When Companies Ignore Their Customers

Alan Belniakbusiness, Marketing2 Comments

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Reader: note upfront, please, that I’m not singling out GE.  Rather, I’m using GE as an example.  Many companies fall into this trap.  GE and I, however, experienced this first hand.  As a thesis for this blog post, it’s this: brands are taking customers on a roller coaster ride, and the only one having fun is the operator (the brand).  Too much attention is paid to get me onto the ride, and then once I’m there, it’s as if you’re not seeing me, flailing my arms, asking to slow down or for help. You’re failing to see that, when the ride stops and I exit, I’m going to walk past the line of other people waiting to get on.  What do you think I’m going to say to them?  That I was delighted?

[Update: Since this post went live, GE contacted me.  I summarize that interaction here.]

The Backstory

In the beginning of 2011, my wife and I were looking at new appliances.  We narrowed our initial search to the GE Monogram line.  One item in particular is the Advantium Speed Cooker.  It’s a microwave on steroids.  But we didn’t know many people who had one, and some of the stats on the website were hard (for me) to follow.  So I tweeted about it, asking if anyone had one.
GE listened.  And responded.  Fast.

Within a day (maybe even 12 hours), someone got back to me on Twitter.  We traded messages, and ultimately shifted to e-mail to take it beyond 140 characters.  I was left more informed, and had a good feeling about GE at the moment. I almost wrote a post about this entire experience, but other things got in the way, and I didn’t.  And I’m glad that’s the case, because I can now expand on the story.  We bought the Advantium and a few other items (including an oven), had them installed, and things were swell.

The Honeymoon is Over

A little while after that, the oven started to act up.  So, my wife called to schedule a service appointment.  On the day she calls (Monday, April 18, 2011) I get an email at work from her: “33 minutes on hold and counting. This is ridiculous.  And, I have a meeting to go to, so I’ll have to hang up and lose my spot in the queue.”  We both work, so finding time to wait on hold – for any amount of time, leave alone 33 minutes – is a challenge.  My initial thought: 33 minutes (and more) to schedule a service call?!  This is telling that they are understaffed (woefully) or that their products require a lot of work (woefully).  Either way, not a good sign. She eventually got through, and via an automated system, got a service date that same week (thankfully), with a window of 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM.  When they called the day before to confirm the time (the call came to me, so I got to speak to a human!  A human being, Jubal!), I asked if they could narrow that window.  They said, “This is the best we can do.”

Disdain Sets In

Wait a second.

We are a two-working parent household.  Census figures are not at my fingertips, but my gut guess is that this is not a significant minority.  Thankfully, my wife was able to work from home and be there the whole day (after moving some phone meetings around).  How is 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM convenient for anyone, even stay-at-home folks?  This irked me.  So I voiced my opinion on Twitter.

Before you go off and comment about what a crappy move that is, consider the following: what I said on Twitter was/is equivalent to water cooler/coffee station talk about what’s going on in our lives.  And it’s the same talk that I would’ve had if I were in line at my local Home Depot or Lowe’s stores.  So, was I complaining?  Yep.  Was I hoping someone took action?  Yep.  Was I expecting that they actually would?  Nope.

A Ray of Hope

So, when someone from GE reached out, I was (initially) delighted.  They asked what the issue was, I explained, and they asked what they could do.  I said they could follow me so I could DM them my email address so we can have a 140+ character conversation.  Huzzah!

They ended up narrowing the window from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM instead to  8:00 AM to 12:00 noon.  I was happy – it was cut in half.  I was perplexed, and now a little angry with my call from the day before, because when I asked if the time could be changed, I was told it “was the best [they] could do”.  In this day and age, I’d expect a 2-hour window.  Greedy?  Not in the least – here’s why:

  • GE can take my money in multiple forms: cash, Visa, MasterCard, AMEX, Discover (don’t scoff – each is a separate cost/technology), debit, financing, check… you get the idea. They spend money (i.e., researching technology) on finding ways to take/get my money.
  • GPS today is superb.  We don’t even need Garmins or TomToms.  We have them in phones.  They show us where we are, traffic, and they predict traffic (INRIX).
  • We can gather stats on how long an xyz service call has taken over thousands of technicians – fancy customer relationship management systems can do this.

So, with all this data at hand, why is it that GE cannot narrow the window from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM?  In an odd twist of frustration, they can can narrow the window if you complain on Twitter.  But I shouldn’t have to.  I did… but I shouldn’t have to. Ridiculous.

Clouds Roll In

New info in hand, I feel better.  Until, that is, I get a call from the technician (a very nice fellow) that he’s got “three calls in front of mine” a few towns away and he’s “looking at like 1:30”.  I say OK – what else am I really going to say – “No”?  So here I am, after my exchange on Twitter, and a reach-out from GE, with the implied sense that they smoothed the issue over, they estimate their arrival time will now be about 90 minutes after the end of my newly quoted window.  Yikes.  Look, I know stuff happens.  But GE (presumably) went out of their way to narrow down the window from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM to 8:00 AM to 12:00 noon.  Surely something happened to make this feasible.  So you’d think that, in the end, GE would want to ensure that this customer was happy/satisfied/etc. (see above, when I use the analogy of me departing the amusement park ride, walking by a line of would-be participants; what kind of feedback am I going to utter under my breath or say loudly?).

To me, I’m left with the impression that GE went out of their way to make this happen.  Why do I think that? Because if the initial person said “that’s the best we can do”, then Joe Consumer is left thinking, “well then that’s the best they can do.”  So when someone else at GE has the ability to change is, it was (by my calculations) a significant moment.  Strings were pulled.  Favors were called.  Et cetera.

Oblivious

The tech arrives between 1:30 and 2:00, is cordial in communicating with my wife, does his work, and leaves.  In the meantime, I get a tweet from GE [@GE_Appliances] reading “Thanks for working with us!”.   I opt to not reply untl I hear the results from my wife about the time the technician arrived, etc.

GE tweets to @abelniak

GE tweets to @abelniak

I applaud GE in its social media efforts to address the issue online, move it offline (at my request, though), address it, and respond back online.  A-plus for that.  D-minus for the execution though.  One would think that if a company goes out of their way to arrange for special dispensation for a customer, then said company had better live up to it. They missed the mark.  They are coming back next week to actually fix the issue.  I’m sure they will do a good job.

The Lesson

This post is not about the quality of the workmanship,  It’s about being there before the sale vs. the scheduling and execution of a service appointment.  It’s about the amount of detail placed online during the purchase transaction vs. the attention during the after-sale event.  To me, it’s as if GE cares less about me now that I’m an existing customers – they already took my money – why bother, right?  If this is not their motive, then they need to understand that this is how it is perceived by me (and potentially others, though I can’t speak for them).

GE (and others like you): please heed this parable.  Shift the focus of time from acquiring new customers to retaining existing customers.  Treated well, they are free advertising.  They market for you.  The espouse your brand.  GE’s apparent focus is on obtaining new customers vs. the general disregard of existing customers.  This is shameful.

Bonus Material: Free Insults!

When I traded contact information through Twitter direct messages, they sent me an email address to use to take the conversation beyond 140 characters.  I did so.  GE then took the liberty of adding my email address to their promotional database.  The very next day, I was sent a message about a new marketing campaign.  You’ve got to be kidding me.  Seriously, GE?  You’re in the middle of sorting out an issue with a customer over what amounts to being ignored and poorly communicated to, and you think the best thing to do is spam me?  Go look up ‘permission marketing’ – a term from Seth Godin.

image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/katsushiro/4384976412/


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