How’s That “Make The Customer Angry” Strategy Working For Ya?

I heard the radio ad first.

“Melty cheese…three kinds of cheese…come to Panera.”

So – like a tried-and-true lab rat – I did.

“Grown-up grilled cheese, please.” (Feeling famished.) “What do I get with that?”

“I can’t take your order here.” A quick and irritated-sounding response. Finger pointing to the other cash register — not three feet away. “This cash register is for baked goods only.”

Now I was feeling irritated. Sure I bought the greasy thing. It was okay, I guess. But in my head I resolved never to buy that “waste of money” again.

Consider that I have faithfully bought Starbucks’ bitter brew for nearly twenty years now. And that they are uniformly willing to take my order, anywhere, anytime, pretty much right away.

How much did that air time cost Panera?

At an otherwise nice hotel, an early-evening request for more of something. A call to the all-purpose “guest careline.”

No answer!

Then finally an answer, and this is what I hear:

“Can you call over to (this other number)? Because I don’t handle those things.”

Hey! It’s a hotel! Whoever picks up the phone, should handle everything!

Or, try calling FedEx about FedEx Freight.

Guess what?

They apparently are not friendly enough to handle each other’s phone calls!

Company after company, brand after brand, wasted ad after wasted ad. Cable, wireless, airline, you name it – one call does NOT do it all.

Verizon Fios. Oh my goodness. A nightmare of phone numbers, customer service representatives, dizzying discussions of services never rendered – because I canceled it before it could go from Point A to Point B.

And this after countless direct mailings and discount offers persuaded me to give it a try. (They even set up a stand handing out fliers.)

Why do big brands waste good ad campaigns by reeling customers in, then spitting them out?

It’s really not a mystery: Most think from the inside out rather than the outside in.

If you ask, “why don’t you have a single phone number,” or “a single web interface” and the like, they will tell you, as if you’re an idiot:

“But the inquiries go to different departments!”

…as if stove-piping is natural and it’s the customer’s problem to figure their byzantine bureaucracies out.

The famous Staples “Easy Button” campaign was a wake-up call. More companies need to wake up.

The businesses I patronize over and over again – the car shop, the pizza place, the doctor and the dentist, the hair salon and the Starbucks – can be big brands but more often are not. Because they know me, I know them, and customer service is never a hassle. (Try Primanti’s Pizza in Ft. Lauderdale and you’ll see what I mean.)

In the end creativity can take you a long way. But it can’t take you away from what business is – a people thing. And when you try to fit people into your internal processes, rather than the other way around, you’ve just given away your competitive advantage to your competitors.

One living, breathing, instant-gratification-seeking, can’t-be-hassled-anymore-than-necessary, just-wants-to-deal-with-a-decent-human-being customer at a time.

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David B. Grinberg

Right on, Dannielle!

The human touch makes all the difference. Govies need to show the public more of it.

This all reminds me of the lyrics to the iconic theme song of the 1980s TV sitcom “Cheers”: people want to go “where everybody knows your name…and they’re always glad you came.” That’s the correct attitude we need across govt. That’s the “feel good” feeling govies need to instill throughout customer service.

Perhaps “How to Win Friends and Influence People” – the self-help bible by Dale Carnegie – should be required reading for govies.

I’ve noticed some companies have replaced the term “customer service” with “customer care” – which makes sense to me. Service can be provided by robots. Human emotion cannot. Govies need to show we care about the public because we work for the public. So toss the bad attitude and replace it by service-with-a-smile, be kinder and gentler – to use the words of President George H.W. Bush (may he get well soon).

Even if a govie must deal with an irate and irrational customer, at least listen attentively and hear the person out. Then repeat back some of their points so it’s clear you were listening. That way, even if the customer is wrong, at least they will have some feeling of satisfaction because they were listened to rather than having their concerns dismissed outright. No one wants to be told they’re wrong.

Bottom line: all the paid media and positive PR in the world won’t make a difference if the personal human interaction fails. It’s all about the human touch.


Profile Photo Jerry Schmidt

Dannielle, great observations. I honestly will give a company one chance to make things right and then I vote with my wallet. People have to EXPECT good service for a company to give good service. If I had gone to that Panera, there was a very good chance that I wouldn’t have bothered to go to the other register; I probably would have walked right out the door. I had a great service interaction at a “big box” store; I had asked a clerk about an item and they said, “I’m not entirely sure where it is, but I will find out. If you don’t mind, could you follow me?” I followed this person to another clerk who pointed us in the right direction and did so quite gladly. This store will get my money; other stores won’t.

The point is, if you are in the customer service business (and many govies are by default), you can say, “I don’t know, but I will find someone who does.” Believe it or not, I (and many others) don’t mind hearing that you don’t know, IF you say you will find out for us and either connect us to that person or come back with the information.