The Great CEO Hold Music Challenge

If anyone has sat on hold they would know that know hold music can range from great to downright hidious to the point of obscenely pornographic.    As a customer, forced to sit on hold and listen to such torture, I hereby take it upon myself to save other from the same fate.

I hereby challenge every CEO in the world that has a customer contact center, to listen to the company’s hold music for two hours each week.  The bottom-line, if they can’t stand it, change it! Why would you, as a CEO, expect your customers to listen to something that YOU yourself wouldn’t listen to?   

If you accept my challenge, post your customer contact center number here is a comment and let my readers judge.  Honestly, if you have any kind of music savvy taste, I am sure my readers will love it. 

Do you accept?

Customers HATE Jumping Hurdles

Hudles are great when placed around a track.  They provide a challenge to runners to get over them repeatedly as they run toward the finish.  Hurdles provide the challenge.

Challenging hurdles lose their value when they leave the track.  When your customer is running the track that your product provides and they come across a hurdle, they swear, they stop, they become angry, and they start to look at the track next door that doesn’t have any hurdles.  Your customers HATE jumping over hurdles to:

1) Use your product (poorly designed interface)

2) Interact with your company (not providing a direct telephone number on your Contact Us page)

3) Claim rewards (remember those annoying mail-in rebates that require the reciept in triplicate and a form with BLUE ink only?)

4) Get rid of your product (not allowing your customer to cancel easily is a red-flag)

Hurdles can be seen in your data.  Whether you track conversion rates on your website or survey customers regularly, hurdles are patterns that stand out.

Do you look at data? Do you talk to your customers?

How many hurdles does your product have? 

Do you even know if your product has hurdles on its track? 

If you don’t know, found out immediately!

Why I Gave Up on Starbucks

Why I Gave Up on Starbucks

I used to be a huge fan of Starbucks.  The first time I walked into a Starbucks, I was mesmerized by the wonderful smell of coffee, the abundance of comfy, upholstered chairs and couches, the beautiful smiling baristas serving a tasty Mocha with a huge smile and a meaningful “How are you today?”

Things clearly change over time.  Unfortunately, Starbucks has become the very corporation that they saved us from so many years ago.

1. Now, you walk into a store and smell chemicals. 

2. Now, the abundant comfy furniture and carpet have been replaced by hard chairs, tiled floors and if lucky, one or two arm chairs.

3. Now the original Starbucks Gold club card that I enjoyed 10% discount, free drink customization, wifi, and other perks, has slowly been dismantled to simply be a frequent buyer’s card.  The latest nail in Starbucks coffin is the introduction of wifi to the general masses that doesn’t even work.   Clearly Starbucks gave out and decided they couldn’t, slowly taking the perks away without offering anything innovative in return…  my loyalty is rewarded with a frequent buyer’s card.

4. Now the “How are you today?” is no longer sincere.  Drinks are rarely presented with a smile. Instead, we see overworked Baristas trying hard to keep up with demand, yelling names out even though you are standing right in front of them.

5. Now the music is odd and doesn’t inspire productivity.  Before, we were treated to jazz, but today, something folkie and modern, played WAY too loud.  When I step into Starbucks,  I don’t want to step into a folk music concert.

6. Getting help is about the manager.  Before, Baristas took some of the responsibility and resolved issues quickly and happily.  Now, we are told to wait for the manager who doesn’t always know the answer.

7. Instant coffee from the company that saved us from instant coffee?  Yes, it is true and while I was taken aback by its introduction, the truth is that it is quite good.   Innovation can be good, but I still can’t quite get over instant coffee at Starbucks when they awakened the masses to freshly brewed coffee.

8. Starbucks wants to serve wine.  If this is true, I will never return to a Starbucks location.  To walk into a store and smell wine while sipping my coffee is only going to be an unpleasant experience.  I recall being stuck on a flight from Frankfurt to Dulles, next to a woman who constantly consumed red wine.  The smell of the wine made me want to vomit.  Starbucks, please, please, please don’t do yourself more damage and make me smell wine when I drink coffee.

Clearly the Starbucks experience has changed as all corporations do. Starbucks has joined the ranks of McDonald’s and Domino’s Pizza in the quest to deliver a mass produced product in a sterilized environment as quickly as possible.  Innovation took a backseat to replicating the fast food experience.

The very core of the Starbucks experience has been stripped away by corporate investors and rewarded with non-innovative frequent buyer’s cards.    There is nothing new and innovative here and I must give up on Starbucks to deliver what it mastered so well, a welcoming experience to enjoy coffee in and be productive that rewarded my loyalty.

Power of Awesome

I've been a fan of the primal diet and Mark Sisson's blog, Mark's Daily Apple, because it is not only incredibly interesting, but I also find it very motivating. 

I recently received an email from Mark giving an update on the status of my pre-order for his new cookbook, The Primal Blueprint Cookbook.  While I was extremely happy to see him reaching out to his loyal readers/customers (as all good companies do!), I was really surprised to see how he concluded the email:

"Have a day so awesome, other days weep with jealousy." 

Woh….   I was speechless.  This one sentence sent such inspirational shivers through my spine that it is my new life motto!

This one sentence is not only a unique way to conclude an email, but it also builds the relationship in a way that is unexpected… through inspirational good wishes!

Go Mark!

Why Starbucks VIA Ready Brew will Succeed!

Starbucks is certainly a company that knows how to sell coffee.  Heck, it was Starbucks that helped save us from the percolated Folger’s of yester-year.  They even saved us from those coffee crystals that our grandparents swore by for years.  

That is why many people are having a hard time with Starbucks’ new VIA Ready Brew instant coffee.  How dare the king of coffee take us back to the product that they saved us from.   However, this isn’t your grandparents’ coffee crystals. 

Sure I was skeptical, but I ordered a pack of each flavor, Columbia and Italian Roast, from starbucksstore.com to get an early taste here in California.  As I tore open the stylish package and dumped it in the cup, I realized that there was something different about it.  It looked absolutely nothing like the instant coffee that is currently on the market… it looked like coffee.  Imagine that! 

Adding the water and stirring it up produced a cup of coffee not that far from fresh brewed and without the wait.  Fresh brewed coffee, when done right, takes upwards of ten minutes to prepare (grind, heat water, pour, seep, taste, etc), but you can get something close in minutes with VIA. 

So, why do I think VIA Ready Brew will succeed? Here are the major points:

1) It is a refreshing 21st century take on the old instant coffee of yester-year.

2) VIA looks nothing like what is on the market: from the awesome slender pocket friendly packaging to the real coffee look of the product.

3) VIA comes with the wonderful Starbucks buying experience that we love of their retail stores.  Baristas with smiles simply can’t compete with the grocery store clerk when you buy Folger’s.

4) The product has many uses: sprinkle it on ice cream, add it to a vinegrette or your favorite brownies to please any coffee lover

5) It is great to take with you.  The ultra-portable and stylish packaging fits in your pocket/purse and all you

need is a cup and some hot water.  That stale workplace coffee will be getting even more stale with VIA Ready Brew in your cup!

6) Starbucks VIA Ready Brew is on a road trip and is all over the social media cloud.

While I was skeptical of VIA in the beginning, after spending one week with these little packets of awesome coffee goodness, I really think Starbucks have shaken up the instant coffee market by bringing us a pleasantly refreshed version of my grandparents hideous crystals.

What do you know… Starbucks has still saved us from instant coffee nightmares!  

Lessons in Customer Experience

Today I had the pleasure of seeing both sides of customer experience; the good and the bad.

First, the bad.  I received a voicemail from the membership department of the gym I am a member of (Goleta Valley Athletic Club), announcing that I had won some free personal training sessions.  I was stoked, especially after spending many thousands of dollars with one of their trainers over the past few years.  Finally, something free. Not quite.  After speaking to the gym and informing them of my history (they didn’t know who I was and never looked at my account), they said I was ineligible because I had already been training.  The drawing was for new members only. Make sense, although the gym just shot themselves in the foot.  Here’s why:

1) No where was there fine print to announce that current members already training with a trainer were ineligible.
2) Pronounced me winner before getting their facts straight.  How hard is it to look up a name?
3) They announce me as a winner and then revoke the winnings, never offering any type of compensation.
4) At no time prior to the announcement did the gym bother to check my history, which would have eliminated my entry, prevented the phone call and I would have been none the wiser.
5) Even after knowing my membership status and becoming aware of my value to their, did they seem to care.

While apologetic, the gym has burned one of their more valuable members.   I have a call into the general manager to discuss the problem further, so I will keep you all posted.

(update 9/5 – I went into the gym today and the signage for the “drawing” has changed an updated entry forms, including large text: “First time personal training clients only.” This was not on the form I filled out, so I am happy to see the gym being more transparent with their eligibility requirements.)

(Update 9/9 – Talked to the general manager who said that there was confusion with my entry form and reading my writing.  Fair enough, I do write like a chicken sometimes.  Overall, the experience could have been better, but I feel this is an isolated incident and I would still recommend GVAC.)

Now, the second; the good.  On the heals of being treated poorly by the gym, I went to a popular, health food eatery here in Santa Barbara.   I was so impressed with the service, I couldn’t help but leave a $3 tip in their tip jar.  The gentelman whom took my order was courteous, answered all my questions, and showed sincere interest in helping me make the right salad choice.  They even gave me a discount because it was Labor Day weekend (not quite, but I’ll take it).  Not only that, but the food was brought to me with a smile and a huge Thank you for choosing them. They even shook my hand.    In addiiton, the receipt not only has coupons that I will actually use, but it details the nutritional value of my meal.  The transparency, service, and food blew me away.  I am so happy that good people and good companies still exist. (Check out Silvergreens – Santa Barbara)

It is interesting to me that both of these experiences happened back to back.  After getting burned by my gym, I was not happy to have to order food.  But the food experience was so good, I left smiling! After sharing these experiences, I hope you walk away with the power to think about your day to day experiences with the people you choose to do business with.  Please make your own decisions based on the customer experience.  If companies value you, they will show it.  If they don’t, walk away and give your money to the ones that do value YOU.  It is the power of the consumer.