Examples of Bad Service

It's Not Our Fault...I Don't Trust You

One of the takeaways from my trip to Zappos headquarters last month...they give every customer the benefit of the doubt. Not some people or when the burden of proof has been met. But, every customer, unconditionally. They do the opposite of what most companies do...if there's a hint of a problem, they assume it's their fault, not the other way around.

Since most of their sales have shifted on-line (like so many other businesses), many of the people that call-in to Zappos have a concern or an order question (at least that was my impression from my time in the call center). And, if Zappos handled these people like most companies, there would be a vetting process to get to the bottom of every situation to guard against unnecessary discounts and refunds. In turn, the call experience would be just as expected...a royal pain in the butt, too long, unsatisfying and more likely down right aggravating. Perfect if you're in the business of average. Thankfully, Zappos is in the business of happiness. So, they simply act that way. They trust you.

Of course, many companies use clever disguises to give you the impression someone cares...a 24 hour support line, a handy "e-mail us" option or even "live chat". I recently had trouble with my Garmin 405CX running watch. So, I called Garmin support, twice, because the first time when I heard my wait time was 35 minutes I thought there was a glitch...there wasn't. I decided on the email option, made my way through the myriad of toggle options and drop down boxes, described my issue and off it went. Moments later I was greeted with an email (see below)...we aim to respond to you within 3 days. So, 35 minutes on the phone or 3 days for an email which will likely just lead to more email. Hmmm, do you think Garmin really has my best interest in mind? Do you think they trust me?

Trusting your customer is required if you want them to trust you. You don't get to do it part time and expect a dividend. Sure, by going into it with blind faith you're going to get burned sometimes. But, not nearly as bad as if you're worried about always being right.

Boxed In

I experienced yet another one of those frustrating customer service moments today. This time a company promised through advertising to sell me something for a certain price. Turns out what I was attempting to buy had been discontinued some time ago...they just forgot to change the website. And, in the end, I was out of luck. Of course, this isn't alarming. It happens every day to many, many people. Like you, it happens to me on a regular basis...companies over promise and under deliver...no news here. What made this particular instance alarming was how three of the five people I spoke with were actually interested in solving my problem and making up for the mistake. They each expressed a sincere apology and empathized. The real problem...they couldn't do anything. The "system", "policies" and "company processes" stood in their way. Here were perfectly capable, caring individuals who couldn't do what was most important...solve a customer problem. What a shame to waste their talent and time this way.

Makes you wonder how long system oriented organizations like this are going to survive. Probably until people like you and companies like this come along, change the rules and disrupt everything.

Hospitality is in the Details

Little Rock has a relatively nice airport...comfortable, easy, a pleasant experience by airport standards.

So, who makes the decision to let this sort of thing get in the way? I've seen this fan just like this for months. How many employees and managers are saying, "it's not my job to fix this" even though it clearly disrupts the marketing program?


Hospitality is in the Details from Michael Chaffin on Vimeo.


Rules are good for a lot of things...keeping airplanes and cars apart, managing kids at school, getting people paid on time, etc. But, as much as they make things orderly, they can really hamper your chance of being remarkable, especially in hospitality. This was the scene at a local shopping center at 10 AM. Out of camera range were five other similar congregations...just waiting to get in other stores. Guess what time this store opens, yep...10 AM. So, does it make sense for a shop keeper to keep a group of people waiting outside in the heat until the rules say it's time to open? Of course, not. It makes more sense to welcome people as they arrive, even a few minutes early, invite them in, offer them a cool drink and allow them to browse while you get the register fired up. That's what a shop keeper who's livelihood depended on every customer would do. Problem is...not many of them around. But, plenty of clerks following rules.

Try Back Later


These words should be banned from use in every company...by penalty of immediate dismissal, or worse.

Imagine you call the toll free number listed on a company website to purchase a product. The first time you try, you are routed to someone's voice mail. The second time, you reach a seemingly stoned and definitely confused tech support guy who doesn't know "why all these calls are being routed to him" and to "try back later". This happened today when I called Wilife (Logitech)...an organization expected to have their act together.

I can't imagine this was the first time a call was routed to the wrong person. I can't imagine any of the sales or tech people at Wilife are trained to tell someone to call back. However, I can imagine that answering the telephone  is not a top priority there...we know it isn't at most places. Because...it's seen as necessary, a process, a cost...instead of  what it really is...an opportunity to make a friend, and make a sale.

You can make remarkable products and services. But, as long as incoming callers are treated like trolls, what's the point?


My aggravation of the week...

If I call your support line three times in as many days and each time you answer with a recorded message  that claims you are "experiencing higher than normal call volumes", you might rethink your definition of normal...and, more importantly, what to do about it.

My tip of the week...have a person answer the phone whenever possible. People like that.


While accepting a regretable four hour flight delay at Frankfurt this morning, it occured to me how powerful a smile is, or how very damaging the lack thereof can be.

American Airlines did an absolutely frightful job of just that as they described a "technical" problem which created delays of up to an entire day for most of us. My particular agent didn't crack even the slightest hint of a msile during the entire check-in process...she didn't even suggest any alternatives....later I found another agent who was more accommodating in redirecting us...but, still no smile.

I can put up with a lot...when people treat me nicely.

I don't need to wonder why American and a host of others flirt daily with financial ruin.

Feeling Good

If you’re in the service business, it all boils down to one thing…making people feel good.

Sounds easy…but, we all know it’s not.

This process usually starts with the phone (although the internet is catching-up rather quickly).
Answer the phone with a smile…and the customer feels welcome, feels like taking the next step, maybe feels like buying something, or perhaps reinforces that they did. Unfortunately, too many companies fail to pay attention to this very important step.

For instance, if you call the Landrover dealership in Albuquerque, NM there’s a very good chance you’ll feel like I did, indifferent…at best. This is how they answer (every time I’ve called), “Landrover Albuquerque”. That’s it…no hello, good morning, how may I help you?...nada. It doesn’t get much better once you get in the building. But, that’s not the point of this story. Landrover Albuquerque doesn’t get it. They don’t understand how important this experience is to their future. They don’t understand that making people feel welcome is perhaps the single most important thing they do. And clearly, they don’t understand that this step occurs perhaps hundreds of times a day…on the telephone.

On the other hand, call any of the Mobil Five Star winners, any Four Seasons or Ritz Carlton and I bet you hear something different. You can almost see the person smiling on the other end. Of course, this has nothing to do with chance. But, rather everything to do with an attitude and understanding about what business your in…the business of people, and making them feel good.

Landrover, along with almost every other car dealer, isn’t in the business of selling automobiles. That’s just the vehicle (pun intended) they use to serve people. I wonder if they’ll ever figure it out? Call them…and let me know if they do.

Thanks for reading…Have A Nice Day.


There's no other way to describe this brain lapse by Hilton...charging astronomical fees to use their business center while offering in-room internet for free.

Either give it away for free or charge a nominal $5/day to cover your costs. But, instead they use the "nickel and dime" approach which yields far less revenue and pisses off their best customers.

Thanks to Church of The Customer for the lead.

The Hostage Factor

This recent bit of news sparked a thought about loyalty and frequent guest programs.

Loyalty should be based on the experience, not bribery. If you’re good, guests will come back and refer you to others. If you’re not, they won’t. It’s as simple as that. So, if you build a loyalty program to “retain” customers, you’re telling us something…you’re really not good enough. Rather, put your money into building fantastic memories. Then, develop an “appreciation” program that sends this message…thank you! That’s it, no strings attached, no mixed messages, etc.

Loyalty or “hostage” programs are extremely expensive, and really don’t work in the end. I recall years ago Marriott debating whether to end their frequent guest program. It was costing them a fortune. But, the thinking was that if they dropped it, they would lose too many customers. Well, that’s the true test of whether you have a hostage program or an appreciation message. Is the experience good enough to stand on its own? Or, does it need to be augmented with incentives to keep people coming through the door?

There’s an exception to this premise…when all of the experience options are relatively the same. A good example is the airline business. With exception of a few, service levels are at an all-time low across the board on the major carriers. So, their frequent flyer programs are more valuable than ever. These programs have become the primary reason customers choose them. Of course, their marketing departments will have you believe this is a good thing, “our customers really like us”. BS...Hostages don't get to exercise options because their aren't any! You’ll note that in markets where there’s competition from customer focused carriers, i.e., SWA and jetBlue, the big guys lose.

Build great memories for your guests and thank them…don’t hold them hostage.

It's Always About The Money

Richard Walsh makes a good point in his recent article, The Brands Sell The Brand Not The Hotel Property.

He points out that hotel franchisors often require their member properties to channel all on-line bookings through the chain's website thus limiting the ability of the individual hotels to relate and sell directly to their guest. We all know why they do it....for the fee associated with each reservation transaction.

But, is it smart? Both Richard and I don't think so. He says the chains would still make a buck if they released their partners since they collect fees tied to the incremental revenue gain (of course, not as much...that's why they don't do it). I say, these folks are extremely short-sighted in putting reservations transaction fees ahead of strong win-win relationships with their customers. Eventually, it's going to bite them... Unless, of course, the "brand" is the primary attraction for the hotel in which case the property has bigger worries.

'Discover' how to loose credibility


"Account Documents, Open Immediately, Important Information Enclosed"



The first part of being responsible and a big part of providing a positive memorable experience is being honest.

So, why would a major credit card company risk credibility by pulling something like this? Do they really think that trickery and deceit is the way to build a long-term relationship?

Discover's in trouble if they keep this up.

Mediocrity Starts with Average People

Seth Godin has an interesting post regarding mediocre service he recently received at a Westin in Florida. In a nutshell, Seth’s point is that you need to hire terrific people who can think vs. focusing efforts on giving them scripts, procedures, etc. to work by. I completely agree with him. For, it’s the great people that deliver memorable service, think on their feet when the “system” doesn’t work, or best of all, come up with the really fantastic idea that everyone else thought was stupid just last week.

In a follow-up post, Mr. Godin more than adequately answers to Chris Garrett’s Sticking to The Script thought, “I would rather have great procedures and top quality training and ok staff than brilliantly creative staff and ok procedures”. I’ll add my two cents…indeed, it can be argued that systems and procedures actually encourage the hiring of average folks. It’s part of the “robot” mentality that’s been created by corporations building a “box” for the staff to work within. Employees simply aren’t allowed to explore beyond the boundaries, at least not for real. So, Chris, I think you’re outnumbered on this one. Systems are good only when they are married with creative, “thinking” people. If that doesn’t work, change the people!

Honestly, does Westin or any other chain hotel really want to project an image that every response to a guest question is scripted, that every stay will be like the last? Of course not. Unfortunately, most of these behemoth hotel companies just don’t get it when it comes to hiring and caring for their people (See When You Care It Shows). And, that shows.

If you hire idiots and "yes" men (there are plenty out there…as an example just check out Seth’s other post about a really stupid sign), you will go down in flames. People don’t want to deal with idiots, and they certainly aren’t satisfied with mediocre service or products. They want memorable, believable and emotional experiences which are delivered by real, thinking, human beings.

Whatever happened to the premise of hiring a whole bunch of people smarter than you?

Faster Is Not Always Better

I recently read this bit of Travelocity misguided strategy at Hospitality Net. It might be slick, but I don’t think it’s what most of us want in a Travel Agent experience, not even at the corporate level. I think we want someone who demonstrates caring, attention to detail, superior knowledge of the destination and most of all, someone who takes the time to listen to us.

Here’s a key point from the story…

“The new Travelocity Business Mid-Office software, part of the eFulfillment suite, helps minimize the need for additional human intervention by automating routine but important tasks required after a traveler or an agent has booked a trip”

Faster does not normally lead to memorable service!

Here are some folks who are passionate about the travel business. They don’t try to make it quick, just better!

Rudi Steele, Rudi Steele Travel (Dallas, Texas)
Robin Sanders, Sanders Travel Centre (Fort Worth, Texas)
Jerry Pollyea, Pro Travel (Sherman Oaks, California)
Sue Bauer, All World Travel (Scottsdale, Arizona)

Swipe Your Card Please

For a business that supposedly prides itself on providing "personal" service, we sure are moving away from that platform in a big hurry...

Capitalizing on a trend begun by the airline industry -- and most recently, the Hilton Family of Hotels -- to offer consumers self-service check-in capabilities, Embassy Suites Hotels(R) announced plans today to install self-service, multi-purpose EmbassyDirect Registration Kiosks(TM) at all of its hotels. The automated technology will appear in 75 percent of hotels by year-end 2005, and in 100 percent of hotels by June 30, 2006.

The Rest of the Story

Perhaps I'm wrong. This may be exactly how our guests really want to be treated. I sure hope not.


Feeling Sick?


This is the telephone found in patient rooms at Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola, Florida. How does it make you feel?

Maybe not so bad if you’re not ill or don’t have any disabilities. You might even pay extra for it on EBay. But, from a patient’s perspective, it sucks! You might ask why would you put an ugly, antiquated, heavy and hard to use piece of equipment in a hospital room? Sick people are weak, disoriented from medication, feeling generally lousy, etc. The last thing they want to wrestle with (quite literally) is your excuse to save a few bucks. Or, perhaps you would have us believe that this has been an oversight for the past 20 years (I’m guessing at the approximate age of this beast). Try using that clunker when you are weak, have the use of one hand, or it’s dark in the room, etc. Wouldn’t patients feel better, and maybe heal quicker if the hospital actually demonstrated that they cared? Do all of us a favor and start here…put a cordless with a lighted keypad in the room. Give us a glimmer of hope that you care, especially when we’re sick!

Car Shopping

Shopping for cars has long been a less than desirable experience, and certainly not one I look forward to every three or four years. And, although I have streamlined and for the most part wrestled control of my buying process away from the car dealer (I use the fax and internet), occasionally I am forced to enter their domain.

We are looking to replace our current Jeep Grand Cherokee with a smaller SUV. We're not buying another Jeep for two reasons: one, it's too big for my wife, and two, I replaced the brakes on it four times in four years with an added customer service struggle each time I had it in the shop at the Jeep dealer.

So, we're looking at Kia Sorrento. We stroll on in to Dulles Motorcars, the closest Kia dealer to us, and after a few minutes on our own in the lot, along comes Chris. He's very polite, nice and not at all overbearing. He didn't ask many questions, other than if we were interested in a car (duh?). While his sales skills were certainly lacking, it was nice not to feel like you were in a pressure cooker to "buy today". He answered our few design and performance questions with relative confidence, and he made some small talk with our baby daughter. We told him this was our first opportunity to look at the Kia, and that we would be buying a car next month. He went to get a brochure....but, they were out. He gave me his card, and wished us a nice day. We left, actually relieved that we weren't armwrestled to buy a car before we left the lot. It was nice. We will probably go back there....probably. But, not definitely.

But....Chris blew it, didn't he. I mean, we are definitely buyers. We gave him clear and certain information about what we wanted and when we wanted it. He received our "permission" to sell to us, and he failed to seize the opportunity. Why...because he can't reach us! He is relying on chance that we enjoyed our initial experience there, that we will find our way back there before going to another dealer (or carmaker altogether) and that once we return to his lot, that he will be there, and that we will still have his card and ask for him. That's way too many if's.....and not a very memorable experience.

Below are some Star Concepts of Memorable Service (with more to come on these as well as others in future posts) which Chris could have used to be more effective:

First.....get permission. He did that.
Second, get to know me. (Ask bunches of questions) He didn't really do that.
Third, stay in touch with me. He can't do that for obvious reasons. And, even if he could, other than sending me a brochure, he doesn't have an introduction to his sales message because he doesn't know me.
Fourth, stay ahead of me. He can't.
Fifth, always exceed my expectations. He may never get the chance.
No Memorable Service here.....no reason to gab about it to all of my friends and colleagues.

Chris could have asked me a simple question: Mr. Chaffin, before you go today, would you have any interest in knowing when the 2005 model arrives, probably within the next month or so? (Also, if he was observant, he recognized we were somewhat price conscious by looking at the standard models vs. the upgrades). So, he could have asked: Would you be interested in knowing when the 2004 models go on sale in order to make room for the 2005's? In either case, I'm not going to say "no". So, now he gets my e-mail address and snail mail address, and bingo, number 3 and 4 are taken care of, and he has a real chance at number 5. Now that he knows it's okay, he will e-mail me, send me a brochure, and maybe even a bag of York peppermint patties (because he saw me chomping on one of those). Now, those actions would be light years beyond any of the other dealers. And, throw in the peppermint patties, or a personalized Baby Einstein DVD for my daughter and he would be in another universe in the realm of car sales. He would have created something Remarkable and Memorable!

Listen to your customer intently, and get engaged with him. It's the only way to make service really work....to your advantage.

Missed Opportunities

The family and I just returned from an impromptu dinner out at a local Mexican fare restaurant. We went not because of the food, reputation for fabulous service, or the like. We patronized because we had been once before (and survived), and more importantly it was next door to the place where I had my flat tire repaired.

The food is average, the service okay. But, my reason for writing about this experience is to exemplify how easy it could have been to make the experience memorable. Not every astounding customer interaction needs to be the take it to the limit stuff you usually read about.

Here goes....the waiter, a personable and knowledgeable young man did the usual: brought the menu, greeted us with a smile,ask if we cared for a drink, etc. He did one more thing...he recognized we had our 11 month old daughter with us, and commented how "beautiful" she was, and asked for her name! Outstanding, Mr. Waiter, you passed the first service test, you started making the experience personal. Not in an overly sort of way which he could have done by asking my wife's name (yes, this happens, mostly in hotels). But, he recognized how much most parents like having their children doted on. And, he threw in the fact he had a two month old to further justify his interest. But, here is the important point....he could have blown us away by taking one more step....and, unfortunately for Picante (the name of the restaurant), he didn't.

Wouldn't it have been fabulous if he had come back to the table later, perhaps even as a parting gesture, and given my daughter some sort of little gift (hat, bow, sippy cup, toy, etc.) with her Name On It!, to further pesonalize the experience, and permanently etch it into our memory bank. It wouldn't have cost much, and I guarantee you he would have far exceeded our expectation......tada Memorable Service! We would have had little difficulty telling that story about a hundred times. And, just think if that sort of service creativity was adopted by every employee at the place, management, ownership, etc. There would be lines out the door, and the food could be just okay. They'd be playing the "Service Edge" (Free Prize Inside, Seth Godin) like the fiddle.

But, as it stands, we probably won't say much about Picante, unless we know you're getting your tire fixed next door.