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Posts Tagged ‘empowered customer’

  1. The Power of Speaking Up

    July 12, 2013 by Danielle

    We’re taught that “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

    Generally speaking, it’s a good rule of thumb. But not when it comes to your customer service experience. As I often preach on this blog, the way you are treated, the service you receive, and your general level of satisfaction in any B2C interaction, is well within your control. We forget this, quite often, for a number of very good reasons:

    1) We’re taught to be polite. Confrontation is a no-no. Smiling and nodding is the right thing to do. And stifling our own feelings to spare someone else’s is always easier. Right?

    2) We’re exhausted. And kinda lazy. We’re rarely in the mood to put up a fight. We’d rather eat the wrong meal or drink the wrong coffee than exert the energy or patience to get a mistake corrected.

    3) We’re conditioned. Our expectations for customer service have diminished so significantly (Thank you, American work ethic!) that trusting a barista to remember complicated instructions such as “skim milk please” is just…sigh…too much for us to hope for anymore.

    So we let a lot go. We confuse assertiveness for aggressiveness. We quell our frustration. We spend more than we should for less than we want. It’s the price we pay (literally and figuratively) for not speaking up.

    My greatest tip for breaking this habit is:
    Change the way you think about “expressing dissatisfaction.”

    1) Still be polite. There’s a difference between complaining and delivering feedback. Feedback should always be offered in a tactful and kind way. If your goal is to remedy an issue, give the offending party an opportunity to do so. It’s the opposite of rude, really.

    2) Stop being lazy. And stop thinking of it as “putting up a fight.” Correcting a mistake, clarifying a request, or flat out changing our mind are all part of your experience. You’re in charge, so start acting like it.

    3) Raise your own bar. Being clear about your personal expectations for service is entirely reasonable. If an establishment isn’t willing to meet those standards, you should be willing to find an alternative provider. It’s your time and your money. And there is no lack of companies, restaurants, landlords, taxi drivers or airline carriers who would be willing to take it.

    For me, speaking up has yielded some major customer service wins (not to mention complimentary booze, discounts and stronger relationships). And it’s surprising how powerful this tip can be.

    Por ejemplo, one might think that a single customer has no control over the background music that’s being played during your mall shopping experience. Not so.

    Recently, I was shopping for shoes at DSW at Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn. I was in a good groove until they started playing that God forsaken Paula Cole hit from the 90s about a housewife whose romantic hopes and dreams are dashed when she becomes trapped in a sexless, loveless marriage. What a bummer, right? And that infuriating Yippee yaaa, yippee yayy! nonsense left me with a six hour earworm.

    I spoke up on Twitter:


    And guess, what? DSW is now working to have Paula Cole music pulled from their in-store playlists. See the email for yourself…


    When was the last time you spoke up? And what did it accomplish?

  2. 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.

  3. 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

    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.

  4. Handle It With Humor: A Southwest Story

    January 24, 2012 by Danielle

    Ever get an e-mail like this from your airline carrier?

    We’ve all been there: baggage claim.

    End of a long, uncomfortable flight. Your single focus, your clearest purpose, is to get your bag off that carousel and be on to your destination as quickly as possible with minimal drama and human interference. Bag. Door. Go.

    In most instances, we’re lucky (never take this luck for granted by the way) and that’s exactly how the process goes.  A few weeks ago, B.J. Schone arrived home in one piece for the holidays in St. Louis. His “fancy new TravelPro suitcase” was less fortunate. The underside of the bag had been badly damaged in cargo and B.J. was pretty…unhappy.

    He didn’t get a satisfying response from the Southwest Baggage-We-Broke Desk, so like any empowered consumer, he didn’t stop there.

    B.J., who is an e-learning and technology specialist with 1,800+ Twitter followers, knows that the first rule of getting better customer service is: you catch more flies with honey. So he got sweet, got creative, and went public. B.J. sent this letter to SWA and posted it online as well.

    Within a day, Southwest responded that they would be reimbursing him $140 for the damaged luggage. Correct!

    Meanwhile behind the scenes, more Southwest employees were busy working on a creative reply letter to B.J. crafted in the same quirky style. So there you have it…Southwest may not give you TV, but they’ve got a clip art department on standby.

    The lesson here is that sometimes taking a deep breath and simply handling it with humor is the most effective and cathartic way to manage your customer service experience.

    Ever tried anything like this? Does Southwest’s response surprise you?

  5. When Speaking Up May Save Your Life

    January 18, 2012 by Danielle

    Photo credit: Siri

    I’ve traveled between New York and Washington, D.C., at least 20 round-trip times in my life. I’ve done it by plane, train and automobile at all hours of the day and all days of the year. It once took me an epic 9 hours with a panting dog, a hysterical co-pilot, a cell phone that would not stop ringing and a Dave Matthews CD that would not stop skipping. At hour 8.5, the Elizabeth Ikea creeping up in the blue and yellow distance never looked so beautiful.

    I’ve also done it by bus.

    And although my absolute, hands-down favorite way to travel America’s glorious northeast corridor is the Amtrak Quiet Car, this blog is not yet generating the type of revenue that affords me such luxuries. Alas, this weekend, I put my life in the hands of BoltBus.

    In truth, I have no complaints about BoltBus’ customer service. (Though I personally prefer that shady people with offensive personal hygiene be required to sit farther away than two inches from me at all times, I understand that it may be a legal struggle for BoltBus to enforce such a screening policy).

    That said, I’ve always found that you get what you pay for with BoltBus. They reserve an actual seat for you as long as you show up on time and they stick to their schedule. When the electric outlets stopped working on a recent trip, the driver pulled over to quickly fix the issue as soon as it was brought to his attention (because technology keeps people quiet). And in all my experiences, the drivers are friendly.

    So I was pretty dismayed when I boarded my return bus at Union Station on Monday and noticed immediately that the (friendly) driver was using a hand-held cell phone. Who does that? At first, I assumed he was making a required call to dispatch reporting that we were “on the road.” But the call went on for several minutes and I felt sure that BoltBus wouldn’t encourage its drivers to operate their vehicles single-handedly for longer than, say, a minute.

    At one point, Chatty Charles (not his name) pulled over on the side of the road to continue talking. (Thanks for that, I guess?) Passengers were looking around curiously to try and figure out why we were stopped. The driver kept on talking, even pulling back onto the road mid-conversation, and never even made an announcement to explain the six minute roadside delay. Ironically, we arrived back at Penn Station exactly six minutes later than scheduled.

    Eventually, “Charles” hung up. Then he looked down and dialed some numbers (each digit one by one!) and chatted some more. Then he hung up and did it again. This went on for nearly an hour. I’m thinking “Charles” has 99 problems and this blog is one.

    Needless to say, news reports were flooding to my mind. Specifically this video from 2009 that shows a bus driver texting on a highway as he crashes into an SUV. Not cool.

    I tried to get actual photo/video evidence for both my loyal readers and the company, but alas I was trapped between the window and a really icky weirdo guy who was asleep and immovable. If I’d had a better angle, my video would have looked sort of like this. My precarious seating situation also prevented me from confronting the driver directly, though that was my first instinct.

    Instead, I did what I do best and tweeted Bolt from the 6th row. No response. Not even now, 24+ hours later. Who is this Whitney they speak of? Feeling that time was of the essence, I then shot off a quick email to their general inbox inquiring about the company’s driver cell phone use policy.

    I received this instant reply from Jim Austin, Sr. Manager of Customer Interfaces:

    We ask that our drivers pull over off the highway if they have to make a call to 911 or our dispatch office as we have a no cell phone policy while driving at Boltbus.  Like you, we feel that a drivers [sic] full attention should be on the road and the task at hand rather than dealing with someone on a cell phone.  I just spoke to this drivers [sic] manager who is contacting him as I type this note to have him knock this off and we will also meet him at the end of his trip to pull him out of service until a more formal conversation can occur regarding this issue.

    As a customer, even one who has a blog about standing up for yourself in these situations, I have to admit I felt a smack of guilt that this driver was being “pulled out of service” pending  “a more formal conversation.” We all know what that means.

    But, then…

    Just as I was wincing and sinking into my seat like a government whistle blower, I overheard the driver on the phone with his manager emphatically denying making the calls we all saw him make. And I thought about the numerous bus crashes and fatal accidents involving irresponsible drivers in recent years and I suddenly felt more empowered and less bad.

    Moral of the story: Don’t take risks with your personal safety just because you are too poor for Amtrak.

    Other morals: Always go with your gut in a potentially dangerous situation and speak up immediately. I can’t prove it (and wouldn’t want to), but the call from the driver’s manager mid-trip may have saved lives yesterday. If you were riding that bus and would like to thank me by buying me an Amtrak ticket, please see my Contact page.

  6. “Lady Chinky Eyes:” Really Papa John’s?

    January 8, 2012 by Danielle

    Minhee Cho as seen on Twitter @mintymin

    Two nights ago in Upper Manhattan, Minhee Cho was craving some pizza.  For reasons I don’t fully understand she decided to spend her money at Papa John’s.

    What happened next can only be described as an embarrassing social commentary on the current state of race relations and customer service in America. It also thoroughly ruined an otherwise relaxing weekend for Papa John’s crisis communications team.

    Fortunately, Minhee is an empowered consumer who knew exactly how to respond.

    Here’s the deal: Papa John’s, in a presumed attempt to personalize the customer experience like Starbucks and Jamba Juice, includes the customer’s name on the receipt. The problem is that Papa John’s employees are clearly less educated and trained than their peers.

    So whichever moron was working the register Friday night, didn’t bother to ask Minhee her name, but opted instead to use the physical descriptor, “lady chinky eyes.”

    See below Minhee’s receipt in case you, like me, “can’t freaking believe that.”

    Why do I know about this? Because Minhee did exactly what she should have done and put her customer disservice claim online. Social media took care of the rest.

    With more than 1,500 Twitter followers, all it took was a quick photo upload of the receipt and a Papa John’s “at mention” for Minhee to get the company’s attention.

    Oh no, you didn't!

    Within a day, the TwitPic had been re-tweeted by dozens of consumers outraged on her behalf, which led to thousands of comments on various sites. The firestorm of negative press prompted Papa John’s to reach out to Minhee late Saturday afternoon apologizing via Twitter for the racial slur.

    Both the incident and the apology quickly made national headlines, including on

    Hours before the (now ex-)employee at their Harlem store “went rogue,” Papa John’s had planned to tweet about a free pizza contest going on this weekend, but since the posting went viral, the company’s Twitter page has been dedicated solely to responding to every customer who helped spread the word about the incident.

    “PapaJohns: Please know we have terminated the employee involved & have issued a formal apology. We also have reached out to the customer.”

    In a phone interview with The Huffington Post, store manager Marjani (who could also use some public relations training) was quoted as saying, “I’m sure they didn’t mean any harm but some people will take it offensive.”

    I’m pretty sure Minhee’s getting free pizza for life, although I think she may do herself better to lawyer up and settle for some real dough.