Published on: May 12, 2009by Michael Sansolo
Why is that hardly a week goes by without something happening that has us all scratching our heads? In fact, it’s sometimes hard to pick just one item. For instance, in the last week in the midst of strange debates throughout the business and political world how is it possible that KFC managed to issue an “exclusive” coupon through the Oprah show without having any sense that a whole lot of people were going to find it. And find it they did.
The question is: how do things go so badly off the tracks so often? Is it bad planning, bad strategy, bad execution or simply bad people? Or is it simply that companies forget to think like shoppers?
These incidents never fail to amaze me. Consider one we heard from a relative recently. Our niece got a product recall for the crib she uses for her 18-month-old, which is never a good thing. Apparently, toddlers found a way to break the slots on the crib so the recall was merited. The method, however, was as sturdy as the slats.
In order to get the recall, customers have to wait a week for the “recall kit.” Then they were to take the crib apart and send back the critical parts. At this point, they were advised to wait another one or two weeks to get vouchers entitling them to buy new cribs.
Emily, our niece, put this simply: “What does my kid sleep in after I take the crib apart? For that matter, what does he sleep in right now while I wait for my recall kit to come?” For concerned parents everywhere, the company’s plan probably looked like a really bad joke.
(As Emily pointed out, a toddler is in that wonderful phase where a bed won’t hold him and a portable crib is a momentary hurdle. Emily decided the only option was to buy another crib prior to getting her voucher, but she admits she was lucky. She could afford to lay out the money, which many other consumers cannot do, and her local Babies R Us store told her they would refund her money once the voucher came in.)
So here’s the question. How is it that the Jardine crib company, which is making its third recall of the last 12 months, got into this situation considering a key product they sell? After all, Jardine is dealing with a very concerned shopper and people like Emily are certainly going to be willing to share their story through every means possible, including their posts on Facebook.
It makes you wonder why a company like Jardine doesn’t have someone in house whose job it is to think like Emily. Supermarkets started doing this in the 1960s with the formidable Esther Petersen at Giant Foods and any thought of eliminating those positions should be fought forever. A consumer advocate or ombudsman whose job it is to ask the tough but sensible questions should be essential to every company today, starting with Jardine and KFC, but certainly not stopping there.
At the same time, let’s remember the power of unexpectedly good customer service and how quickly those stories are also shared in today’s interconnected environment. My good friend Joy Nicholas encountered this when a recent flight ended with an emergency landing. It seems a hairspray can exploded in the luggage hold and since airborne explosions are never taken lightly, Joy’s plane landed at an Air Force base in Florida.
There, quick thinking and caring individuals made all the difference. While the passengers waited for a new plane to fly in, the base commander treated his 105 sudden guests to a special dinner at the officer’s club. And within 24 hours after getting the passengers to their final destinations, the carrier, Southwest Airlines, provided each one with a $100 voucher. As Joy said, “A great experience of Southwest’s (and the military’s) amazing customer service. There wasn’t one complaint, one scream and not one bad word was said about SWA at any time.”
In other words, someone was thinking.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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