Category Archives: Customer Service

Customers Don’t Care about your Processes

A few years ago, I opened my credit card statement to find a huge late fee and interest charges.  Being neurotic about avoiding such fees, I tend to take care of my payment expeditiously after it is received.  Immediately, I called to check whether the check had been cashed, and indeed, the automated banking system indicated it had cleared some time ago.

I then called customer service at the credit card company.  After making me listen to content I had no interest in hearing (my balance, my next payment due, my cash forward balance, and a few other things I never use), I was put in the queue to speak with a representative.  After a short hold, a live voice came on and asked for the card number, holder name, and a few security questions.

Having made it through the security process, the representative politely asked me how she could help.  I described the problem and reported that my check had cleared, etc., etc.  I heard some typing and she reported back that her records showed the check had cleared their system the day after it was due and therefore, that these charges were legitimate.

I informed her of the date the payment was placed in the mail which from my recall was one to two days after I received the bill.  I heard more typing, and indeed, she was able to find another date indicating when the envelope arrived to their processing center.  I of course informed her that the arrival date was well before the posting date and the due date.  She then went into the description of the process of receipt, posting, and clearing in their process.  It takes two days for this, and two-three days for that, and you should allow seven to ten days for the mail, and another two-three days for this.  I politely informed her that the number of days she just articulated would indicate that I need to mail in the payment before I receive the bill.  She then informed me that in addition, there was a hiccup in the processing system during this cycle as there was a note in her records.

After hearing this, I suspected that she would immediately take the charges off my bill.  But the offer did not come.

I informed her that the only part of the process I can control is my ability to receive the bill and promptly put it into the mail.  As for the rest of the process and any internal delays, I have no control and cannot be expected to be held responsible for it.  In short, “I don’t care about your process.”  And, I need you to take the late charges and the interest charges off this bill and any interest charges you might be thinking about charging me in the next cycle.

She warned me that I get only one “grace” removal of charges per year and if I used it now, I could not request another for a year.  My urge was to inform her that if this happened again, I’d be removing my business entirely.  It wouldn’t be hard as I just need to open one of the three credit card offers I receive in the mail each day.  However, I refrained, knowing that she was simply following the script in front of her, and the script did not allow for the insertion of common sense or problems with the processing system.

Now this isn’t an uncommon problem in business, with either external or internal customers.  Having been in a few organizations, there isn’t one where I have not experienced a failed process that has impacted my ability to get my job done.  And in each organization, I receive the narrative about the functioning of the process, how it is supposed to work, the forms I need to fill out (often with some indication that I’ve filled out an outdated form and I need to fill out the new form to really make the process hum), and of course, I’m informed of the value of the process to me.

And though I deliver the message, most times, with some tact, the message is still the same: “I don’t care about your process.”  What I care about it is that my expectation was not met.  The promise you made to me as an internal/external customer was broken.  The deliverable has not reached my desk, is not working or it is causing me extra, unplanned work.  It is compromising a deadline for the clients I serve or is further stretching my resources.  I don’t care about the forms or the fact that a box wasn’t checked because the software didn’t recognize my click on the box and the individual decided not to contact me to ask about the box, but rather to let the project sit until I checked in to see why I saw no progress or wasn’t receiving my deliverable (again, no insertion of common sense).  I don’t care that now there is a new form or about the hours of committee meetings it took to develop the new form or about the position of the form in the newly revised process flow chart that took still more hours of committee meetings to rearrange.  I don’t care.  I don’t care.  I don’t care.

Customers care about the product or service they are receiving.  How it goes through your system and the quality of your system, not so much.  They care about quality of the end-product or service and the deadlines explicitly or implicitly implied.  They want their expectations managed, and if you fail to do so, customers will defect.  External customers will find different suppliers; internal customers will outsource.  And they should.

So the next time you are putting together or refining processes, I recommend two “reminders” during your development phase.  First, articulate what the customer expectation is and write that as your “purpose.”  Is the purpose of the process to efficiently process a payment, develop a technology, receive an order and ship a product, receive a repair request and get a technician onsite?  Secondly, articulate what the cost of failure of the process is to the customer.  Is it unfounded exorbitant charges, late delivery of a gift, no power or phone service, loss of a sale, or loss of a customer?

And as you develop or refine that process, refer back to the purpose and the customer cost repeatedly.  Further, constantly remind yourself that the customer, external or internal, doesn’t care about your process or your forms, the customer cares about the purpose and the cost.  Don’t let the process be your purpose; make the process serve the purpose.

I can almost guarantee that when your focus is the purpose for the customer and the cost to the customer when failure occurs, the process you design will be efficiency-focused (fewer layers and fewer forms), and in addition, it will also include the opportunity to insert common sense.  Now that’s what I’m carin’ about.

Silos, Ladders, and Customer Feedback

On the drive into work recently, I was listening to an automotive dealer lauding his company because it had the intestinal fortitude to kill a product that customers clearly told that company they did not want and would not buy.  Ironically, later that morning, I received an email from a former colleague who is still in the business of consumer research.  He sent me a link to the Detroit Free Press article on the subject, accompanied with a comment stating his amazement that an organization would actually kill a product that customers were already heckling before it was ready for sale.  While many would think this a common sense approach for all companies who depend on customers to buy their products, it is not uncommon for corporations to well, “dismiss” the customer.

My colleague and I have spent years “listening to customers” and reporting their opinions to countless organizations.  Our successful clients were those that took customer messages, incorporated them into their product design, retail environments, customer service centers, and even their parking lot design and made changes quickly.  Our less successful clients were those who told us that we obviously recruited the wrong customers to our focus groups, or we sampled the wrong 1,000 respondents when we were conducting quantitative research, because of course, these organizations knew their customers and they knew the customer would like what they built.  Why they were just completing the consumer research because they had to check the box on the product development flow chart that said they had to do research with the target audience.  Consumer research was just really a formality to moving forward.

In fact, we had one organization that scheduled what seemed like endless focus groups in two cities for the purposes of the evaluation of a new product idea.  We recruited carefully to insure that we had the right customer – the customer that this product was to target.  Group after group declared the product ugly, pointed out several problems, and advised the organization that they would not buy it.  They threatened to leave the brand and explore competitor products.

The message was clear.  Don’t produce this!  However, our client informed us that we must have recruited the wrong people.  The 100 or so people that evaluated this product couldn’t have been the right people.  “We know our customer and these people are not our customers.”  The solution was to conduct several more focus groups with several hundred more people in three more cities.  And in the last city, the reaction to the product was “take-it-or-leave-it.”  The customers weren’t as vehemently negative.  And while we cautioned that the region of this last city is known for more “polite” communication, the absence of absolute negativity from the customers in this city was all that was needed to give the client the permission to proceed.  They did and the product, unfortunately but predictably, failed.

Now lest you think that this occurs only in large organizations:

  • From a 24-year-old technology developer during a focus group on search engines with baby boomer women who couldn’t see benefit in the proposed technology:  “I know search engines and I know baby-boomer women (perhaps his mother?), and what they want.  These women in this group just don’t understand the technology enough to understand how much they need it.”  Ah, if the customer can’t understand your product grasshopper, it’s dead in the water.  And yes, the technology, whatever it was, lost its venture capitalist funding.
  • From a youngish consultant in social media marketing:  “I tell all my clients to throw away their traditional marketing methods.  There is no reason to conduct direct mailings or run broadcast advertisements.” Hmmm, I just hope his clients are all targeting moderate to high-end urban audiences that can be and want to be connected all the time by voice or Internet technologies – and who will opt-in to receive marketing messages.  That’s everybody, right?  I’m not betting on a lot of repeat-clients for this gentleman consultant.

Leaders in organizations, big and small, just like celebrities and politicians, tend to surround themselves with people who work well together and thus, tend to agree with each other.  And the group begins to drink its own Kool-Aid.  Product development groups are often put together because they are high functioning as a group – to start.  It would seem, however, that they quickly become isolated.  They become silos on their own farm isolating themselves from those whom they are serving.

It also goes, that those who have had success in the past tend to climb that corporate ladder accompanied with some legendary success stories.  These climbers gain more power in the organization and colleagues with less power tend not to want to report things that are not in agreement with the dude on the top of the ladder.  I recall a conversation with a brand consultant on a flight home from NYC.  He told me he had gone to the city to deliver some bad news to a corporation regarding some customer feedback.  The process was to present to the product team and the product team would then either have the consultant re-present with CEO in the room or the team would deliver the message themselves.  The team’s response to his findings:  “We can’t tell Mrs. Johnson that.  She would be furious.”  So, the product team decided to pretend that the findings were never collected and the consultant was heading home a day early and a bit dazed.  We laughed as we predicted that he would not be hired again by that organization because it is easier to shoot the messenger rather than deliver the message (or pretend the message never happened).

It’s hard to listen to customers.  They are needy and always looking for something better, and for the most part, in most cities, they tell it like it is.  They aren’t very loyal anymore either.  It takes guts to listen to the customer.  And it takes still more guts to deliver the customer’s message to those who need to hear it, to those who have the power to pull the plug on a project and either make modifications or start all over.  And those with power don’t make it easy to deliver negative feedback, particularly when it’s a “pet project” that Mr. Power has wanted to develop for the past 20 years.  And it’s hard for me to advise people climbing the ladder to keep delivering the real truths to those at the top of the ladder.  The more successful customer-driven organizations of course embrace delivery from all rungs; but still too many just kick the messengers off the ladder and send them home early.

So for those of you at the top of the ladder (and those of you climbing the ladder, when you get there), be sure to embrace dissonance.  Invite employees and your over-worked consultants, particularly those focused on consumer research, to disagree and to deliver the good, the bad, and the downright jeered.  If you rarely hear disagreement or every idea you present is met with, “That’s a great idea, the customer will love it,” you’re probably living in a silo and you’re likely thwarting honest feedback.  When presented with unexpected customer feedback, take action to make sure the findings aren’t an anomaly, but if you continue to hear customers jeer and threaten to leave your farm, it’s a good bet it’s time to plow up the crop and replant.  And congratulations to General Motors for plowing up the field on the Buick crossover that customers said they would not buy!  I think I just heard a silo crumble!

A Commitment – Not a Guarantee

Several years ago I had made a run to the post office at lunch time.  The post office nearest me was always busy, and I considered myself lucky if I was somewhere around the fifth to tenth customer in line.  As a rule, I would take work- related reading material with me just in case the wait was too long for my short patience.

 

The line on this day was relatively short, so I didn’t bother to bring out the reading.  Since customer satisfaction research was a good part of my job at that time, I noted with amusement a rather large, nicely designed sign on the wall referring to the post office’s stance at that time on its two-day priority mail.  It said in relatively large print (I gave them points for not hiding it) that two-day delivery was “a commitment, not a guarantee.”

 

I of course have borrowed that phrase now for several years in situations, at work and now at home, where the deadline is ambitious.  Now I find myself using to describe the current state of minds of many a working mother – or perhaps what their state of minds should be.

 

A colleague of mine who has been through the process of raising small children while working and now is on the other side with her last a senior in high school was attempting to counsel myself and another on scheduling time for ourselves – particularly in the area of working out.  We were both commenting on how we need to work out since not that long ago, we did so regularly and as we all knew, we had more energy, more patience, and really felt better all around.  However, regular workouts are just not in the cards.

 

Our children are all five and under.  We and our husbands get up & get them to daycare & preschool.  We work all day and then pick them up and feed them, prepare lunches & projects for the next day, do some playing and bathing and go to bed.  To incorporate a workout routine, it really needs to happen with a wake-up somewhere just before 5:00 a.m., and I’ve had some limited success with that prior to child number two; however, child number two, at almost 22 months, is still not a consistent sleeper.  I’m up at least once a night to re-settle him.  That awakening really throws me off since I often don’t go right back to sleep – after all, I can use that time of alertness just prior to dozing off again to think about work or what I need to get done that day.  I don’t intend to lay there planning in my head, the thoughts just come, un-welcomed as they are, and the dozing back to sleep sometimes happens just before Alexander needs another resettlement.  And the process starts again and dozing off tends to happen just prior to the alarm clock ring.

 

So our wiser colleague tells us that we still need to do this – even if it’s just one night a week.  Sign up for a spinning or yoga class & find a high schooler to come hang out just for an hour or so.  And I agree.  We should do it.

 

However, I found myself explaining my current state of mind to which my other working mother colleague agreed.  In my current state, I cannot commit to anything, whether it’s working out, charity events, networking, anything.  I cannot commit right now because anything that hangs outside my normal survival mode of “wakeup-school-work-dinner-prepare for tomorrow-play-sleep” stresses me out. 

 

We signed Nicholas up for swim lessons and now soccer on Saturdays.  It stresses me out.  If someone is sick, which has happened countless times this year, getting him to these activities is stressful.  If we want to go visit the grandparents, he has to miss and my goodness, what message does that send about committing yourself to the things you’ve signed up and paid for (and yes, I realize he’s not even five and this is absolutely neurotic on my part).

 

And this stressful state is also present in the workday.  There are several networking and training lunches that I could simply walk to and each week, one is on my calendar.  In the past two years, I have made a total of ONE!  As the lunch time comes, I start to panic.  For the past couple years I have used lunch to get a bit more work in.  Why?  Because it’s always on my mind that one of the boys could be sick – the phone could ring at any moment with the teacher indicating that I need to come collect one of them.  And what would happen?  My commitment to delivering what I intended would be compromised.

 

Some folks live life with “Eat. Drink. And be merry for tomorrow you may die.”  Me, I live with, “Work.  Clean.  Get the groceries and diapers bought for tomorrow you may be tending to sick kids.”

 

Thus, to add another scheduled commitment to my schedules is a tipping point..  I have a monthly commitment to my church where I am trying to help work on external communications issues.  It’s one night a month for goodness sake, but I worry.  Can I make the meeting?  Will I be prepared?  Will I be late?  Will I have some sort of unidentifiable goo on my shoulder from the quick hugs and dinner before the meeting that I don’t notice until later when I change into my pajamas?

 

Neither my colleague nor I can seem to live our lives with a “commitment not a guarantee” mantra.  We seem to need to guarantee that to which we commit.  Some would say we are too tightly wound (my husband actually would say that, but not out loud).  But, this is who we are.  And as our wiser, almost empty-nester then advised us, “this time will pass – just don’t wish it to pass too quickly.”  For now grasshoppers, attempt limit your guarantees just to those things that really need guarantees.

 

So as the sun rises just before 7:00 a.m. (I awoke this morning at 4:30 a.m. and realized no more sleep was coming – it’s SATURDAY), and as I turn forty-two today, my goal is to embrace that post office mission where possible and pick my guarantees, in work and at home, more selectively.  And today, I will take my very first run of my forty-second year (and spend the rest of the weekend in pain).

Blurbs for My Boys – Be nice to clerks. Treating them poorly does not make you a powerful or admirable person. Rather, it demonstrates quite the opposite.

It’s been a while since I posted a blurb, but having witnessed some inappropriate behavior by an aggressive customer recently, I’ll get back on my pulpit and do some preaching!

Much of what I have to share on this topic is related to unfortunately, repeated experiences I witness or somehow find myself entangled.  A sad, but recurring situation is with respect to the treatment of sales clerks.  From retail to fast food to dry cleaner clerks, it seems that many in our population believe that as a customer, they have the right to treat clerks poorly – that somehow being on the cash-paying end versus the cash-receiving end, that they have the right to insult, degrade and demand loudly as if the rest of the clientele within an ear’s shot are their audience.  While you will often hear the phrase, “the customer is always right,” let me introduce you to the notion that sometimes, “a customer isn’t worth the trouble.”  Moreover, the angry and demanding customer often isn’t profitable, if that makes it easier for the business person, especially in these times, to agree.

I believe that every individual should be forced to work as a clerk for several months and will encourage you, my sons, to do so.  Only then perhaps, will you really appreciate the sometimes humiliating and challenging work that these individuals are forced to endure.  My experience was as a fast food clerk.  During my second summer as an undergraduate student, I was able to work at Wendy’s for three months.  I had a particular knack for timing fries to ensure that even during rush periods, that our customers did not have to wait in line for the fries to complete cooking.  This was key to guest satisfaction since a wait of even thirty seconds is somehow unbearable to the common fast food customer.  So, I spent most of my summer bent over a hot bat of oil frying, salting, stuffing, and distributing fries.

One doesn’t realize the skill and stamina needed to work in this environment.  For the financial reward of minimum wage, you are on your feet for hours, and when you are not preparing or serving food, you are cleaning.  Your skin is covered with a slimy layer of grease, you run through a fine vapor of heat and humidity spewed out by the cooking machines as you rush to fill orders, and the smell that permeates your clothes is one that will not come out even after several attempts at washing.  You look forward to collecting the trash and taking it to the large dumpster hidden behind the wood fixture in the back of the parking lot, even though the aroma of decaying leftovers turns the stomach.  You look forward to it because it is a chance to escape the stale restaurant air and capture some fresh, exhilarating air while walking to and from “the dump.”  Indeed, everything is relative.

So, all that glory as a fast food clerk and cook, and then comes, “the customer.”  While there were several interesting experiences, the most memorable was the “overbearing grandma takes granddaughter out for lunch” episode.  The finely dressed little girl must have been about age five or six.  Grandma, immediately recognizable as the overbearing kind, proceeded to order her granddaughter a cheeseburger.  The register clerk kindly inquired whether she would like a kid’s meal since it had a special toy.  Grandma barked that “all she wanted was a cheeseburger, fries and some milk” – no kid’s meal was necessary.  Of course, overbearing grandma also was sure to announce this loudly enough that all those in line heard her orders to the lowly clerk.  Grandma had an audience to impress.  She was in the power position.  The register clerk, again having multiple experiences with the desires of young children made grandma aware that the cheeseburger, yummy as it was, came with catsup, pickles, onions and mustard – would the young customer just like catsup?  To that question, overbearing grandma loudly exclaimed that she just wanted a cheeseburger – just get her hungry girl a cheeseburger and stop asking questions!  Just take the order!  All in line were impressed with velocity and volume she used – that’s why they were all looking at their feet I suppose.

The manager, overhearing the interaction, whispered to me that she would like to bet five dollars, well over the hourly wage we were making, that when the cheeseburger was opened in the dining room, that the sandwich would be coming back.  This was one of my rare occasions at the sandwich-making station, since fries were my specialty, and I made the cheeseburger, as requested, no questions.  Just as the manager predicted, within a few minutes, overbearing grandma was back at the counter.  It would have been bad enough had she just came back and yelled about our incompetence as citizens in the US having put more than just catsup on the burger.  But it was worse.  While screaming about how her granddaughter was now in tears because she only wanted catsup on her cheeseburger, overbearing grandma had mashed the cheeseburger up within its wrapper and then proceeded to throw it across the counter.  I must give her credit.  She had a good arm and good aim.  To this day, I can visualize the mangled cheeseburger flying down the counter starting at the register, completing its trip down the counter and nearly hitting me at the sandwich preparation station on the other end.  There were bits of burger, cheese, catsup, pickles, onions and mustard from the point where it landed to the point where it came to rest.  It looked like a mangled cheeseburger buffet.  She had made her point.  She was the customer and ruled the moment.

And what was our response?  We quietly prepared a new cheeseburger with catsup only, provided it to overbearing grandma free of charge (see, not a profitable customer), cleaned up the counter and continued serving.  All in a days work, and the manager won her imaginary bet, since I could not afford to bet over an hour’s worth of pay.

I learned much that day.  First, my own personal restraint, physically and verbally.  It was difficult not to reach across the counter, grab overbearing grandma’s arm and advise her what a horrible demonstration of human behavior she was for her granddaughter , for all those in the restaurant and for greater humanity.  Second, I learned patience as a customer.  Never would I become the impatient, downright nasty customer overbearing grandma represented, and in the scheme of things, is waiting a few minutes for service or answering a few simple questions, particularly if clerks are being responsive, really that much trouble?  And third, and most importantly, I learned that no matter how stressful college life seemed at the time, that I was going to finish it and escape the need to finance my life by making sandwiches and timing fries that just might come flying back at me!

So my boys, be nice to sales clerks and practice the Golden Rule with them.  Generally, clerks do not control much.  They don’t have the power to ensure that all spots come out of your clothing, to stock the specific size you’re looking for, to make the gasoline cheaper, to make the food spicier or less so, to fix the mechanical problems with the airplane, or to increase the number of lanes that are open for check-out at the grocery store.  Beating them up verbally is not impressive or admirable, nor does show you are a powerful person.  They don’t give out rewards or money or fame for rude and boorish behavior (unless of course you are a socialite and sons, your parents aren’t in that socioeconomic class).  And those waiting in line behind you aren’t going to congratulate you on your rude behavior – usually they just look at their feet.  And certainly most importantly, you’re mother wouldn’t be proud of you (See “Making Good Choices” post)!

The Credit Card Push = Remember dear management, you get what you reward!

Having left my make-up bag at my parent’s home over the Thanksgiving holiday, after a day that starter paler than usual, I ran out to the department store where I make my usual Clinique purchases.

Generally, purchasing make-up or perfume this time of year is a frightening feat since oftentimes the offers that accompany a purchase over $50 (easy to do since the sum adds quickly in this department) draws in crowds similar to those at a rock concert.  However, in today’s economy, there are only three of us at the counter who are all there to pick up a quick replacement item.

An associate is immediately available to help me.  She’s definitely new as she’s having a real hard time finding the two things I’ve requested.  (And when I got home, I realized she had dropped in the wrong foundation – oh well, I’ll survive.)  The other associate has just finished with another customer and begins to wait on the person that arrived just after me.

The customer, like me, is just looking for a replacement item and even hands the associate the empty container.  And then it begins.

Associate:  Will this be on your Macy’s charge? 

Customer:  No, I don’t have one.  (Since my associate is still searching for my foundation, I’m hearing the total interaction.  I wanted to advise, “Oh dear customer, never ever, ever say you don’t have one – ever!”)

Associate:  “Would you like to save 20% on your purchase by opening and account – this offer is just for two days and is usually only 10%?” 

Customer:  “No, I probably wouldn’t be approved anyway.   I’m going to pay cash.”

Associate:  “Why just earlier, a young lady didn’t think she’d be approved, and it went right through.  It doesn’t take long.”

Customer:  “No thanks.  I’ve gotten into some trouble with credit cards.  I’m just going to pay cash.”

Associate:  “You could turn around and pay cash right away and just pay it off.”

Customer:  “No.  I’d better not.”

Associate:  “But you’ll save 20% – they never offer that.  And you could pay it right off.”

Customer:  “Thanks.  I’ll just pay cash.”  And the customer hands over her money.

Thank goodness!  But the associate still doesn’t give up and offers to open that account one more time and pay it off with the cash the customer has just handed her.  The customer nods politely and the transaction is FINALLY over.

Now let’s look at the beaming red flags here.  Flag 1: I probably wouldn’t be approved.  Flag 2:  I’ve gotten into trouble with credit cards.  If I as a creditor saw those flags on a customer, I’d be leaping over the counter to grab the cash since cash in my hand is worth triple the costs of a customer where I can’t collect the money and either must write it off or I need to pay a collection agency to collect it – and that’s after giving the 20% discount I gave to bring the customer into my card in the first place.  Three words:  “Cash is king!”

Now I’m sure that the associate is handsomely awarded for bringing in new accounts – regardless of the credit-worthiness.  Why else would she be so aggressive?  It matters not to her if her company will be strapped with non-paying customers since she will see the reward in her paycheck.  So while I do believe on a personal level that she should take some responsibility and back-off when the red flags raise, similar to that of a bartender who insists that his alcoholic patron “just have one drink” in an effort to increase the tip amount, the associate is pursuing that which she will be rewarded for. 

The company really needs to be careful about what it rewards.  Simply rewarding based on getting a customer in the credit cycle will get them any customer – those that can pay and those that obviously cannot.  Remember all of the controversy on the voting records related to ACORN?  All the workers had to do was sign up voters with a valid address to get their cash rewards, so there were several Mickey Mouse’s and Darth Vader’s across the nation.  Now why the controversy, I don’t know.  Mickey Mouse & Darth Vader still needed to show up at the polls with a picture ID to actually vote – signing up wasn’t the only step in this process.  But, ACORN got what it rewarded – a list of voters, well, actually, a list of valid mailing addresses.  And Macy’s is getting what it rewards – customers in its credit card program.  But at what cost?  Or perhaps better stated, at what value?

So, in business and in life, be careful of what you reward, because you get what you reward.  Just like rewarding toddlers who throw temper-tantrums with the attention they are seeking, rewarding employees with bonuses based on signing up people without qualifiers put into the process will get you more temper-tantrums and very costly customers.

And cheers to the customer that held her ground and said “no to credit” when she knew it was dangerous for her!  My regret for the day is that I didn’t tell her so!

DTV2009.GOV – FAIL!

I am a student of customer satisfaction in research, practice, and experience.  For years, I helped organizations design customer satisfaction surveys and other customer feedback mechanisms.  In my youth, I thought it was simply about assisting customers in articulating the organization’s service or product shortcomings such that the organization could improve its offer and satisfy the customer. Then, they both would live hand-in-hand and happily ever after.

In other posts, I’ll talk more about some of my customer feedback days – many of those feedback systems were humorous dead-ends, which leads me to this post.

There’s a great site out there called Fail Blog.  Take a quick look at it (do come back though) and you’ll see it needs no explanation.  I wish I could post a “DTV.gov Application Fail,” but it doesn’t have a picture, so I’ll have to settle for a verbal pictorial here.

I have become a penny-pincher.  The market woes, the price of gas, the ever-increasing tax-assessment on our home in the wake of plummeting house values such that our taxes still increase (???), and the increasing intake of food by two hungry boys who will need to go to college in just under 14 years have officially turned me to the cheap-side.  Just between me and you, the last few shopping trips, I’ve even used some manufacturer’s coupons – gasp!

So, on February 17, 2009, broadcast tv is going fully digital.  And we do not have cable or a dish – gasp II!  I keep hearing that we should apply for two coupons that should enable us to buy an over-priced box (probably with ANOTHER remote) that will unscramble the waves & continue to let us watch the fuzzy three channels we now receive.  It’s simple!  Just go to DTV2009.gov and apply.  Even the front page exclaims, “It’s Easy.”

So, I look around on the site to be sure I don’t need a secret code and am generally in the know.  To track my request, I need a reference or coupon number.  Easy enough.  I hit the magic “Apply for a Coupon” button.  I put in my mail address, that I want two coupons, click my electronic signature that says I’m not somehow defrauding the government, click for a code that I can make out to enter into the anti-spam box, then hit submit.  I found it strange they did not ask for an email address, but this should be a simple process right?  Probably don’t need it.

The green box across the bottom appears to be processing.  The screen flashes – all the input spaces go blank.  What?  I wait some more since it says it could take several minutes.  I wait.  And wait.  Nothing.  Hmmm, perhaps there was a hiccup.  Worried that I may be indicted for requesting too many coupons, but sure that I should receive a confirmation of some kind, I leave the site & come back as a mechanism to “cleanse the connection” and enter it all again and submit.  Again, the input spaces go blank. And I wait.  And wait.  Again, nothing.

So, I go to Contact Us.  It gives me the standard box (wants my reference number of course – the one I was never given) and asks for my problem.  I give a brief description, if you can believe the brief part, about the course of events, let them know I don’t have a reference number & provide my name so they can search their database to see if I’m entered twice or not at all.  I click for a code that I can make out to enter into the anti-spam box, then hit submit.  I’m told it will be a couple days.

So, three-four days later I receive an email asking me for my reference number and home address so they can search the database.  Too bad they didn’t read the first email that clearly states no number and my name.  But, I hit reply, let them know there is no reference number and provide my home address.  The email comes back “UNDELIVERABLE.”  Well, I think, perhaps the mailbox is full since I replied on Monday morning.  So, I try mid-day and later in the afternoon.  And, I receive two more undeliverable bounces.  Who is running this show that will affect nearly every household in the U.S.?  Halliburton?

I’ve now downloaded the mail-in form and will mail it in along with a letter stating that if I am in their records three times, it isn’t my intention to defraud the government.  I simply want my coupons so I can continue to feed my children and provide them fuzzy tv reception.  And if you see me on America’s Most Wanted in the category of coupon fraud, you’ll know they didn’t read the letter either.