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How to kill your brand with bad customer service

How to kill your brand with bad customer service Ikea

We supposedly live in the land of customer service. Worry-free shopping of products and services is the mantra. What really happens is most often totally horrific customer service when things do not quite go the “standard” and “normal” way. Who has for instance not seen the little video clip of “United Breaks Guitars”? More than 14 million views for this little ditty all because United Airlines was particularly ignorant listening to Dave Carrol’s request for getting his guitar repaired or replaced. I am thinking a few folks at United Airlines hopefully learned something from this.

My most recent trip to customer service Never-Neverland started a few weeks back at Ikea. Our whole family just loves, loves the cool designs and creative ideas improving just about any room of your house. The kids even ask to spend time in the showroom because they like “trying” things out. We were in the market for deck furniture that was on sale only on that weekend. Our luck would have it that they of course just had run completely out of the stuff on sale, which we wanted to buy.

That can happen and so after a brief dialog with my wife we concluded that we ought to bite the bullet buying another style that was of course much more expensive, but they had it in inventory. The load was so huge that we had to get home delivery for it. Fast forward two weeks and guess what? The stuff we got had gone on sale (25% off!) and along comes the first tip for how to easily kill your brand:

  • Use a call center with many, many, many convoluted ways how to get to speak with a person. If you are at it make sure your computerized telephone system hangs up on the caller a few times.

Stuff happens, right? After a while I got to speak with a nice person who eventually even sent me a follow up mail with the flyer and info needed to get the discount money back. You can retroactively get it back within 30 days of buying something that goes on sale. “All” I had to do was going back to the store where I had bought the furniture.

With that information in hand my son and I paid the store a visit last weekend. Being my jolly self I logged into the electronic queue system at the store service counter and another 15 minutes came and went before we got to speak to a customer service representative. We are now working on number two of deadly sins in customer service:

  • Never give your customer service folks a reason to smile. Make absolutely sure that they will tell you what they will not be able to do for you. Don’t let them tell customers what they WILL BE able to do. Also, do not let them interact with the customer too much, let them call their manager right away instead.

Yikes! I have been in customer service for most of my adult life and here this woman violated just about any of my self-taught and abided by customer support rules. My initial smile made place for my signature pursed lip look. Things started not going well and even my son was now a little uncomfortable by this standoffishness.

  • Let your customer service person then proceed studying the meaning of the company’s advertising wording together with the customer and vehemently disagree with the customer’s interpretation.

By now the customer service person resorted to tell me that I had not bought the “sectional” set. Huh? All the flyer said was “sectional frames” – sorry but those two words belong together and there was no emphasis on “sectional”. She finally conceded and then continued speaking with her manager over the phone. Ready for the next deadly sin:

  • Want to kill your brand, huh? Let your customer service person tell the customer that nothing can be done about the customer’s coupon. Be relentless in arguing with the customer that company call center must have been mistaken.

Having just driven 30 miles obtaining my money back what could have been a slam dunk 30 minutes tops event, now started to seriously deteriorate. Since I had nothing to lose, I asked if their could still be a misunderstanding at hand:

  • Next up: Treat your customer as a second or third class one. Perhaps he will get the message that he is just wasting his time and will thus just go away. Killer move!

She got on the phone and got to her manager. All she said was: “told ya” and then she turned around and asked if I wanted to speak with him. “Sure” I said. “He’ll be right with you”.

  • Bam! Next one: Promise stuff that you have no idea how to commit to and then make sure to not check back with the customer at least occasionally.

Another 10 minutes later, the seemingly stressed out manager came bolting through the warehouse office door and approached me. “Can I see your coupon?” is all he asked. And thus the rapid fire of bad customer service rattled on.

  • In the interest of letting the customer know how serious you are about protecting your hard earned cash, do not let your customer service folks smile, have fun, and under no circumstance be too friendly with the customer. Time is money and nothing will sustainably put a kink into the customer’s trust in your organization like this method.

The poor guy did not even say “hello” or “how are you” after I greeted him that way at least. This gentleman can perhaps go on without acknowledging the fellow human being in front of him – but I cannot and will not do that. Sorry, Sir, but this will not happen on my watch. Anyway, the brand killing went on:

  • To really kill the trust in your brand let your customer support manager argue with the customer that the printed company “coupon” cannot be used after the purchase. Continue arguing this even with live company website information shown to the manager on customer’s phone. Make sure that this diatribe goes on for a good while.

Then the miracle happened and the manager looked the “coupon” up on his own computer system and the paperwork I had turned out to be a “flyer”. Big difference! I guess. “Sir, you are correct!” he finally exclaimed. Hmmm. I was numb but still managed signaling to my son that he had better pay attention as to what unfolded in front of him.

Just when I thought we were getting closer to the end of this tedious diatribe, we had to endure another killer task:

  • Never admit fault or wrong doing. If absolutely necessary wince an almost inaudible “sorry about that” and then proceed leaving the scene. In the process make sure to forget authorizing the credit to the customer’s account.

By now another customer service agent had taken care of the crediting process. She fairly quickly picked up on the fact that she could not authorize the credit herself. She needed to get straight back on the phone calling the manager back. Agggghhh!

  • Another brand killer classic is public griping by your company team members. Managers should probably do the lion share of it since they get paid more and have more responsibility.

After almost a full hour my son and I could not wait to get out of Ikea. Can you blame me? While we managed to get our discount money back the whole charade left a really bitter taste in my mouth. A couple of small things done differently by the key players and this could have fortified the good impression that I had had about the store.

On the light side my son piped up in the car about how the first customer service person reminded him about Squidward from SpongeBob Squarepants. He really got into it saying the service manager reminded him of Mr Krabs and the store somehow of Plankton’s Chum Bucket restaurant. Thankfully, no one could hear our laughter.

The same night we went to Wegman’s food market and had the polar opposite customer service experience. The French rolls had run out again, but the very friendly service associate asked us if we had 20 minutes for him to “throw” another batch of rolls into the oven – just for us! Impressive!

Choose to provide great customer service and support it any way you can.


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