hear what people are saying about your product and services. Search out the competition, and make your business stand out through customer service and excellent products.

Make customers advocates of your organization and ask those who love your products and services to spread the word. Listen and learn because social media isn’t just about a sales pitch; it becomes a reflection of you.

Is customer service more about loyalty or preventing frustration?

Football: Jets-v-Eagles, Sep 2009 - 07So here we are in the midst of football season, and wherever I sit to watch a game, invariably the question comes up as to whether offense or defense is more important? Of course, in football every yard gained by the offense means the defense has given that yard up, yet it is the offense who has to score. Then again the defense is in charge of keeping their opposition from scoring.

Since customer service is now getting more and more complicated because prices have become so competitive, does it also depend on a better defense or one of offense? In Forbes, “Defense Can be Better Than Offense in Customer Service,” there comes a question whether going that extra mile for a customer much like Nordstrom’s Department Stores, Zappos, or the Ritz Carlton hotels, actually reap the benefits of the amount of money spent to train the staff, or to give employees the latitude to be able to make independent decisions that can ultimately cost an organization a lot of money?

Matthew Dixon’s book, The Effortless Experience: Conquering the New Battleground for Customer Loyalty, contends we should not be searching for loyalty by offering customers the ultimate customer service experiences through expensive programs. Instead of recognizing top customers with promotions and rewards, extensive feedback, or even apology programs,  rather it’s less expensive just to focus on “preventing frustration and delay.” The less an organization does, the less the cost. Avoid loss by targeting customers who may be leaving and look for ways to keep them before they run over to the competition.

Remember the defensive position is reactive; responding by emails, calls, live chats, and social media with the end result of loyalty. Some say if you strive to make everyone happy, word of mouth increases business while others say just try not to lose customers because it’s just too hard to get them back. Should we forget about raising satisfaction scores and just try to avoid the lowest scores so as not to lose customers?

Depending on the position an organization chooses is most dependent on the product or the service offered. No matter which way however, both sides depend on the effectiveness of the customer service department including product knowledge, communication skills, and the ability to take responsibility for their own actions. Personally I prefer the more defensive approach, and have for years appreciated the customer recognition status and associated perks. With products in two different stores being of equal quality and competitively priced, my business would still be at the store with the better recommendations from my neighbors, family, and friends.

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