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Buy One Headache, Get Three Free

By Tracey E. Schelmetic
Editorial Director, Customer Inter@ction Solutions


It’s not a secret that I like to complain about bad telecom customer service (see my May column in which I discuss my bêtes noirs of customer service, all of which happen to be telecom companies). But I call good customer service when I see it, and I’m increasingly seeing it in the business sectors in which companies have a great deal of competition. Though it doesn’t take an analyst to see why this is the case (the impetus to please your customers when they have a lot of competitive options is far greater than when your customers are stuck with you against their will because of regulation or geography), the regulated sectors may not be without competition forever, so they’d best begin taking cues from the more customer-friendly companies.

I’m always amazed when companies offer perks to their customers without contemplating whether it’s something customers would actually want. I filled in a long e-mail survey for a health and beauty company recently, and the reward, which I received in the mail weeks later, was a coupon for 25 cents off any two of the company’s rather pricey bath products. Wow...a whole twelve and a half cents per item for my time. Gee, thanks.

Also, I often despair at that old supermarket favorite: buy four, get one free. What makes them think I need five of whatever it is you’re offering: pints of olive oil, bottles of shampoo or half gallons of orange juice? In the first place, many shoppers have limited storage for that much product. In the second place, if I drank that much orange juice before all the gallons went bad, I’d have an acid reaction so severe that when I perspired during workouts, the drops of sweat would hit the floor and eat through, like the face-hugger creatures in “Alien.” I suppose I could freeze them, but then I would have to remove the large paint roller that currently occupies one shelf of my freezer (don’t ask), plus the bottles of various flavors of Absolut vodka that seem to grow in there after I host parties. (I suppose between all the vodka and the orange juice, I could set up a screwdriver stand in front of the house on hot summer days to compete with the kids’ lemonade stands. Something tells me I’d get the lion’s share of grown-up business. Sorry, Timmy.)

On the flip side, some companies actually seem to be able to craft perks customers would like (perhaps they hold focus groups and actually listen to the results?) I was shopping in Borders books recently. I’m an avid book buyer: books take up a large chunk of my leisure income. At the checkout counter, I was offered an opportunity to become a member of their “Borders Rewards” club. I usually refuse such offers, but I listened to this one: of every purchase I make from now until November, I receive five percent of that sale into a holiday savings account, which I can apply to Christmas shopping in November/December. Not only that, if I spend $50 or more on one purchase in Borders in any given month, I receive a coupon for 10 percent off my next shopping visit. When I signed up, I got to choose a free sign-up gift: I chose the $5 they offered to put in my holiday savings account.

I opened a savings account with a Web-based financial services firm recently. They offer a no-fee savings account, and I got a promotion in the mail stating the company would deposit $25 into my new account, if I opened one…no minimum deposit. Needless to say, I now have a savings account with that bank.

I’m also equally pleased with my American Airlines Citibank credit card. American Airlines/Citicards has a program for which card holders can sign up to receive periodic customer surveys, both short and long, for various products and services. If I take the time to complete the survey, I earn what they call “E-Rewards” points. These points can be “cashed in” for a variety of things, but I primarily use them to earn air miles into my AAdvantage account. Over the past few years, I have probably earned half a domestic round-trip ticket through this “E-Rewards” program.

That’s nothing to sneeze at. (It’s summertime. I have plenty of other things to sneeze at.)
Additionally, the AAdvantage/Citibank partnership includes a restaurant program: I’ve been registered for the program for several years. The result is that when I use my card at one of the many restaurants in my area that participate in the program, I earn air miles. In some cases, for every dollar I spend in a participating restaurant, I earn 10 air miles. For a typical romantic dinner for two ($250 in my neck of the woods), I can earn 2,500 miles. That is one-tenth of a free domestic ticket.
It’s no coincidence that the companies that offer the best and most worthwhile perks to customers also seem to offer the best customer service. It’s a reinforcement of the message to customers, “We value you. We’re happy you’re our customer.”
I’ll drink a large bucket of screwdrivers to that. CIS

The editor, who believes that if Dante had had plastic clamshell packaging in his day, he would have relegated a special circle of his inferno for the designers of such packaging, can be reached at [email protected].

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