How to Mess Up a Perfectly Good Customer Experience


As a marketer, you should be overly concerned about how your customers experience your brand, products and customer service. I evangelize how in the internet age it’s very easy for a company to wind up getting skewered via social media.

But all isn’t the same out there. I come across businesses daily who don’t have their proverbial act together. All could really learn some lessons on how customers must be king or else.

I love to go to the movies. The local theater I go to recently underwent a complete makeover, including new, wider reclining chairs; a bar with real food and alcoholic beverages; and more. This theater already had a really great loyalty program in place: it seemed for every couple of movies I went to, I wound up with a free ticket. Very cool!

Even more cool (guilty pleasure alert), it actually used real butter on its popcorn. Oh, and free refills. And it was never too crowded like the mega-giga-multiplex in town where you need a shuttle bus a la Disney to get from the parking lot to the theater.

Enter Frank Theatres a few short months ago and the mega-giga-multiplex doesn’t look so bad. It upped the price of a movie ticket by a few bucks, made it harder than winning the lottery to get a free ticket via its points-based loyalty program and in general tortured me as a customer by making the $6 popcorn nonrefillable. Now you have to buy the $7.50 size (maybe you city folks pay that for 30 cents of corn, oil and seasonings, but down south here that’s a big jump) in order to get refills. I’m pretty sure the $6 bag and the $7.50 bucket are about the same size, so why not just charge me $1.50 for a refill and stop with the subterfuge already.

I won’t even tell you about how customers are supposed to understand how to wait in one central line for the candy counter until the next person is called without any velvet ropes or a queue. Ridiculous! Is it one line or three lines? This is for sure going to turn into a fistfight one day soon because people try to form three lines only to be told they’re cutting the line.

The kicker: I took my family to the movies last weekend knowing I’d drop close to $100 for the latest 3-D flick (an additional $3 just to use the theater’s 3-D glasses), but I couldn’t even use a $100 bill. The girl at the ticket booth told me flatly, “We don’t take that, it’s our policy.”

So by now the moral of the story should be obvious — wait for the movie to come out on cable. Wait, that’s not it.

The moral is your customers have expectations. If you meet or beat those expectations, you’ll do well in business. If you don’t, there will likely be consequences — i.e., lost sales. Your customers are creatures of habit. They like their little creature comforts. If you take them away, they tend to get upset and take their business elsewhere.

So a note to Frank Theatres: This is the internet age. Get it together or deal with some very vocal customers who like what they like. If it’s going to take over another theater, keep the customs of that theater or risk losing business (or at least go with gradual change). It’s OK to add to a better user experience. Be careful that progress isn’t taking one step forward and two steps back.

Attention Marketers: Watch this episode of Undercover Boss now


This Sunday’s episode of Undercover Boss, focused on GSI Commerce and it’s CEO Michael Rubin.  It’s all about direct marketing, customer service, call center training and shipping and fulfillment.  Lots of great nuggets of info to learn from here.

Watch the episode for free click here

6 Marketing and Management Tips to learn from TV’s Undercover Boss


I had a boss in the early stages of my career, one of the last great bosses I’ve ever had, who was a huge fan of Tom Peters and his “excellence” training.

Tom Peters’ notion of “management by wandering around” (MBWA) is one of the concepts that really hit home and became a career-defining principle for me.

MBWA is defined by BusinessDictionary.com as “Unstructured approach to hands-on, direct participation by the managers in the work-related affairs of their subordinates, in contrast to rigid and distant management. In MBWA practice, managers spend a significant amount of their time making informal visits to work area and listening to the employees. The purpose of this exercise is to collect qualitative information, listen to suggestions and complaints, and keep a finger on the pulse of the organization.”

Recently, a version of MBWA has shown up on network TV in the form of CBS’ show “Undercover Boss.”

If you’re not watching, you should be! While it’s not a perfect show by any means — it’s sappy, formulaic, sometimes manipulative, and as reality TV goes, a lot of it feels staged — it does convey the right message.

Each week a different CEO goes undercover in his or her own company, taking entry-level positions. These CEOs learn about their companies, processes and employees (lots of sappiness here) as individuals, in an attempt to better manage their businesses. The bosses in the first four weeks of the show have been from Waste Management, Hooters, 7-Eleven and White Castle.

Somehow — and I find this to be highly disingenuous — all these CEOs managed to have game-changing “aha” moments. The game changers usually centered around actually learning who their normally nameless/faceless employees were on a human level: their medical problems; their multitasking in order to keep roofs over their heads; their stupidity (especially the Hooters manager and his humiliation of his female workers). Somehow these bosses were reminded that they were in business to employ people, and that people matter. Reality show emotional manipulation at its finest. Oh the humanity!

And two of the CEOs managed to cry on camera. Frankly, I just don’t get it.

How could these CEOs be so completely out of touch with their line employees? And how can these bosses, all family men, as seen in the show’s opening sequences stating the exact same thing, word for word, “that their families are their rocks,” seemingly with hearts of gold, not have a clue?

But that’s not why I’m writing about the show. Here’s why: While I highly doubt it’ll happen, every CEO and C-level executive in America should watch “Undercover Boss.” But since they won’t, here are six takeaways for any businessperson from CEO on down:

1. If you listen and get past the syrup, there are deep messages in the show about the disconnect between corporate and line workers. But that’s just a metaphor; the disconnect is from all workers and customers alike. While sanitized for the typical reality show audience, for the savvy boss, the message is there for the taking.

2. Direct marketers should run, not walk to their nearest call centers. Listen to your customer service reps. Listen to your customers and prospects. I guarantee it’ll be an eye-opening experience for you.

3. Send emails to past customers, asking why they’ve left you. This will give you firsthand knowledge of why your customer churn is so high. And along the way, you may find some customers you can reactivate as well.

4. Do the same with present customers. Ask them what you can do better; watch what happens.

5. Ask your employees to write a one-page essay on what your company’s doing right and wrong. Have them anonymously put their essays into a “suggestion” box (remember them?).

6. Don’t assume that since you’re the boss, you actually know what’s going on in your company. Chances are you know the least. Remember the maxim: “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely!” What do I mean? Your employees fear you — much like in the story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

So check out “Undercover Boss” on CBS. Then go on a walkabout in your own company. Post a comment below or email me your experiences at jimdirect@aol.com. I’ll post them (anonymously) in a follow-up to this article.

Communication 2010: The “smartphone stoop”, multitasking and a cautionary note


The other day it really kicked in for me at just how good I have gotten at multitasking.  I’m not sure how I feel about it though.

I was sitting at my desk working, crunching some numbers in Excel.  At the same time, I was watching tweets pop up on TweetDeck (retweeting ones that I like, of course) and instant messaging a client on AIM, when the phone rang. So I take the phone call, start talking and a text message pops up on my phone. All the while I’m checking my emails.  Good thing Facebook wasn’t open, or I would probably be getting IM’s from there too.

And my wife tells me I’m horrible at multitasking!

Consider… These days I sit in meetings and never get to look someone in the eyes. Why? People are always looking down at their BlackBerrys and iPhones. Let’s call it “the smartphone stoop.”

Consider… The other night my wife, 10-year-old son and I jump in bed to watch TV. Two minutes later, I look over and my wife’s on her BlackBerry, my son is on his DSi and I’m responding to an email on my iPhone. The picture of the modern family, I guess.

I can’t believe how much has changed in the way we communicate. Ten years ago I didn’t carry a cell phone. Now, I have a whole office in my pocket!

It’s bad enough that my office follows me into my car and bedroom, but it even follows me into the bathroom! (Sorry, let those calls and texts go to voice mail.)

Sometimes I wish none of this technology ever existed. Our world moves too fast. Heck, I move too fast for the 49 year old dinosaur brain I came with.  I’m not one of these kids who never knew a world without a celly, (as they call them), or a computer (Hey I’m a Mac).  My brain has RAM that came from an IBM Selectric.

Everything we do today on high (ludicrous) speed (and sometimes on autopilot) has an effect. Mistakes happen with all this multitasking.

And sometimes those mistakes play themselves out with your employees, bosses, clients and customers. Other times mistakes — seemingly harmless at the time — wind up on the internet, being reviewed millions of times on social media sites.

Sorry about the rant.  But the other realization I had is that business never actually ends.  Some of my clients who are younger than me, I’m pretty sure do not sleep.  I wind up working some nights until 1AM or better.  In fact I work longer hours now than I did when I was in my 20′s.

Lack of sleep.  Is there an app for that?  OK rant over.  Back to business.

Jim Gilbert is president of Gilbert Direct Marketing Inc., a full-service catalog, direct marketing and social media agency. His LinkedIn profile can be viewed at www.linkedin.com/in/jimwgilbert. You can email him atjimdirect@aol.com, follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gilbertdirect

An Important Announcement to ALL Environmentalists & Direct Mail Haters (no political correctness here)…


“No trees were killed in the sending of this email. However, a whole bunch of electrons were terribly inconvenienced.”

The above is the email signature of a friend of mine. While meant to be tongue-in-cheek, it actually makes a strong, yet entirely off base point: Electronic mail is somehow less harmful to the environment than paper-based mail.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but the sending of email does kill trees (I’ll discuss this more below).

Whenever I write about direct mail here, the environmentalists come out to visit. Well, visit may not be the right word; maybe I should say they come out to hate. They must be trolling the internet looking for anything positive about direct mail to take a shot at, like drive-by haters.

So I’m going to set the record straight. And you environmentalists take note, please.

Here’s my question: Which is worse for the environment, direct mail or email? I think email, and here’s why.

  1. Every email sent generates power consumption. Think of all the routers, servers, internet service providers and PCs involved. Consider all of the big-box companies that sell and service PCs. Maybe someone out there has done the math, but I’m sure there’s a hard cost in terms of power consumption per email.
  2. Same goes for time trolling the internet looking for direct mail folks to hate on. If a computer’s on, it’s using energy.
  3. Now here’s the tricky part: Where does the energy that email and computers use come from? It’s not very clean at all, is it? Our electricity is still very much powered the dirty old way, thus the energy consumed by email and the internet isn’t very clean — something environmentalist, direct mail haters don’t really talk about; truly their dirty little secret.
  4. Most people recycle their direct mail, catalogs and newspapers because it’s the right thing to do.
  5. The paper industry — the backbone of the direct mail business — is heavily involved in reforestation (i.e., the planting of new trees to replace ones used for paper). In fact, and I hope some paper merchants will respond to this, reforestation efforts are usually at a ratio of two to one or greater.

Just to let you know, I recycle, and I believe in a future with clean energy, not because it it politically correct, or supports a particular political agenda, but because it just makes sense to do. But to say that direct mail is destroying the planet? That’s a weak and opportunistic argument. Direct mail is still one of the most powerful tools in a marketer’s tool bag if done according to principles.

Got comments? Post them below.

6 key takeaways for getting a handle on this new-fangled social media customer service


A few weeks ago, I downloaded a Monopoly game from a company called GameHouse. My son was itching to play the computer version with us on our family night (mostly because I move too slow).

Downloading was a success, but I had problems finding the activation code for the software, so I went in search of a company contact.

I jumped on GameHouse’s website, and my first instinct was to look for a phone number to call its customer service department. If you read part 1 of my “You Lost Me There” series a few months back, you know that I’m an adamant believer in having your contact info prominently displayed on your website. Another one of my pet peeves is the ubiquitous page with the contact form. Or, more importantly, how long it takes to get a response from said form.

To me it’s simple: Make it easy to speak with me or my business goes elsewhere. I couldn’t find a satisfactory way to contact GameHouse, and I grew frustrated. But there was a big (really big) “Follow us on Twitter” button, so I clicked it. I sent a tweet to GameHouse — and the rest of its followers — on how I was having problems and was aggravated that its website had no contact info. For good measure, I joined its Facebook fan page and sent the same message.

It didn’t take GameHouse long to respond. Thanks to Kristy, who manages GameHouse’s Twitter presence, I had an easy way to establish communication with the company and resolve my issues. Turns out that I also ordered half a dozen copies of Monopoly as I tried to get the activation code. Kristy helped me get squared away with GameHouse’s billing department, too. It took about a week of back and forth to get all the additional orders credited to my account. Kristy had one of GameHouse’s customer service reps work closely with me throughout the process.

Then — and this one blows me away — about a week later I got a package from GameHouse with a different version of Monopoly inside. Also inside was a handwritten card thanking me “for my patience” signed by Kristy with the note: “A little gift for all your troubles.” My son loves it, and everywhere I go (including a lecture I did last week) I tell of my exceptional customer service experience with GameHouse. With this in mind, I offer up some useful pointers.

6 Customer Service Takeaways

  1. I sent my “You Lost Me There” article to Kristy, who said she’d pass it up the food chain. I hope GameHouse heeds my advice and makes it easier for customers to be served by adding a prominent phone number to its website. I’m not sure everybody will use Twitter like I did, however, meaning the potential for a negative customer service experience is present.
  2. I was also quite surprised by how seamless the customer service experience can be without “traditional” contact methods being in play. As a “stone age” customer, once I adapted I was happy again.
  3. Serve your customers in all channels. Social media is having a dramatic impact as a customer service tool; customers will self-select the channel of their choice.
  4. Exceptional customer service can (and should) be the rule in all channels — online and offline.
  5. If your customer service isn’t exceptional, expect to see negative reviews expressed publicly. Also expect to see bad customer service stories spread virally. Had I not been totally satisfied by the work of Kristy and her team, this column would have read very differently.
  6. Upset customers can easily be turned into advocates with proper service. Today’s angry customer is tomorrow’s best customer.

New word of the year – “Unfriend”


For those of you naysayers who believe that social media is a fad, a toy, or something that cannot drive business robustness, engagement and ROI, I have one word for you…

“Unfriend”

As of yesterday unfriend is the word of the year for 2009.  What’s my take?  Social media is changing our lives, the way we communicate (social media took over the top spot from email communications by the way), and the way we shop (customers now find us via social channels).

So what are your thoughts?  Discuss…

Win a Free One hour Social Media Consultation as Part of My One Year Anniversary Celebration


The Gilbert Direct Marketing Blog is celebrating it’s one year anniversary and my company is celebrating it’s tenth year in business.

So here is a contest for you….

Guess how many blog page views I have had in the last year to win.

Winner gets a free one hour review and recommendation of either your linkedin profile, or your own social media sites.  Closest the the exact number of page views wins.  Post your answer to the comments below to win.  Contest ends 11/30/09.

Note: Click here to see the other contest entries.  Post your answer there not here please

David Ogilvy had it right!


It’s time to go back to the future with David Ogilvy.  Direct vs General vs. Internet vs. Social Media.  Direct wins hands down.  Here’s why…

Just how powerful is social media? Some amazing stats!


I can’t wait to hear your comments on these facts about social media.

Do you want to include social media marketing in your business?  We can help.  We set up and even manage, blogs, message boards, Facebook pages and groups, twitter, video and more.  We can write and post custom content for you as well.  Contact us for more info.

Are you social, but looking for more ROI via traditional direct marketing?  Contact us for more info.

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