One customer, one experience

You might read Seth Godin's post about a card store customer's experience and wonder why the card store would go to so much trouble. Why not just send her a refund check for the card? And, of course, you would be missing the point.

What the company gained is customer loyalty and evangelism. How many cards would this woman buy over her lifetime? How about her friends? How about anyone reading Seth's blog? All much more likely to shop at Papyrus now, right?

Yeah, it was totally worth the trouble to deliver the card to her office. Every customer interaction has tentacles that extend to the customers network. Plus you just never know who is going to blog their experience.

Comments (15)

  1. Wine-Oh says:

    If I were Papyrus I would have done the same thing. In 2001 I was working at a technology company that ran websites for tv news stations. My company was very reactive in their approach to customer service. It took to a client nearly cancelling their contract with us and taking 25 stations to the competitng company. This wake up call led us to launch a customer centric department that fielded all customer issues, complaints, kudos, rants, etc. We tracked each one, along with the resolution time. We also built a knowledge base of issues which helped with resolution time. The ones needing tier 2 and three assistance were routed to the appropriate team. On 2 occasions I led cross functional teams based on customer issues for some of our products. We went out of our way to ensure that we didnt just put a band aid or a work around out there to temporarily fix the issue. We formed a committee and fixed it appropriately. With that we regained the confidence of our customers. Even converting the stubborn ones. As much as its hard to beleive "The customer is always right."

  2. HeatherLeigh says:

    Wine-Oh, I think good customers are always right. I think toxic customers should be shown the door quickly. But often, good customers complain (and we should thank them for it).

    At this company, did you have a method for creating some kind of measure of the value of the individual customers? I like the idea of assigning a value to the lifetime of a customer (that means the length of their customerhood..not their actual life). I’m sure there’s some direct marketing application here because it allows you to target your marketing on the people that are your mot valuable customers. And by valuable, I’m not just thinking about future revenue but evangelism, etc.

    What do you think?

  3. Wine-Oh says:

    Yes we did. We created a client advisory board. Because we technically had 145 websites, those were our customers. Each of our products had to have a revenue mechanism attached to it (ie advertising opportunities on video streaming, desktop apps, etc). So if one of those products didnt work, it was a loss of revenue. By creating this advisory board, we included them in the process of our future enhancements, and took what they said, and incorporated it into the products. This way they felt valued and included, and it cut back on the complaints.

    Another way we put out the fires was being proactive in our communication approach. Follow up e mails, phone calls, outlining the situation, what the problem was, what we did to fix it, and how we will deal with it in the future. The client felt educated and included in the process. Went over very well with our clients.

  4. Dudley says:

    Good customers don’t complain.  They do, however, let you know where you’ve fallen short of their expectations, and often suggest a remedy (or work with you to devise one).

  5. HeatherLeigh says:

    Wine-Oh, sounds smart. I think being proactive is important especially now when it;s easy for people to complain very publicly online.

    Dudley-not sure I understand the difference. If a company doesn’t meet my expectations and I call to complain, I think it’s imcumbent on them to propose a solution. That’s the cost of keeping me as a customer. Do you think differently?

  6. Wine-Oh says:

    "Good customers don’t complain. " I disagree Dudley. Ever stay at a hotel and somethings not to your liking? Better yet a hotel you frequent alot for work? THat hotel goes out of their way to ensure they keep you as a customer.

    Heres a quick hotel story that happened to me recently. I recently attended my mba graduation in upstate NY. Reserved the hotel rooms 1 yr in advance at a very expensive rate. My parents and brother were coming in. I called a week before to confirm and they told me I had 2 rooms with 1 bed each. I said no, its 2 rooms 1 bed and 2 beds. They said we will give you a cot and cant change the reservation. I went onto the Starwood website (after getting some insider information that if you complain online, the hotel property gets charged $50 for each complaint), to complain. Not an hour later I got an e mail saying they found a room with 2 beds for me and sorry for the trouble. This is a hotel I have stayed at 10 times in 2 years. Its the customer value to them, and I got my extra bed. 🙂

  7. HeatherLeigh says:

    Sounds like their corporate was sick of the individual hotels not taking care of people. I wonder how many escalations they had before that plan was put in place.

    Ever get mad for not complaining about something? I had a horrible experience with Avis last year in San Francisco. I had rented my car and was leaving the parking area. There was a man in a booth, a booth with those wooden arms on each side of the booth to keep people from driving through. He was facing the other way so I figured he was controlling access on the other side…maybe collecting something from people returning their cars. There was no sign telling me where to stop, so I drove up to the wooden arm, figuring that it would open automaticallyto allow me to go through. The man saw me sitting there waiting for the arm to go up and did nothing. I leaned out the window and asked him if he needed to see some paperwork or something and this man just went off, berating me for not stopping at the booth (there was no stop sign or anything). He ripped me apart like it was his job. My heart was pounding like crazy.

    I never did report it or anything. I still kick myself for that. This person was in a customer facing job and he treated people like that (trust me, it was extreme). Unbelievable and I didn’t do anything about it. It still bugs me.

  8. Wine-Oh says:

    Ok sorry to steal the show here. i think I need to spin off my own blog. Find it theraputic. 🙂

    I recently got a new tv and best buy showed up and plugged the cable in and said "ok it works, now wheres my tip?" I went " your tip is that you better leave now!" not 10 minutes later best buy delivery calls me and asks how the service was, and I said terrible and explained what happened.  They go "Were sending you $25 for your trouble. Have a nice day!"

    Sometimes it pays to complain. But do it while its fresh in your mind.

  9. HeatherLeigh says:

    Yeah, totally.

    Did you see the video of the comcast installation guy asleep on someone’s couch?


  10. Wine-Oh says:

    That is hysterical. Of course if the Comcast guy fell asleep on my couch, Id be getting a new couch. This is up there with the AOL call last week. Wonder if that guy still has a job.

  11. HeatherLeigh says:

    I don’t thin k it was his fault…entirely. He was on hold forever. I wouldn’t think you would need a new couch but I definitely would have sent my dog into the room to wake him up or would have started a really loud call on my cell phone or something.

    I wonder what would have happened if the comcast guy caught him. That would have been interesting.

  12. Tim says:

    I agree with Mr. Wine-Oh, you have to complain quickly to get it done with. Sometimes it pays off (like my getting 4 $150 vouchers from America West) and sometimes it doesn’t (dealings with a few events at restaurants), but you should do it anyway. Because it a) improves service from those companies if they apologize or b) lets you know if that company really doesn’t give a dang about customer service. And man, if you don’t give good customer service after a customer complains, you’re in real trouble.

  13. HeatherLeigh says:

    True dat!

  14. Paul says:

    One person’s toxic customer is another person’s good customer providing constructive feedback.  I think a lot of it depends which side of the desk you’re on, and as the service provider, whether you have sufficient emotional intelligence to tell the difference.  I would argue that most don’t, and that’s why companies have to make absolute rules that the customer is always right, because otherwise, an employee who perhaps shouldn’t even be in a service role can make decisions that ruin a company’s reputation.

    Unfortunately, the general rule of thumb is that customer service really is customer no-service, especially for big companies, and rather than pointing the finger at a customer who’s had one too many bad experiences with poor service and suddenly does something that appears rude or cantankerous to others, the label of "toxic" should rightly be applied to the company that created the bad situation.

    (It’s not that toxic customers don’t exist, I just think they are few and far between, and no smart company sets service policy based on having to deal with one of two of them.)

    It is so refreshing when a company does what Papyrus did that it makes you want to tell everyone you know.  Does anyone think there’d even be the concept of a toxic customer if all companies behaved this way?  (Perhaps, but they’d be in jail.)

    A tale of two companies:

    I had an issue a couple of years ago with my car that I didn’t even know I had until I got a call from the service rep telling me that when it was up on the hoist, the technician noticed a hairline crack in the engine block.  Although it did not need immediate attention, I was advised that it needed repair, and it would cost $1500 just for the part.  It was 15,000 miles out of warranty but not old enough that you would expect such a problem with this type of vehicle.  I expressed my surprise that such a quality problem would surface, and suggested that it diminished my impression of the brand.  Not a complaint really, just a lament.

    The rep said he understood how I felt and would talk to his boss about it.  I told the rep to go ahead with the repair.  A couple of hours later, I got a call from the service manager, who in the intervening time had been in contact with the manufacturer’s corporate offices and gotten them to give him a free part, and he was calling to tell me both that, and that the dealership was going to comp me on the service (estimated at another $600) because they could see that we had always brought the vehicle there for service and they felt it was the right thing to do.

    So in the course of the day, they identified a $2100 problem that I didn’t know I had, and fixed it at their cost, and, by the way, let me keep their loaner for another 3 days until the repair could be completed.

    There is a reason that Lexus does so well in all the surveys, and it isn’t because they don’t have problems.  They have problems just like everybody else.  But it is engineered into their DNA to deal with problems differently and to treat their customers like they matter.  It’s why most people that have had one have difficulty imagining buying a lesser brand.

    I could go on and on about how completely opposite my experience with Vonage was.  Short version: when I set up VOIP service, it took them 3 months to get it right, and dozens of pathetically poor service calls, almost all routed to people in India following a script (the script gets really tiresome after you’ve memorized how it goes), but unable to do anything.  Every single person I spoke to promised to follow up within 24 hours, and never once did it happen.  They had so much trouble fixing the problems that I got escalated to the person in charge of technical support, and was basically accused of being a toxic customer because I didn’t want to pay for service I wasn’t getting (my local phone calls were going to another Vonage subscriber for 2 months because of a messed up porting of my land line number — I couldn’t even call myself from a land line we kept for our security system and satellite service).  Ultimately the problem did get fixed when I finally spoke to a competent service rep who stayed on the phone with me until he had figured out what the problem was, and fixed it himself rather than referring it on to someone else.  And, they wonder why their IPO tanked.

    Like most people, I tell both of these stories to anyone who will listen.

  15. Jonathan says:

    There are two sides to this issue:

    1)  How do companies handle complaints.  Do they see them as a nuisance or as a way to improve their business?  Do they have a plan for escalating complaints?  How many representatives and supervisors do they have to go through before they are satisfied?  Does the company try to put off complaints in the hope that the customer will give up?

    2) Is the customer legitimately complaining or are they trying to take advantage of companies?  Is the complaint genuine and done in good faith?  Is there a record of this person being a habitual complainer?

    The combination of these two are critical to ensure that companies are responsive to their customers, while customers need to act in good faith to the company they frequent.

    I’ve traveled hundreds of thousands of miles and stayed in hotels like they were my second home. I’ve rented cars so often that they didn’t have another level of "status".  I’ve seen bad (staying at a hotel that painted their rooms and immediately tried to put me in one..fumes and all) and I’ve seen great (hotel didn’t have the non-smoking room I reserved and instead of forcing me into a smoking room they upgraded me to the concierge level for free).  I can go on with the stories ad nauseum, but there are a few keys:


    1)  Ensure you have a clear policy for handling complaints and tell each level to not argue, but get the person to a decision maker quickly.  Most people end up arguing with a person who can’t satisfy their request, but don’t get to a person who can.

    2)  Realize that sometimes you have to give to receive.  A small token to the complaining person will go farther in further business than a hundred Super Bowl ads and will be remembered by generations of people.

    3)  Have at least two sets of feedback (ie questionnaires) one for frequent customers and one for a list of those who have complained in the past.  Some of the most valuable feedback will come from those who have had problems in the past.  Get that feedback and act on it to prevent problems from recurring.


    1)  Give the company a little slack and try to write your thoughts down ahead of time.  It will help you be a constructive complainer, rather than reading the riot act to people who might be able to help.  Are you more apt to help a nice person or nasty person faster?

    2)  Ensure that you go through the proper channels first.  Most companies have channels for complaints, follow it.   Many times people complain to the wrong group and that’s why they don’t get helped.  Ask who you should complain to about ______ up front.  Saves you and the company time.

    3)  Don’t abuse the system.  Realize that the "Free gift" you receive could result in high prices in the future.  Companies usually set aside some goodwill type freebies, but this usually is made up in other revenue ways.

    4)  Determine if your complaint is legitimate, then act on it while it’s fresh in your mind.  Complaints, like fish stories, end up be exacerbated as time goes by.   Tell it like it is and don’t exaggerate.

    Hopefully these will help us be good corporate and consumer citizens.

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