Customer Service Around The World

staples.png"The large print giveth.  The small print taketh away."  Most organizations are moving away from this mentality.  In fact, many of the best customer service organizations go to great lengths these days to make sure people don't feel taken advantage of or deceived in any way.  One of the biggest mantras they follow is that if something is ambiguous; if it falls into a grey area between what you are offering and what a customer is expecting, you should always err on the side of the customer.

Staples has a printer ink guarantee, it turns out, that falls into the ambiguous category.  They advertise an in-stock guarantee which, I discovered yesterday, isn't quite as clear-cut as it seems.  When I asked the people in the store, it was pretty clear I was just an annoying customer who didn't understand Theeir Rules.

I don't get too upset anymore when I experience a customer experience faux pas.  I more look at it as an opportunity to see how companies are doing, and how well they respond to service experience failures.   So let's see how Staples responds to this, shall we?

Here is the text of the email I sent them.  (Their feedback portal needs a bit of work as well!)


I went into your Kanata store yesterday. I needed printer ink for an Epson nx420. The gigantic banner across the printer section advertises the in-stock guarantee.

In the little flip-through guide for finding the right cartridge, it identifies a 2-pack of black cartridges. This was my first choice, given that I needed a few, and assuming that multiple packs would be a better price.

This product was not available, so I asked about it at the counter. I was told that they don't stock the item, and because of that, the out-of-stock guarantee doesn't apply. (??) I ended up having to buy three singles.

It would seem to me that if you have a guide in the store telling me what SKUs I should be looking for, then it is reasonable for me to assume you carry those. No? I chose not to make a big deal of it in the store, but I was very disappointed in Staples. It's not so much that guarantee is misleading - which it is, or that I didn't get the few pennies difference in cost between a 2-pack and a 1 pack, or even that I didn't get a $10 coupon. I'm disappointed that, for the relatively trivial cost, the Staples response was, basically, 'sucks to be you.'

I expected more from you.

Stay tuned!



The Belding Group helps companies stand out by providing Outstanding customer service training and customer experience consulting and measurement

Shaun Belding is a global expert on customer service ane workplace performance.  To enquire about Shaun's speaking availabilities, contact

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I actually laughed out  loud when I read this. (If you click on the image, you'll see a larger version.   This is a winner from an rep who goes by the name Thor.  Talk about someone who knows how to engage a customer!


The rep recognized right away that this was a customer who might have a sense of humour, then leveraged it to an outstanding outcome.  This is what customer service is all about - connecting with each customer as an individual, having compassion and building a relationship.

Sure, any rep could have responded to the inquiry and satisfied a customer with a one-day delivery freebie.  But Thor took the opportunity to turn it into a memorable experience.

This one's going in the books for one of the best customer experiences of 2014!



The Belding Group helps companies stand out by providing Outstanding customer service training and customer experience consulting and measurement

Shaun Belding is a global expert on customer service ane workplace performance.  To enquire about Shaun's speaking availabilities, contact

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CB107704.jpgCustomer service is a popular topic pretty much everywhere you go. Hardly a week goes by without you hearing about a customer service horror story from someone - a friend, acquaintance, family member or coworker. It's inevitable. If there's one thing that everyone likes to do, it's complain about bad service.

Now, improving customer experience has been a laser focus for businesses around the globe over the last five years. And, truth be told, the bar has been steadily moving to the positive during that time. Despite this, however, it still seems to be pretty much of a hit or miss proposition.

So, what should you do if you're a customer? Should you just cross your fingers and hope for the best? Sure, you make a point to do business with companies you know will treat you well, but what about all of the other places you spend your money?

There is a way for a customer to improve the chances of getting good customer service. All you have to do is be a bit proactive. Here's how:

1. Smile and be friendly
Service providers get more than their fair share of narcissistic, entitled customers who don't seem to appreciate their efforts. Most welcome the opportunity to work with someone who is friendly

2. Respect their jobs
Make an observation about their occupation that lets them know you understand and respect the challenges they face. For example, you could say something to a server in a restaurant like, "I don't know how you remember all of these orders. I can barely remember what I ordered!"

3. Learn a little about them
Dale Carnegie once wrote, "You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you." Truer words were never spoken.

4. Compliment their performance
A well-placed, sincere compliment goes a long way. Even if you just said something like, "Wow - you're timing is perfect!" when your coffee arrives, you'll make someone smile.

Try these four things, and see if you don't find yourself getting a lot better service. They don't work 100% of the time of course, and yes, it's technically not the customer's job to create a positive experience, but there's absolutely no downside to trying.

These same principles, by the way, also work with your coworkers, employees and internal service providers. As our parents taught us growing up - 'you get what you give.'



The Belding Group helps companies stand out by providing Outstanding customer service training and customer experience consulting and measurement

Shaun Belding is a global expert on customer service ane workplace performance.  To enquire about Shaun's speaking availabilities, contact

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reardon.JPGThere is a terrific article in the Globe and Mail that talks about the huge impact that a focus on courtesy has on peoples' success.  (see the story here) The back story is even more interesting.

The editor-in-chief of high-society magazine Tatler, Kate Reardon, had  given a graduation speech at a private girls' school in Gloucestershire.  The context of the speech was that good manners were at least as important, if not more important, than good grades.  Ms. Reardon's comments were instantly taken to task, with one prominent blogger referring to it as "sexist crap."

The fact is, Me. Reardon is absolutely correct.  When you study highly successful people, it doesn't take long to see that knowledge and skill are only part of their success story.  The other part - and sometimes the larger part - is the ability to connect with and engage the people around you.  As the Globe article points out, courtesy, etiquette and interpersonal skills are pretty much absent from the education process these days.

And we wonder why customer service, which is founded on the principles of interpersonal skills,  seems to be on the decline...

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There's a new viral video out - a must watch!  American comedian Jack Vale takes a hidden camera into stores and shows really bad customer service.  Take a look!

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frustrated customer.jpgWow.  Welcome to really old-school customer retention strategies.  Just listen to this call.  Comcast says they are embarrassed, but it wasn't that long ago that companies were actually teaching this stuff.   Clearly a sales rep didn't get the memo that abusing customers is passe.

How did this customer keep his cool through this??


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Customer Service and the Disney Myth

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(Reprinted with permission from the Winning at Work newsletter)

waltdisneyworld.jpgWhenever there's talk about outstanding customer service, the names that inevitably comes up are Disney World and Disneyland. For good reason - they are shining examples of the success an organization can achieve by focusing on customer experience. Because of this, they are often held up as aspirational models for organizations who would like to replicate Disney's success in their own industries.

The giant myth, however, is that Disney's success can be replicated by simply studying and implementing their practices. A great many companies have tried, but very few, if any, see the kind of transformation they were hoping for.

The reasons for this are twofold. First, unlike most companies, Disney's model was based on customer experience from the very beginning. As Walt Disney said to his original investors, "The idea of Disneyland is a simple one. It will be a place for people to find happiness and knowledge." That is how the parks began, and the roots from which they continue to grow. It is very different to grow organically from an original organizational vision than it is to transform an organization to a new vision.

The second reason is that Disney's practices are only a small part of their success model. The important part, the critical part, is what happens at the very top of the organization.

Disney is successful because, from the CEO on down, they believe that the better the customer experience they deliver, the more successful they will be. Customer experience isn't a thing. It's not a division or a KPI. It's their primary mission, and is the primary standard by which they make all decisions. Disney doesn't just invest a little into customer experience, they invest everything. This cult-like fanaticism to deliver outstanding customer experience begins with the executive office, and from there seeps down through the organization.

When companies try and reinvent themselves as a customer-centric organizations, the tier that is rarely asked to transform is the executive level. Instead, the companies focus primarily on improving the customer touchpoints. The result is like trying to plant the only the visible part of an oak tree, without including the supporting root system. There is nothing to give the tree ongoing nourishment to grow and flourish, and nothing to prevent it from blowing over at the first gust of wind.

It's a lesson we all can learn from. Most of us already understand that to thrive in today's hyper-competitive world, an organization needs to be focused on continuously improving customer experience. It requires training, process improvement, scrutiny of policies, and diligence in hiring and onboarding. But in today's world, those are simply the table stakes. They alone will not turn you into a Disney-esque customer service organization. To reach that level, you need a powerful, passionate, clear vision from the top, and unwavering disciples who fervently believe the dream.

That, of course, is the hard part - getting everyone at the top to be true disciples. Most prefer to watch the bandwagon from the sidelines, rather than jump on and drive things. As Disney himself said, "I could never convince the financiers that Disneyland was feasible, because dreams offer too little collateral."

It's a daunting challenge, but if you can get everyone sharing the same dream, everything else begins to fall into place.

"The world's greatest leaders in business and society are characterized by a clear vision of what could be, and a relentless pursuit in getting there."  Shaun Belding

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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 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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Shaun Belding has a wealth of knowledge and experience to share about what it takes to provide world class customer service. Talk to Shaun about your company's needs or invite him to speak at your next function for the perfect mix of fun and information.

"The large print giveth. The small print taketh away." Most organizations are moving away from this mentality. In fact, many of the best customer service organizations go to great lengths these days to make sure people don't feel taken advantage of or deceived in any way....


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