Turn a tech trauma into an opportunity

A couple weeks ago, I criticized J.B. Hunt, Costco’s Whirlpool delivery partner, for tech-fueled communications snafus. Between Costco and J.B. Hunt, auto-generated notices flew back and forth about canceled orders, etc. When I investigated, I learned that all was well. It was just auto-tech run amok.

Well, I believe tech likely ended up helping me out. I was very concerned about complying with all delivery requirements ahead of time to avoid an on-site problem. We needed to wire a plug for a new dishwasher, install a new valve, remove the old dishwasher, etc. Because of the horror stories I had heard about, I didn’t want my appliance and delivery people to show up, only not to install my new appliance because of a miscommunication.

Ultimately, this led to Costco corporate, where I complained bitterly about the lack of consistent communication between them, J.B. Hunt and me. One person said one thing, another said something else, and so forth. I was ready to cancel the order altogether until I talked with a Costco exec who in essence became my account manager to see through the delivery.

Well, on delivery day, our elevator was out. When the delivery people arrived, I asked if they would be willing to haul the dishwasher up two flights. They not only said “yes,” but responded cheerfully that it was no problem. I was surprised.

The J.B. Hunt people wound up being so helpful and competent that I filed a “kudo” with their supervisor and passed on my compliments to my Costco rep.

I strongly believe that part of the reason for this excellent customer was…wait for it…tech-driven. The same systems that mine data and automate processes likely showed all the notes about my difficult experience. While I don’t know for a fact, I believe that this data likely prompted someone to say, “Just make this guy happy.”

This is one way high tech and high touch can work in harmony, making customer service better in the process. The more you know about someone, their buying habits, experiences and expectations, the more you can curate your customer service to their wants and needs.

Previous communications captured in CRM tech also likely contributed to Costco giving me a $75 refund for my time and trouble. Without this info, that may or may not have occurred.

So, in all of this, tech can and does play a very positive role. The key is to minimize the negative ramifications along the way. Key ways that companies can do this include:

  • Curate the auto-generated notices so they inform versus confound. In my case, emails should have been coordinated to actual circumstances, not some auto protocol that created unneeded confusion and frustration.
  • Communicate better at the point of initial communication. Back to my Southwest snafu that forced me to re-book a reservation, include content on your website that clearly frames the rules of engagement. If the Southwest website had contained a prominent banner stating that “partial reservation changes or cancellations must be handled by phone,” I wouldn’t have had the problem.
  • Don’t bombard prospects with one-size-fits-all emails in an effort to generate business. Discover what individual buying habits, wants, dislikes, et al are, then speak to them. A fintech lender has likely lost me forever as a potential customer because of their longtime, ongoing avalanche of emails and snail mail based on an inquiry about their rates. The only reason I haven’t opted out is that I want to see how long the process continues. So far, it’s over a year!
  • Pay attention to what you’re doing. Just last week, the same fintech lender sent me an “oops” email informing me that their newly launched HELOC program, about which I presumably had received other emails (which I ignored), was not yet active in most states. Somewhere, somehow, I’m guessing some tech “guru” mis-programmed and faulty information was released. If they can’t communicate accurately in the prospecting process, why would I expect their service to be any better?

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Technology is touted for its customer relationship management enhancement. Using advanced techniques, marketers can mine much information about prospects and customers, ranging from how they want to be communicated with to buying habits. But, there’s a decided dark side to technology run amok—or not running at all. When it complicates or confuses the buying process, the end result can be a customer service hit to the organization.

Do you have technology snafus or stellar experiences to share? If so, feel free to comment on this post or email your thoughts to mark@marklusky.com.

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Mark Lusky is a veteran writer, storyteller and author, with 40+ years of public relations, advertising, marketing and journalism experience.

Author of A Wandering Wondering Jew… and co-author of Don’t Get Mad, Get Leverage,  Mark (aka The Happy Curmudgeon) is the owner of a Denver-based marketing communications firm.

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