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  1. Conflict Resolution For Consumers

    March 19, 2012 by Danielle

    Donna Larner Lavery (aka Primadonna) and Mark Thompson tackle consumer woes on air

    The Customer Service Revolution is all about empowering everyday consumers to get the service we deserve, in situations big and small.

    The ultimate goal: create a tipping point at which we – the customers – take back 100% control of the service experience. The explosion of social media has been a great springboard, but The Revolution won’t rest until “please hold for the next available agent” is a phrase of the ancient past.

    Agree with me? But feeling too exhausted or intimidated to “fight the system?”

    Buck up. You are not alone! There are many customer service advocates dedicated to helping you get your customer service conflict resolved.

    Donna Larner Lavery is one of them. She is an Emmy Award winning investigative journalist turned radio host/consumer advocate/Huffington Post blogger. In her recent post “Extending the Olive Branch – Consumer Conflict Resolution,” Donna explains how she has assisted listeners and readers with resolving tricky conflicts. And she’s willing to take on your case!

    1) Take a look at the article, which includes some of her success stories

    2) Decide if you have a consumer conflict worth battling – always pick your battles

    3) Contact Donna directly for support

    4) Report back to The Revolution

    You can do it!


  2. Happy Belated Valentine’s! From Teleflora

    March 15, 2012 by Danielle

    "We're sorry..."

    Oh, dear.  Here’s a perennial customer service fail that needs to be recorded…

    Just yesterday -  on March 14 -  my sweet and wonderful colleague, Crystal, received a sweet and wonderful office surprise: flowers from her boyfriend!

    How nice, right? Wrong!

    The flowers were a Valentine’s Day gift on a 30-day delay. They were basically St. Patrick’s Day flowers.

    The good news is that Crystal’s relationship survived the V-Day snafu.

    The bad news is that Teleflora still charged her boyfriend for the belated blossoms (at the typically marked up Baby Cupid rate, no less) and attached this unfortunate, hand-scribbled apology:

    This is what I would call a “non-apology apology” that leaves the recipient wondering what exactly happened.

    Here’s what I encouraged my dismayed colleague to do about the situation:

    1) Laugh it off and enjoy the surprise delivery.

    2) Pose for me so that I could blog about it.

    But since Crystal is not the actual customer in this situation, here’s what I encourage her boyfriend to do about it:

    1) Contact Teleflora immediately to express dissatisfaction. Maintain composure while declaring the experience “entirely unacceptable” and “contrary to what was agreed upon at the bill of sale.”

    2) Ask questions (calmly and politely) such as, “Is this the quality of service I can expect from Teleflora in the future?” and “How do you intend to compensate me for this utterly disappointing experience?” Given the sensitivity of the situation, it doesn’t hurt to lay it on a bit thick and fib to the customer service rep about how the company’s error may have adversely impacted the “budding” romance. Ba-dum-bum.

    3) Give them an opportunity to make it up to you. Mistakes do happen.

    4) Tweet about it.

    5) Report back to the Customer Service Revolution!

    Note: Valentine’s Day is a notoriously bad day for flower delivery services! I fell prey to this once and have since learned my lesson – never send flowers on February 14! They look just as nice (for 1/2 the price) on the 13th and 15th. Have you ever had a bad experience with a floral vendor? What did you do? How did they make it up to you?


  3. Hand The Bartender Your Flex Spending Card

    February 25, 2012 by Danielle

    Why, yes, I will start a tab...

    If you work for a company that offers flexible spending (pre-tax dollars that can be spent on medical and transportation costs), you should absolutely be taking advantage of it. If you manage the account properly, there is no downside from an employee standpoint.

    Depending on the plan, the FSA provider may issue a physical debit card so the employee can easily make purchases without filling out reimbursement paper work. Bleh, paperwork!

    As an empowered consumer, I am all about convenience (it makes me happy) so I love my flex spending card. I use it at MTA machines, in the doctor’s office for co-pays and online to purchase contacts lenses. As long as there is money in the account, the transaction goes through seamlessly.

    But this is not a human resources blog, so let’s get back to the headline here!

    Sadly, you can’t actually use your flex spending dollars to buy booze (trust me). But, you can hand it over to the bartender when you open a tab. Why would you do this?

    1) Security: Depending on the environment, you simply may not trust the establishment to hold your bank card for an indefinite period of time. We’ve all been to those bars…

    2) Control: There’s no possibility of the bar running the card without you reviewing the bill (and deciding how to ultimately pay).

    3) Power: I understand why they do it, but I am always mildly miffed when a bartender demands collateral as soon as I hit the stool. Handing them a bogus card makes me feel like I’m winning.

    4) Convenience: If you forget your card at the bar because, as it turns out, a group of guys paid the tab for you and your friends anyway, then going back to retrieve it is far less urgent. (Ladies, message me for a short list of NYC bars where this scenario is likely to happen.)

    Will the bartender let you do it? Yes. As long as it has a Visa or MasterCard logo, it’ll be our little secret.


  4. Want Free Drinks? Just Order Them.

    February 24, 2012 by Danielle

    Cheers to complimentary cocktails!

    Every few days, I get an email from UrbanDaddy gently reminding me to do, eat, or drink something more fabulous than I am currently doing, eating or drinking.

    UrbanDaddy is one of those “members only” email clubs that anyone can invite you to like Lot18 or GiltGroupe. Except, UrbanDaddy is way cooler and sexier.

    It was thanks to UD that I learned Mexican haunt Fonda (of Park Slope fame) was opening a Manhattan location in the East Village this past Tuesday. My friends and I quickly made plans to meet there on Wednesday, which coincidentally was National Margarita Day!

    The restaurant was far from full, but had a decent crowd for its 2nd night in business. The manager, Ciro, stopped by our table twice and the waitress, Rita, stopped by a record 29 times. It was excessive, and at times intrusive, but she was well-intentioned. (Reminder tip: always learn people’s names -  it gets you better service.)

    The food was excellent (shout out to Chef Roberto Santibañez) and reasonably priced with entrees around $18. The guacamole is a must ($10 bowl serves two). I highly recommend the pan seared sea bass over guajillo passion fruit sauce, potatoes, asparagus, roasted red peppers and red onion. Mmmm…but I digress.

    Pescado al guajillo (click to enlarge)

    My friends and I were enjoying our $8 sangrias (they are $5 if you purchase them at the bar, which was so close to our table I nearly rested my purse on it), when Rita approached us for the 23rd time in two hours to see “if we needed anything.”

    Seizing the opportunity, I replied politely and insistently, “As a matter of fact, we would love a round of complimentary drinks.”

    The key to getting what you want in the service industry is being assertive and polite. So after I made my request, I just smiled silently, maintaining eye contact and only adding, “We’ve been here a while,” implying it was time for a buy back.

    A second later, Rita just nodded, scampered off and promptly returned with a round of complimentary drinks.

    So there you have it, readers. If you want free drinks – just order them that way. Empowered customers always get what they want.


  5. The foursquare Follow Up

    February 23, 2012 by Danielle

    Two weeks ago, I bitterly tweeted foursquare after two separate Manhattan venues declined to honor the advertised check-in specials.

    (Don’t know what foursquare is? Watch this short video and then keep reading.)

    As I explained in my earlier post, foursquare’s co-founder, Dennis Crowley, replied immediately – on Superbowl Sunday of all days – and promptly looped in the company’s Director of Business Development Eric Friedman. While Eric was busy cheering on the Giants (pure speculation), I was publishing my blog post and awaiting a full explanation.

    Here’s what happened next…

    Monday, February 6:
    Eric direct messaged me on Twitter requesting more information about the deals gone wrong, which I provided.

    Tuesday, February 7:
    No reply. It occurs to me that Dennis and Eric have probably pulled up my account, see that I recently unlocked the “Wino Badge” (undermining my credibility entirely) and have dismissed my claim.

    Wednesday, February 8:
    Following a good night’s sleep and upon further consideration, I conclude that Dennis and Eric have waayyy better things to do than “pull up my account” and it is those “better things” that have distracted them from following up with me. Possibly ever.

    Thursday, February 9:
    Hooray! A reply from Eric. He opens with “Sorry for the delayed response.” This is both courteous and generous considering he’s kind of a big deal and returning my email was a medium priority at best. He went on to tell me exactly what I wanted to hear:

     

    foursquare's Eric Friedman

    First, this must have been incredibly frustrating for you and I am really sorry. We provide tools for merchants on a self serve basis (they are all free!) and try to guide them to train their staff, know about the deals, and offer “special” experiences to guests.  We rely heavily on the owners and managers to make sure all of the staff is aware of our offers and we provide two ways to help them: 1. a printable PDF to train staff 2. a printable PDF to explain things to customers. Is it possible the Specials you saw were via American Express? (and he included link) In any case, I am really sorry for the inconvenience and it’s part of my job to prevent these from happening in the future.  I am happy to chat further and thanks for getting back to me so quickly via twitter!

     

    And just like that, foursquare turned my frown upside down and got me back on board pursuing a local coffee mayorship!

    Here’s why the response worked for me:

    1) He apologized (for both the delayed reply and the overall experience).
    2) He validated and acknowledged my feelings of dissatisfaction.
    3) He provided a full explanation. Essentially, he resolved the problem.
    4) He kept the conversation “open” to ensure I felt the issue was resolved on my terms, not his.

    In most instances, unhappy customers just want to be heard. Empowered customers make themselves heard!

    On the bright side, while my deals were not honored at Spoon or Bourgeois Pig, my friends and I did earn a free happy hour appetizer at Croton Reservoir last Friday just for checking in.

    The lesson here is simple: foursquare is awesome. Do it.


  6. How to Use Twitter to Get Better Service

    February 21, 2012 by Danielle

    And the winner is...

    One of my top 5 tips for getting better customer service is: use social media. Specifically, Twitter.

    If you are a customer of any kind, Twitter is your friend. Ever since merchants got hip to the power of viral marketing, the customer victories produced by social media platforms have been countless – ranging from small wins to national news headlines.

    My favorite example, aptly named “The Greatest Customer Service Story Ever Told,” is about what happened to Social Media Superstar Peter Shankman after he casually tweeted that he was craving a Morton’s steak while boarding a Newark-bound flight last August.

    I regularly tweet about the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to my customer experience. Companies that don’t supply satisfying responses, lose my business. Simple. It may not matter to them, but it matters to me. As an empowered consumer, I choose only to do business with companies and stores that provide customer service on par with my standards. In this way, I am setting myself up for success. I am minimizing the likelihood that I will be disappointed, aggravated, or robbed blind.

    When debating where to spend my money, I use Twitter as both a “customer review” search engine (to see what the tweeple are saying about a particular brand or business) and to generate my own RFPs (request for proposals).

    Recently, I couldn’t decide which drugstore delivery service would be most cost effective (especially after Alice.com announced on February 8 that it was moving toward a $40 minimum shipping policy), so I baited two competitors and analyzed the results (click image and read from the bottom up):

    My Twitter exchange with Alice and Soap

    In the end, although I enjoyed a thoughtful email exchange with Rebecca at Alice.com, Soap.com had slightly better prices. Alice would have earned my business had they offered me some kind of “new customer/try us, you’ll like us” discount, but alas, the box that ended up on my couch 24 hours later is pictured above.

    What can we learn from my quick experiment with online toiletry shopping?

    1) Empowered consumers make the merchant come to them.
    2) Empowered consumers get faster and more satisfying results via social media.

    Now get out there and report back!


  7. Quick Tip: Send Yourself A Message

    February 14, 2012 by Danielle

    Oh! Why, thank you, Soap.com!

    It’s always nice to receive a compliment, no matter where it comes from.

    When shipping an online order to yourself, I recommend buyers take advantage of the free gift message option (or free gift wrapping if available).

    Whether you’re feeling guilty about the money you just spent or simply looking for a quick pick-me-up, words of encouragement are always a welcome “surprise” when it’s time to review the packing slip. Most online companies offer this option at check-out. Don’t skip over it! Say something nice. You deserve it.

    Happy Valentine’s Day, readers!

     


  8. 10 Tips For Terrible Customer Service

    February 7, 2012 by Danielle

    No matter how bad you are at something, you can always be worse. And it seems for some businesses, that’s the goal. In an effort to help that cause, I’m sharing these top 10 tips for giving downright terrible customer service:

    1. Don’t Reply. Blast your customers from a “no reply” or “this inbox is not monitored” email. When they eventually do find an “in” @yourcompany.com, make sure that email gets lost in the shuffle. Stat.

    2. Ignore Social Media. You know that budget line your communications department keeps arguing for? Their ludicrous ramblings about hiring full-time people to managing your Facebook and Twitter pages? Pshhh. Crazy talk.

    3. Get Defensive. Bad Yelp review? How dare they! Reply immediately with a snarky comment that quickly establishes you as “right” and the customer as “wrong.” One nutjob’s bad experience doesn’t define your brand. Who reads Yelp anyway? (Plus, you can always sue a Yelper).

    4. Make rules. Lots of ‘em. No exceptions. Incomplete parties will not be seated. Coat check? Mandatory. Split the bill 4 ways? Oh hell no. You want to return that item? How ’bout store credit instead? You’ll never get your money back! Mu-haha.

    5. Be Unprofessional. This includes but is not limited to: raising your voice, smacking your gum, rolling your eyes, walking away, staring blankly, dragging your feet, checking your texts, using profanity and/or improper English.

    6. “Don’t Know.” Adopt this general attitude of not knowing and hold tight. When faced with any question that is beyond your “scope,” is of little interest or comprehension and certainly was not covered in your new hire training, just tell the customer “I don’t know.” And don’t try to find someone who does know either. Just keep blinking. The customer will give up eventually.

    7. Blame It On The Rain. Or the customer. Or the manager. Or the employee. Or the department that is no where near – nor related to – your department. Blame it on anything and anyone that is not you. Any rational customer will clearly follow the logic and be far less upset.

    8. Don’t Apologize. It’s a sign of weakness.

    9. Don’t Offer Anything For Free. Ever. It will destroy your bottom line. This has been proven over and over in numerous, well researched case studies. Customers will not respect you and you will go broke. Almost immediately.

    10. Make them wait. On hold, on line, on backorder. However you can and for as long as possible. It builds suspense. Suspense is sexy. And if they have a complaint, you’ll tire them out before they ever reach a live person. Win-win!

    Have a tip to add? Leave it in the comments section.


  9. What’s The Deal with Foursquare Deals?

    February 6, 2012 by Danielle

    False advertising

    If you’re not yet using Foursquare, you should be.

    But be warned: not all establishments honor the advertised deals.

    When I first started using Foursquare a few months ago, I was motivated to keep “checking in” because of the discounts and specials offered at many of the venues.

    Just recently, my friends and I had $10 taken off our bill at The Counting Room for simply “checking in” on Foursquare. I’m less motivated by the point-earning/game-playing aspects (unless, of course, those points can be cashed in for mozzarella sticks!) but many people do use Foursquare in this way – eventually earning themselves “mayorships,” which also translate to freebies and exclusive discounts.

    I’m pro-Foursquare, but in the last few weeks, I’ve been burned twice (yes, twice!) by two establishments that offered Foursquare deals for checking in and then shrugged their shoulders once I’d complied. Talk about feeling used!

    The first “incident” was at Spoon, a delicious little brunch spot near Union Square. Like The Counting Room, Foursquare advertised a $10 discount for checking in, but when we presented it to the bewildered waitress she knew nothing about it. If you’ve read my blog, you’ll not be surprised that I swiftly rejected that response and politely insisted she show it to a manager. Frustratingly, the manager’s response was the same. We got a consolation cupcake instead.

    Unconvinced that the cupcake had a $10 street value (and in typical dog with a bone fashion), I tweeted about it. A few days later…

    @spoonfednyc: So sorry, the foursquare posting is Fraud!

    Gasp! Had I uncovered a major cyber crime? I asked Spoon if they’d been in touch with Foursquare on this issue. To which they replied…

    @spoonfednyc: Yes we did, we can’t even see it on our page, it’s not the first time it happened, thanks for contacting regarding this!

    I let it go.

    But, then…

    Just this weekend, I checked in at The Bourgeois Pig in the East Village (birth place of Foursquare).

    The app advertised $5 off the bill (see above). We showed it to the waitress who showed it to the manager who had “never heard of it.”

    This is a blog about empowering customers to always get the good service they deserve and so on behalf of my readers and the six other people who were checked in at The Bourgeois Pig last night, I tweeted one of the founders of Foursquare, Dennis Crowley, to ask “what’s the deal with the deals?”

    To his credit, Dennis immediately replied wanting more information and copied his director of business development on the tweet. I have not yet received a full explanation but, to be fair, it was Superbowl Sunday and pesky little bloggers like me may have taken a back seat to the New York Giants’ nail biting defeat over the New England Patriots.

    I’m looking forward to getting some answers and will share them with you here. After all, a deal is a deal.


  10. 5 Things Smart Consumers Know

    January 31, 2012 by Danielle

    Photo credit: Siri

    A wise woman once told me, “When you know better, you do better.”

    Informed consumers have better customer service experiences because they know things that other people don’t. Here are five basics every empowered customer (especially New Yorkers) should know:

    1) Paying cash at many small businesses can lower the price.

    Firstly: tax-schmax.

    Secondly: never hurts to haggle a bit when you’re paying with Washingtons. Nowadays, cash is worth more than ever to small business owners. You can read more about their dramatic disdain for credit card purchases below.

    Try this: “I can pay cash, but I only have a $10, would you take $10? (for that obscenely overpriced and poorly engineered $12.95 I <3 NY umbrella?)”

    Yes, I’ve tried this and you’d be surprised how often it works. And by the way, that umbrella was an emergency purchase.

    2) Not all restaurants advertise BYOB.

    If you live in NYC, a good portion of your regular dinner bill goes toward liquor. And if it doesn’t, you’re not very fun to hang out with, are you? Restaurants make a killing on marked up servings of wine and booze hounds (no judgement) fall for it every time.

    Typically a restaurant is only BYOB until the liquor license comes in. It’s a lesser known fact that some establishments will continue to allow BYOB if you just ask!

    A surprising example: Hillstone, formerly Houston’s, which is a well-established national chain that serves 5-star food and consistently delivers impeccable service. As of this post, their NYC locations permit one BYO bottle per table and there is no corking fee.

    3) “Tip in cash only” is only a suggestion.

    Nail salons love this one. Some of them even make fancy little signs that they put in frames (see above) and display more prominently than those questionable licenses to practice. But when you consider that tipping as general practice is optional, it’s good to remember that you make the rules about how that exchange goes down.

    As a longtime (and rather beloved) nail salon client, I will say on behalf of the technicians that it is strongly preferred you tip in cash because that money goes directly into the rightful pocket. My undercover research into this topic has revealed that many managers withhold credit card tips entirely, delay payment to the technician or withhold a percentage of the tip to cover the processing fee of the entire transaction. Total bull, right? But it happens.

    That said, in the interest of enhancing your own customer service experience, if you legitimately forget to bring cash (don’t forget this), you can simply insist the gratuity be added on. Yes, they will talk about you in their native tongue. But they were doing that already, weren’t they?

    4) A cab is legally required to take you to your destination (all 5 boroughs, Westchester, Nassau and Newark Airport) once you’re seated in the cab.

    Slam door, ask questions later. That cabbie is taking you to Queens! Whenever a yellow taxi pulls over and shouts out the window “Where you going?” do not answer until you’re behind the partition. If you’re hailing a cab in Manhattan and plan to travel outside the borough or far uptown, jump in that puppy as soon as it slows down!

    This is an important thing to know, especially if you’re new to New York or don’t take cabs often. As a customer, you also have the right to dictate the route (such as “taking the 59th Street Bridge” to avoid tolls). The Taxi and Limousine Commission is a strictly regulated entity and it’s very pro-passenger (ask any cabbie).

    A complete list of taxi passenger bill of rights is available on the TLC section of NYC.gov.

    5) There’s no such thing as a minimum credit card purchase.

    OK, this one is almost true. It used to be (until September 2010) that merchants were posting little signs that required $5, $10 and other absurd minimums for running plastic transactions. For a long time, these signs were in violation of the merchant agreement and were reportable offenses (I often found simply stating my rights got me a begrudging swipe). But new-ish legislation makes the “$10 minimum” legit. (You can still make a scene about “$15.”)

    This finance bill was a huge blow to customer rights or as MasterCard’s General Counsel Noah J. Hanft put it, “This is an incredible con job. Under the guise of helping small business, this is just a shrewd and cynical effort that ultimately harms consumers.”

    So, to make up for #5, I’m offering up 10 Things You Might Not Know About Your Credit Card courtesy of The Consumerist.

    What else do you know as a smart consumer? Share your tip in the comments section.