How to Lose Customers in One Easy Lesson

Today I was talking to my oldest friend in the world, Lori, bemoaning the state of customer service these days.

Why? Because both Customer Service Representatives and their Supervisors are liars.

Who were we talking about in particular? For me it was Kohl's and the Daily Journal. For Lori it was Chico's. For both of us, it decided us that we weren't going to bring our business back to those organizations.

Where did these problems take place? Ah. Now that's a very important part of this story. The problems all took place online and on the phone.

What happened? Without boring you with all the details, what it came down to in all cases was that we:

  1. Made a purchase - both in person and online - with which we subsequently had a problem
  2. Used the various organizations' online and telephone customer service solutions - from "Live Chat" to live people
  3. Eventually spoke with a Supervisor because the Customer Service Reps were unable - or unwilling - to solve the problem for us
  4. Got a promise from the Supervisor that the problem would be solved to our satisfaction
  5. Nothing happened - whether the Supervisor made note of the conversation or not.
What makes these experiences even more ridiculous is that each purchase that Lori and I were discussing was under $100. If the companies involved had a brain cell working, they'd simply empower their Customer Service Reps to be able to solve the problem on first contact for up to that amount.

Why don't they? Because their management is scared. They don't trust their employees - which means, in fact, they don't trust their hiring processes, their training or their managers to supervise.

It's not about the employees. It's about the management systems.

And from a competitive perspective, as a result of those policies and practices, they're actively reducing profitability, shareholder value and market position.

The truly fascinating part - and the one their management would never admit - is that they believe they exist in a vacuum. That they're the only place that a customer would want to go to find whatever it is they offer. That customers have no other choices.

Not only is that thinking wrong, it's short-sighted and, frankly, stupid.

But, based on the way they treat their customers, they don't seem to be worried that their policies leading to customer frustration and dissatisfaction have no impact on their bottom line.

So, when you see that you're losing customers, take a quick look at your customer service policies and practices - because it's a good bet that that's where you're losing them. In the customer experience.

And, as you can see from Lori's and my experience, no matter how long-standing a customer we may have been, it only takes once - and we're not coming back. 

Women and Walmart - What the Supreme Court Decision Really Means

There's a lot of confusion about the upcoming Walmart v Dukes Supreme Court decision.

The biggest confusion of all is that this is not a decision regarding whether there was or wasn't discrimination against the women of Walmart, when the case was first brought forward by six female Walmart employees.

And that's a very different subject.

Because now we're talking about big business.  Giant sized business.  The biggest businesses of them all.

Which is why twenty companies - all with the same size and scope issues as Walmart - have written in support of Walmart's position.  And why the US Chamber of Commerce is arguing on Walmart's side as well.

Part of Walmart's legal argument is that they have policies against discrimination and, because of that, the corporation can't be held responsible for decisions made at the store level.  Those are local decisions.  Not corporate.

After all, with over 4400 stores and over 1.4 million employees in the US, alone, how could they ensure that such actions would not exist or occur?

Which makes it worth noting that Walmart isn't saying that bad decisions haven't been made or that discrimination hasn't possibly occurred.  Just that it's out of their control.

On the other hand, you have the plaintiffs.  It started with one woman, Betty Dukes, who was then joined by five others - who have now grown to represent a class of women in the hundreds of thousands who claim that they have been discriminated against based on their gender.  Since 1998.

Their argument is that the company systemically pays women less than men, gives them smaller raises and offers fewer opportunities for promotion. Unfortunately for Walmart, their own numbers tend to support that argument as the proportion of women in management drops substantially the higher up in the organization one looks.

If the case goes forward, the costs to Walmart will be in the billions.  That's even if, as is usually the case in class actions, it is settled out of court.

It also almost inevitably opens the door to other like-sized class actions against other employers.

So, even though this is about a point of law, it's worth going back to where this began.

Walmart is, evidently, discriminating against its employees.  Whether systemically or not, the fact is, it's happening.  And, for a company that was founded on the principals of and prides itself on the world-class systems that other organizations worldwide have adopted, it's a bit difficult to argue that in this one arena, there are no monitoring or enforcement systems in place.

Whatever the ruling, it will be landmark.  More immediately, though, what are you doing in your organization to ensure that you have the doors open to all the talent available...no matter the gender? 

(Originally published on Technorati.)