I’ve written about my transformation from customer to brand ambassador of the Cleveland aquarium. Brand ambassadors are authentic and huge fans. They willingly and eagerly talk about you and why they love you. And they are the kind of customer who is pure gold. It’s important to treasure them.
This post, however, is about an opposite experience. Recently, I slid from being a satisfied customer of Macy’s — even a pretty loyal one — to being, well, flabbergasted by the store’s policies, lack of common sense and subpar customer service.
The point of this post is to show that brands have control over turning customers into ambassadors…or, into bashers. Goofing up is not what makes a customer flee and complain to others. It’s not fixing the goof after repeated opportunities to do so that sends a formerly loyal customer off into the social media space incredulously shaking her head.
Brands, take note. You have the power to turn a potential brand basher back into a loyal customer — or, even better, transform an aggrieved customer into a brand ambassador because of the way you handle a gripe.
My case study
We’ve had our Macy’s credit card for more than a decade. I often shop there. The sales staff at our local store is quite good and helpful.
When my husband and I decided to buy a new mattress recently, we conducted research about the one we wanted. We knew we wanted to splurge on one because we had both been experiencing some back pain. We waited for a good sale at Macy’s on mattresses. Earlier this month, Macy’s advertised mattresses at 50 percent off, and the stock included the one we wanted, an iComfort.
At the store, however, no salespeople were in the mattress and bedroom furniture section. So we waited, eager to buy. And, we waited.
We weren’t the only ones trying to take advantage of this big and well-advertised sale. Three other couples were also there. The store was open until 11 p.m. that night because of the sale. It was just 8 p.m.
Finally, another customer — who had been waiting longer than we had — traipsed off to find a store manager. They returned five minutes or so later. The manager summoned declared that she couldn’t sell us the mattress. The sales guy’s shift had ended half an hour earlier, the manager told us.
We were dumbstruck. We really wanted to buy it that night, we told her. We had researched the purchase, been lured by the sale and gotten a babysitter to come and take care of this one task uninterrupted. The mattress set was almost $2,000.
The manager declared, again, that she “can’t” sell it to us…and said something about the “system.”
Misstep #1 ~ Advertising a product for sale, having it in available and in stock and yet, not being able or willing to sell it
Solution #1 ~ Clearly, this should be the rare exception. And if this ever is the case, have someone on hand to inform customers and offer a follow up that’s as painless as possible for them. A retort that sounds anything like: “I just work here” or “that’s the policy” is going to rankle.
I Tweeted about the experience that night. Twice actually. But got no response.
The next day, I called the store. I spoke with a different store manager from the night before, who said she’d have to get back with me. I gave my name and number and asked to be called back. Nothing. For days and days, nothing.
Misstep #2 ~ Blowing off a customer who lets you know she didn’t receive top-notch service
Solution #2 ~ This is even worse than the first misstep. Here’s why: It’s a fabulous opportunity for any brand — big or small. When a customer who’s been given short shrift lets you know that, you can still fix it. They are asking for a solution. And you can give to them. This is a gift-wrapped chance to lock in some customer loyalty.
A week later, after my Tweets, calls and requests for follow up brought no response, I kicked it up a notch. This company was still ignoring a long-time customer was keen to buy from them — and who had asked to be contacted.
So, check out these Tweets. They aroused some interesting comments and RTs from others in the Twittersphere who deal with issues of marketing, branding, leadership and customer service. This is another reason not to make misstep #2: when your irk a customer on the verge of becoming a brand basher, that spreads. And that’s toxic.
Finally, someone from Macy’s contacted me by Twitter. But the person didn’t follow me, so we couldn’t communicate by direct message. And the nameless respondent didn’t agree to my polite request that a customer service representative contact me. I got the stiff arm and was told to send an email, which meant that I had to initiate another conversation with a company who had already lost marks for customer service. Sigh.
Misstep #3 ~ passing the buck when a customer is cranky yet civil and forcing them to continue to initiate communication with you. A company with fabulous customer service wouldn’t have done that because it further inconveniences a customer who’s already been ill-served.
Solution #3 ~ Enable front-line employees to act in creative, innovative ways that serve customers. Wonderful companies, like Zappos, do this all the time. And it dazzles customers and cements their loyalty.
So, yesterday, I spent 20 minutes creating an email and sent it to the general email address provided. This kind of makes me feel like it went into a black hole. But we’ll see.
The moral is this: although looking out for, and rewarding, brand ambassadors is a smart and savvy marketing tactic, responding to customer problems so you don’t create brand bashers out of slightly peeved customers is also very important. Never more so in a world with social media. Brands need to seize those opportunities to claw back loyalty. What a great testimonial that would make!
I wanted to be coaxed back. I’m still open to it, but the window is closing.
Macy’s, I’m waiting…
Image credit: alexmillos / 123RF Stock Photo