Stemming Customer Defections

“What are the facts? Again and again and again—what are the facts? Shun wishful thinking, ignore divine revelation, forget what ‘the stars foretell,’ avoid opinion, care not what the neighbors think, never mind the unguessable “verdict of history”—what are the facts, and to how many decimal places? You pilot always into an unknown future; facts are your single clue.”R.A.H.

Laurence Haughton pens an interesting article on customer defections over at Small Business Trends. Of particular note is the case study on Yellow Trucking. Yellow Trucking went out and got the facts. And reduced their error rates (i.e. times they let down a customer) from SIXTY PERCENT down to four percent. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.

Rhymes With “Mitch Frog”

Comcast hits a new low. (And that’s saying something.) The Chicago Tribune is reporting:

“Until recently, LaChania Govan’s complaints about Comcast’s service seemed relatively tame. The 25-year-old Elgin mother of two said she was put on hold, disconnected, even transferred to the Spanish language line.

But after persistent problems with her digital recording system forced her to make dozens of calls to the cable company in July, her August bill came with a change really worth complaining about: In place of her name were the words ‘Bitch Dog.’”

“We don’t care. We don’t have to. We’re the phone cable company.”

(hat tip: Jeff Jarvis, who just wrote a great letter to Michael Dell, BTW)

Apple Up, Dell Down, And The Grey Lady Faces A Death By 1000 Cuts…

New University Of Michigan Customer Satisfaction Survey Released

A report released from the University of Michigan, The American Customer Satisfaction Index, puts a few numbers behind the belief that satisfying customers is good for business. This quarter, the scores were calculated for the personal computer, electronics, major appliance, automobile and light vehicle industries, as well as online services such as news and information, portals, and search engines.

One particularly interesting tidbit is worth an excerpt, comparing the scores and financial results in the PC industry. From the commentary here:

“Apple’s sales are up 33%, net income has grown 300% and its stock price has nearly tripled over the past year. A slew of product innovations and an emphasis on digital technologies and customer service have been very successful for Apple with a high degree of customer loyalty as a result.

Dell is a different story. Based on a strategy of mass customization, the #1 PC maker worldwide has been a leader in customer satisfaction for several years. This quarter, it suffers a sharp drop in [American Customer Satisfaction Index], down 6% to 74. Customer service in particular has become a problem, and service quality lags not only Apple but also the rest of the industry. Customer complaints are up significantly with long wait-times and difficulties with Dell’s call-center abound….ACSI history has shown that changes in customer satisfaction often signal similar changes in future financial performance. Apple’s stock price is up 35% for the year-to-date, whereas Dell’s is flat.”

Another key point of note: The Long Tail definitely appears to be thrashing the traditional major news organizations. Again, from the commentary:

“In the news and information industry, there is, as usual, not much news. There is little difference between ABCNews.com (74) at the top and NYTimes.com (72) at the bottom. However, there is something going on with respect to the competitive situation in the industry. Smaller players are gaining: the “all others” category is up 4% to a score of 78 and is now higher than any of the name brands.

While there is a wide variety of websites included in this category (such as FOXNews.com, CBSNews.com and an array of local news providers), it is clear that their visitors are more satisfied than those of the measured websites. Indeed, this result mirrors much of what has occurred in the media – including newspapers and television – over the last few years: more fragmentation. As consumers have been offered a larger number of alternatives, once-dominant news sources have begun to lose disaffected customers to smaller competitors.” (emphasis added)

ZDNet UK Apologizes to Google (Sort Of…)

As you may have seen, the San Francisco Chronicle has reported the Google has banned its representatives from speaking with reporters from CNet News.com for a period of one year, on the heels of a CNet article that used Google CEO Eric Schmidt as a example of the extent and type of personal information that can be found using Google itself.

Now, News.com sister publication ZDNet UK has issued a scathing…well, I guess you could call it an “apology”…for the actions of News.com. From ZDNet UK:

“Acting under the mistaken impression that Google’s search engine was intended to help research public data, we have in the past enthusiastically abused the system to conduct exactly the kind of journalism that Google finds so objectionable.

Clearly, there is no place in modern reporting for this kind of unregulated, unprotected access to readily available facts, let alone in capriciously using them to illustrate areas of concern.”

As Jay writes, blogs are the little First Amendment machines that could. Although in the case above there were two organizations of substantial size involved, the same voice and reach are available across the board to all (ref: let’s do a search on, say, “horrible service”) and it becomes quickly apparent that the mean time to worldwide visibility of an issue can be literally measured in minutes — from incident, to impact, to (in this case) snarky response.

Others talking:

Alan Wexelblat at Corante
Matt Marshall at SiliconBeat
John Battelle at Searchblog
Dan Gillmor at Bayosphere

UHaul: Never Again

So, currently in the process of moving a houseful of stuff from Point A to Point B. Went online at http://www.uhaul.com to reserve a truck. Easy! Found a location 15min away, booked everything out with their website, and printed out my confirmation.

Here ends the chipper part of our story.

So, first, the confirmation page says “if you have not received a call from your local office by 5pm tomorrow, please call our regional office to schedule pickup of your vehicle.”

The next day arrives and departs, no call from “my local office.” So I call the regional office.

20 minutes of hold spiel. Wieux-hieux. Finally get through to a person.

“You need to call the local office directly, they’re now in charge of your reservation.” Grrr.

I call the local office. “No, sir, sorry…we don’t have a 24′ truck available. Here’s the number for [the next town over] that might have one.”

I call the U-haul in the next town over. I get someone on the phone who “transfers the reservation” to their office. They think they’ll have a 24′ truck available on the date it’s needed. Cool. “So, we’re all confirmed?” I ask, innocently.

“Um, no sir. We’ll call you back by 5pm tomorrow to confirm pickup.” Can’t you confirm it now? “No.”

Okay. At this point, my confidence is flagging, and I call two other companies in the area to put a backup in place, as U-Haul is not filling me with the warm fuzzies. A backup reservation is made, just in case UHaul doesn’t come through.

The next day, U-haul calls, they leave a message and…surprise!…they have no trucks available for the date I have a reservation for. Backup is confirmed at this point.

To ensure that I’m not charged for the non-existent reservation for the non-existent truck with UHaul, I call up again, this time to cancel. 30 minutes on hold, and NEVER get a person to pick up the phone. I hang up, and will be checking next month’s credit card statements even more diligently than normal to ensure that they didn’t charge anything for the non-existent truck on the non-existent reservation.

On the other hand, if you’re in the Bay Area and need a truck, I highly recommend either:

Condon and Sons (Penske rentals) in San Mateo

or

Hengehold Trucks in Palo Alto

Addendum:

BTW, talk about identifying a market, getting inside of it, and showing that you understand a customer…while most truck rental outfits in the Bay Area seem to have a strict “we will not rent to you” policy for that thing in the desert, check out what Hengehold does instead. How much incremental revenue do you think Hengehold gets each year because they trust their customers?

Dell Loses Another Sale

First, the Jeff Jarvis snowball.

Then Dell threatens to close, and then closes, its customer forums.

Now this, from Desirable Roasted Coffee.

“Dell Denmark approached me a half-dozen times over the summer, at least. At minor expense, to be sure, but it adds up. But the hum started by a guy 4000 miles away, whom I don’t even know, who had a bad experience with a Dell subsidiary I’ll never have to deal with, was enough to wave me off. The hum got into my subconscious. And Dell Denmark could do nothing to get back into the front of my brain.”

Still think that interactions between members of a customer community don’t matter?