Customer Service Around The World

Are Lawyers Killing Customer Loyalty?

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A few weeks ago we discussed a significant (and ongoing) customer service blunder by McDonalds.  It appeared that a disgruntled employee had put something in a child's milkshake.  The parents are trying to find out what the something was, and McDonalds is refusing to tell them - only saying that it was a 'store-related product.'  McDonalds has repeatedly tried to buy off the family, but has not come clean with the details the family is asking for.  One can only assume that this is on the advice of a legal team who has put limiting liability over customer service.

Now, there's a new story - this time with furniture giant Ikea.

For the last 8 years, an Ikea fan in Malaysia has run a popular site called Ikea Hackers. It's filled with cool pictures of creative things you can do with Ikea products. Ikea's response? They sent a cease and desist letter to him because it's not their accepted way of putting products together. One can only assume again, that this is yet another heavy-handed legal team trying to limit liability, protect a trademark, or whatever.

Pretty hard to ask customers to be loyal to you, when a company isn't prepared to be loyal to their customers.  

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stand-out.pngOne of the greatest challenges all companies face is how to stand out in the minds of their customers. Market share is precious, and in a world where market segments are becoming more and more commoditized, it's becoming a much tougher task.

Customer experience, and its subset, customer service, have been touted for the last decade as the great differentiator. There's a good reason for this. There are virtual mountains of research and case studies pointing to the direct relationship between improved customer focus with customer retention, loyalty and sales. But when everyone in the industry begins focusing on the same thing, is it still a sound strategy?

The answer is a resounding yes, but in a slightly weird way.

There are two extremes in the customer loyalty spectrum. Most strategies, rightly so, are focused on the one extreme of trying to create rabidly loyal customers. We try to create a brand that will be top of mind for customer experience, and then expend a great amount of resources to measure how well we are doing. That's why tools such as Net Promoter, Customer Satisfaction, Customer Effort and RetailTrack's CustomerVoice surveys have exploded over the last few years.

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But what about those highly competitive industries where everyone is on the battleground of customer experience? It just might not be realistic for one company to clearly own the top position. In these situations, it is the other extreme that really comes into play. Because the one place you absolutely don't want to be is in the bottom position.

Anecdotally, we've all heard people share stories of "the place I will never go back to." There is nothing worse than having the reputation of ABYC (Anyone But Your Company) in a customer's mind. Once an organization has that reputation, it's hard to shake. This means that, even if you don't see a benefit of leading your industry in customer experience, it still needs to be a priority.

What has happened is that the bar that represents the minimum acceptable level of customer experience is continually being raised in competitive industries. What was good enough last year won't cut it this year. Customers have dizzying arrays of choices now, and very often they make those choices, not based on who is the best, but on a process of elimination.  

Standing out, therefore, isn't always a good thing - if the place you are standing is at the bottom.  It is inevitably those organizations that get eliminated first.


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The Belding Group helps companies stand out by providing  World-Class customer service training, and customer experience consulting and measurement

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Bob Thompson.jpgGuest Post by Bob Thomson

Best Western International (BWI) is a major hotel brand with over four thousand hotels worldwide, each independently owned and managed. It's not a franchise, however, according to Michael Morton, Best Western's VP of member services. BWI corporate chiefs can't just dictate what the hoteliers do. Decisions are made more "democratically" by members serving on various committees.

BWI has struggled with negative online reviews. They concluded that it's not enough to have someone in marketing monitor brand buzz at headquarters, which is how most social media monitoring solutions are used. The real issue is closing the loop with a consumer who has posted a negative review before it can damage the brand's reputation.

While each hotel may be part of a large brand "family," the day-to-day operation is run by a harried manager who doesn't have time to monitor social media feedback. But waiting for a complaint to be routed from Best Western's headquarters staff was too slow and not "guest friendly," says Morton. To be more responsive to guest issues, BWI members developed a collaborative solution whereby they empowered BWI headquarters to resolve issues immediately if possible. If not, then headquarters staff would connect with the hotel manager to work things out.

In 2007 Best Western launched the "I Care" customer care training program for its North American hotels. Later it was expanded to help international members.  An integrated feedback management solution was implemented to deliver surveys, analyze responses, and distribute feedback to hotel managers.

But this only addressed solicited, survey-based feedback. Unsolicited social media feedback--on review sites like TripAdvisor but also Facebook, Twitter, and many more--started as a trickle a few years ago but quickly turned into a torrent. Best Western explored specialized solutions to monitor social media but found solutions too expensive and, more important, not integrated with the feedback management system they had worked so hard to implement. So Best Western co-developed an integrated solution with its EFM vendor that enabled a hotelier to see feedback from both surveys and social media on one dashboard.

In 2008 the Best Western's ACSI score (a measure of overall loyalty) was an anemic seventy versus the industry average of seventy-five. Since then BWI has made good strides improving the guest experience to meet its stated goal to "lead the hotel industry in customer care." In 2010 BWI was ranked the top midscale hotel brand in Brand Keys' Customer Loyalty Engagement Index and earned a "Better Than Most" rating from J.D. Power's North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study. By 2013 Best Western's ACSI had improved an impressive nine points to seventy-nine, just three points behind industry-leader Marriott.

My family has noticed the improvement. Best Western has come to mean a quality, cost-affordable hotel experience, quite a change in a few short years. Feedback and action made it happen.

Bob Thompson is an international authority on customer-centric business management who has researched and shaped leading industry trends since 1998. He is founder and CEO of CustomerThink Corporation, an independent research and publishing firm, and founder and editor-in-chief of, the world's largest online community dedicated to helping business leaders develop and implement customer-centric business strategies. His book Hooked on Customers (April 2014) reveals the five habits of leading customer-centric firms.

For more information visit

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*Author's Note*  As of June 24 this story regarding KFC and a 3- year old girl has been removed from this blog.  According to CBS News, this is potentially a hoax. 



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Big Customer Service McMistake

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pierce-hansen-milkshaek-mcdonalds.jpgMcDonalds Restaurants have been listening a little too much to their lawyers, it seems, and not enough to their customers.

One would think that a colossal organization like McDonalds would have the concept of customer service recovery figured out, but apparently not.  Here's the story in a nutshell:

Last August, Jon Hansen, Jennifer Cameron and their three children visited a McDonalds drive-through in Buckingham Quebec (Canada). The man ordered in English, which apparently annoyed a rabidly Francophone employee so much that he put something in one of the milkshakes - something that their 5-year-old son began to drink. 

To make a long story short, the couple brought a complaint to McDonald's Toronto Head Office, who subsequently had a sample of the milkshake tested.  The test came back showing it had been tainted with what they would only call " a store-related compound."  Jon and Jennifer want to know exactly what this "store-related compound" was, and McDonalds is refusing to tell them.  (see the full story here)

The Buy-Off Didn't Work

Instead, McDonalds has been trying to buy them off.  First with $1,000, then with $3,000, then with $50,000.

The problem is that the Hansens haven't been asking for money.  They've been asking for the truth.  But McDonalds - I assume on the advice of their lawyers - have decided telling the truth isn't an option.  And now that the Hansens haven't been swayed by the cash, McDonalds is trying desperately to spin the story.  In their statement to the press they've said things like, '63 other shakes were sold that day without complaints,'  and "These results were shared with the family last August and we have tried unsuccessfully since then to work with the family to reach an equitable resolution."

The strategy is an oldie, and one that used to be a goodie - making it sound as though the customer is being unreasonable.  The problem is that, in today's world of social media, this strategy doesn't work so well.  The Hansens, for example, have been able to tell their story, and start an online petition to try and force McDonalds to fess up.

What Should McDonalds Have Done?

What does work in today's transparent world, however, is the truth.  If you have a customer service failure, what customers want and respect more than anything is for you to own the situation, and to let them know that they are important to you that you care about them. 

The message that McDonalds is sending, however, is that they care far more about trying to limit their liability than they do about their customer.  Not a good message to send in the era of Twitter and Facebook.

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When I clicked on the "Have an agent call me" button on the Vacations to Go website, I had a momentary feeling of dread.  Yes, we had found a cruise we liked, but I wasn't looking forward to the sales pitch.  I assumed that I was going to get what is too often the case - a stereotypical outbound call centre employee working on a script, or operating from some in-house sales training program developed in the Hard Closing '60s.

I couldn't have been more wrong.  And, I couldn't have been more delighted. 

The agent I spoke with, Brione, was articulate and an outstanding listener.  Her telephone skills - all the little things that we teach in our training programs - were flawless and executed naturally.  (Right down to the "Wow, that's a really good question" whenever I'd ask a stupid question.)  She executed the sales process beautifully and seamlessly.  Her follow-up was fast and efficient. 

I got the impression that she was far more interested in making sure that we were happy than just making a sale.  And that's what sales is really all about, isn't it.  When you meet the true superstars at selling, they aren't the ones who use all the spiffy closing techniques or clever lines for overcoming objections.  They are the ones who ask the right questions, listen carefully, find out what you want, then make it really easy for you to get it.  They are the ones you like, you trust, and you believe will deliver what you need.

Kudos to Brione and  Well done!


Thumbnail image for Belding Group Customer Service Logo.pngThe Belding Group helps companies stand out by providing  World-Class customer service training, and customer experience consulting and measurement

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customer_service_imageThis is the final part of the four-part series on Magic Customer Service Words, where we're examining "Positive" and "Negative" language - and the ability language has to influence or create rapport with customers. Here are two more great examples:


"I want to get this right for you."

This is a phrase that has a remarkable impact whenever you have to put someone on hold, or ask someone to wait while you check on something.  Typically, in these situations, we will say something like, "Can I put you on hold for a moment?" or "Let me just go check..." And typically, a customer will wait patiently.

For about 8 seconds.

In today's hyper-speed, instant gratification world, people don't "wait" very well.  It's not uncommon for a customer to start becoming annoyed after just a very short delay.

The next time you're faced with a situation like this, try saying something like, "Ms. Smith, I just want to make sure I get this right for you.  Can I put you on hold for a moment?"

You'll be pleasantly surprised at how much more patience customers suddenly have, when they realize that the wait is in their best interests.


The moment we hear the word "Actually" at the beginning of a sentence, we instinctively know that we're about to be corrected.  And all too often, it carries with it the invisible message that someone thinks we're just too stupid to live.  "Actually, Ms. Smith, that's not something we do..(idiot)..."

As a rule of thumb, try not to correct people unless it's absolutely necessary.  When you do, make sure to use the Confirm, Clarify and Continue model: 

"That does seem like something that we would do, doesn't it?" (Confirm)
"Unfortunately, it's been a few years since we've provided that service" (Clarify)
"Have you thought of trying....?" (Continue)

There are some people, of course, who seem to get great glee from correcting others, and just can't seem to stop themselves.  Don't be one of those people - they typically don't do very well in customer service roles.

That is the conclusion of this series.  Thanks to everyone for all the amazing feedback and suggestions! 

 (If you would like to see the first three parts of this series, you can find them on our Facebook page)


Reprinted with permission from the Winning at Work newsletter

Thumbnail image for Belding Group Customer Service Logo.pngThe Belding Group helps companies stand out by providing  World-Class customer service training, and customer experience consulting and measurement

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Customer Service and...Politics?

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jack.jpgSo, there's this election coming up in the Canadian province of Ontario.  It's where my home is, and people seem to be having a tough time deciding who to vote for.  It's a dilemma, for sure.  The party who has been in power for the last eternity or so has proven itself time and again to be profoundly ethically challenged.  But the party who is in the best position to take power away from them is really hitting a lot of discordant notes in terms of where their priorities are.  What to do?

Fortunately, the answer is pretty easy for me, and I realized today that the reason is ultimately... well... customer service.  

The guy I'm going to vote for lives down the street from me.  His name is Jack MacLaren, a local farmer, and I've known him and his family all of my life.  He's only been in real politics for a few years, and got in for the right reasons.  As the third or fourth generation of a family that owned this land since it was granted to them by the Queen, he was getting tired of trying to fight all of the government bureaucracy that was threatening his way of life.  Rather than just complain about it, however, he figured he would try to fix things from the inside.  Good on him.

Long before he became a politician (or "went to the dark side" as some would say), he and his entire family were icons of the community.  There are very few, if any, people here who haven't been touched by one or many acts of kindness from the MacLarens.   I've watched him bring his tractor down from the farm to pull people out of ditches (myself included).  He's always there to pitch in when someone needed a hand, and I'm not sure I've ever seen him ask anyone for anything in return.  He's bright.  He loves to laugh, and his word is his bond. 

Let's see - someone who is friendly, helpful, responsible, trustworthy and focused on the needs of others.  Sounds to me like a pretty good description of what customer service is all about.  Why wouldn't I vote for someone like that?  Is it really any different than the reasons we are loyal to a retailer, or a hairdresser, or a restaurant?  We like them, we trust them, and they care about us. 

For the record, I don't follow politics much, and I've managed to live most of my life in blissful oblivion of the politics around me.  Like many, my awareness perks up a little bit during election time.  But sadly, like many, when I do start paying attention it only serves to reinforce my already low expectations.  This disturbs me on a number of levels, but perhaps what hits me the hardest is that I'm not by nature a cynical guy.  I don't like being cynical.  I want to look for the good in others.  But with all of the lies and other sewage that spews out of the mouths of people trying to get elected, that's a daunting challenge. 

I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who really just wants in their politicians the same thing we want in our service providers.  Gee - someone you like, trust, and who cares about you? I'd vote for that person every time.


Thumbnail image for Belding Group Customer Service Logo.pngThe Belding Group helps companies stand out by providing  World-Class customer service training, and customer experience consulting and measurement

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Thumbnail image for customer service call centreThis is part three of the four-part series on Magic Customer Service Words, where we're examining "Positive" and "Negative" language - and the ability language has to influence or create rapport with customers. Here are the next two:


"Let's see if we can figure this out."

 (alt: "Let's see what we can do", "Let's figure out how to fix it," etc.) This is a simple, but powerful phrase that everyone needs to have in their toolkit.  It is an absolute imperative first-response phrase for people who work in call centers - particularly call centers that are involved in technical support or service recovery.  It needs to be the first words out of our mouths after a customer has told us that he or she is having a Problem.

 Typically, our first response when customers tell us there is a problem is more along the lines of, "What seems to be the problem?" or "Can I get your account number please?"  These are important questions, to be sure, but they are secondary to the statement that conveys to a customer that this is important to you, and you're going to do your best to make things better.

 When a customer calls up and says, "I have a Problem," it's amazing how much more smoothly things go when the answer is something like, "Wow - I'm really sorry to hear that.  Let's see if we can figure this out.  Can you tell me what's happening?"



 While it's okay for customers to say it, when we use the word "problem," it can turn into a Problem.

 It's not that problems don't exist.  They do.  We simply want to avoid using the word around customers.

 There are a lot of alternative words with less risk of triggering a negative response: 'challenge', 'situation', 'issue.' etc.  The word "Problem" has connotations of something that is a roadblock; something that is Very Serious. And it can instantly raise the emotion level with a customer.

 Imagine, for example, saying to a customer, "Oh, there seems to be a problem with your account." You can imagine the customer's immediate reaction: "What problem? Oh my gosh, there's a problem? There shouldn't be any problem!"

 Now, maybe the 'problem' was just something simple, like the wrong contact information  being on file.  But because we used the 'P' word, we got the customer all worked up for nothing.  It could have been presented with different words, such as:  "Oh, we seem to have a bit of a glitch with some of the information in your file..."  The message would be the same - that there is something that needs to be addressed - but it wouldn't trigger quite the same emotional response.

 That's it for this week! Stay tuned next week for the 4th and final installment of Magic Customer Service Words. Following that, we will be taking a look at the four keys to a successful career.

 (If you would like to see the first two parts of this series, you can find them on our Facebook page

 Do you have any suggestions for other Magic Customer Service Words or Phrases?  Please shout them out on our Facebook page - we'd love to hear from you!


Reprinted with permission from the Winning at Work newsletter

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Customer Service Trumps Perfection

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northwind.gifI just had a great experience with a local Wireless Telecom provider, Northwind Wireless.  It didn't start out as a great experience, but it ended up as one.

In a nutshell, our wireless speed had plummeted over the course of a few days to something marginally above dial-up.  So I sent an email to their support line.  Within 20 minutes, I received both an email AND telephone call from a terrific guy named Ian.  He explained the situation, apologized profusely and told me what they were doing to fix it.  Wow.  Can anyone even imagine getting a response like that from Bell, Rogers, Telus, Comcast or any other internet provider? 

What made it a good experience?  Well, the bottom line is that I felt like I was an important customer to them, and that they cared about how happy I was.  And it reminded me of why outstanding customer service has become such a critical piece to business success in general.

Customers are pretty demanding these days.  That's something everyone in business can agree on.  But it's not until you really start to think about it that you start to understand why.  It's not that people are grouchier - it's just that our expectations have accelerated off the charts over the last decade.

I remember the 80's, for example, back when I had a real job. If clients needed to contact me, they had only two options.  Theywhile_you_were_out__largjpg.jpg could drive to my office, or call me.  If I wasn't in, they would leave a message with my secretary, who would dutifully write it down on a little pink piece of paper with the header "While You Were Out..." , and stack it on top of the other messages.  Because I was out and about a lot, it wasn't unusual for it to be one or two days before I would actually get back to someone.  My clients accepted that, because that was the speed of business at the time.

Things have changed a little bit.

Now, if clients want to connect with me, they want to connect NOW.  They can call the office, they can call my cell, text me, email me, tweet me, message me, facebook me, skype with me.  It doesn't matter if I am on the other side of the planet (which is often the case). If two whole hours go by without them hearing back, they begin to think I just don't care. 

I can order a book and get it tomorrow.  I can transfer funds from one place to another at the speed of light. I can write a blog post that's seen by thousands over the course of a few minutes.  The list goes on.


The net result, of course, is that customer expectations have reached a point where it is often impossible to meet them, even with the best of intentions.  The net result of that, is a dramatic increase in perceived service failures, with a corresponding decrease in customer loyalty.  The only weapon a company has in their arsenal that can prevent unmet customer expectations from turning into customer defections is customer service.

The reason for this is simple:  Even though we do have often unrealistic expectations, most of us understand that no one, and no company, is perfect. As long as we believe that we are not being taken for granted; as long as we believe we are not being intentionally cheated or lied to; as long as we believe that the organization we are dealing with genuinely cares about us, we will give it a mulligan or two.

Customer service trumps perfection every time.


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Have you ever wondered how your coworkers perceive you? Most of us have had a coworker from Hell at some point in our careers, but what if that coworker is you and you just don't realize it? Here's a checklist to see if you might be...

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Are Lawyers Killing Customer Loyalty?

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A few weeks ago we discussed a significant (and ongoing) customer service blunder by McDonalds. It appeared that a disgruntled employee had put something in a child's milkshake. The parents are trying to find out what the something was, and McDonalds is refusing to tell...


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