I’ve had a personal experience this past month that I thought could be a good lesson for those who have read my books, follow me online, or may have heard me speak at various events.

Lessons

  1. Every organization is in the RELATIONSHIP business! Beyond your products or services, the breadth and depth of relationships your people, teams, and organization develops and nurtures are your ONLY sustainable and strategic differentiation.
  2. In the age of CONNECTED relationships, you can not deliver poor customer experience and sweep it under the rug! Social and mobile are amplifiers for great and poor experiences. Educate your people to engage relationships online and influence their thinking and call to action.
  3. EXCEPTIONAL customer experience must become a strategic priority for every CEO! The number one headwind is often mindset – that what got us here will be what gets us to the next stage of our company’s evolution. That mindset couldn’t be further from reality. Want proof – see Kodak or Blockbuster!

Background

  1. I was referred to @harborfreight by a good friend who is a current customer (READ: incredible value of personal referrals, relationship or advocacy marketing); before this referral, I had never heard of the company! I’m ramping up a new workshop I’ve built to work on my three motorcycles.
  2. I went to their website in June and placed a $1200 order including a 60 gal. air compressor and 6 connected parts, hose reel, air grinder, etc. Keep in mind, I’m a novice when it comes to tools, but I’m eager to learn, grow, build (READ: early in my lifecycle as an industrial / mechanical parts buyer but have the willingness, the means, and interest to learn, grow, and buy!)
  3. Their website accepted my order and my credit card and I received a standard confirmation email from their system + two emails from your president thanking me for my business. Both are generic and completely impersonal, almost like a “check-list” item someone has thought about and checked-off!
  4. The order was shipped on 7/17 via FedEx to my home but when it arrived it was one box of the 6 parts and their standard invoice with the 60 gal. air compressor listed as “Refunded?!?” Basically, no air compressor which I needed to connect all the other parts to!
  5. So, logically I called customer service and spoke with 5 different, candidly all incompetent, individuals all of whom told me:
  • That’s a refurb product – which their website does not mention;
  • It was 1. Discontinued, 2. Then available again within just a few minutes;
  • That I can order another one, but I’d have to pay the freight (no problem), and an additional $130 for their shipping company to take it off the back of their truck and unload it in my driveway?! And that was “Their POLICY!””

In short, their “Customer Service” people were incompetent and incapable of, or not empowered to solve my issue! I went to Lowes the same day and purchased $2,300 in tools including a 60 gal. compressor that they had in stock.

What should have happened:

  1. If any part is a refurbished one and only available on a limited basis, clearly state that on your website!
  2. Keep me updated with emails that the part is not available and offer me other options, including the choice to go purchase one elsewhere!
  3. When I call customer service, I want my issue resolved immediately, not passed around from one person to another!
  4. Please hire competent customer service professionals with clear and consistent communication (verbal, spoken, and digital) skills who are trained and empowered to solve customer issues the first time, without having to escalate it higher up!

Some ideas to resolve issues like this:

  1. Suggest other products and comp the freight to get a new product to the customer!
  2. Offer a 20% discount on their next purchase.
  3. Introduce the customer to a local retail store manager who will meet them personally, get to know them individually, and help them buy the rest of what they need from you!
  4. Have an executive email the customer personally to make sure they’re satisfied with the experience AFTER the sale!
  5. Engage them on social sites to make sure their issues are resolved to their full satisfaction!
  6. Touch base in 30 days to see if there is anything you can do to help them!

Bruce Kasanoff, CEO of Now Possible has written a great new book, Smart Customers, Stupid Companies, that EVERY executive @HaborFreight needs to read, invite Bruce in to speak to the senior leadership team, and institute just some of his ideas into the organization. Here is a similar example from Bruce’s book:

So, what’s the answer? Organizations must get SMART – Segment, Modularize, Anticipate, Reward, Transform!

I’ll keep this post updated with any response from their social footprint, several execs I’ve reached out to via LinkedIn – none of whom have replied at the time of this post. Again, I want to reinforce, that this experience isn’t about me. It’s about how indifferent some organizations are to the experiences their people are delivering.

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