Wednesday, June 27, 2018

You're not going to believe this, but it's true - and these people "think" they're professionals in the PR world

I logged on today to the and decided to buy one of their packages, the better to serve a new client I landed today (plus to better serve other clients I already have).  The service I selected was their weekly dump of all new radio guest opportunities – the price (on their website) was $4.97, with a note that I should act quickly because it would soon double in price – they specifically said I needed to act now to “lock the lower price in.”   

Uh, yeah. 

Not a big fan of that “act now or we shoot your dog” kind of marketing, but they made their point.

So I clicked purchase, and instead of $4.97, the price was listed as $5.97.  A month. So I’m kvetching about $12 a year, right?  Hardly worth it.  But wait, there’s more … (and by the way, I’d show you the "more" but they’ve already changed their website).

Anyway, thinking there was  a glitch, I wrote to note that they’d screwed up their pricing (based on what was said on their website), thinking they’d do the right thing and honor their posted price. Instead, I got this email note:

Hi Ned,
Sorry about that.  The price is $5.97.
Looks like we missed updating that on the website after raising the price recently.”

Frankly, I’m absolutely gobsmacked.  They’re pissing off a prospective client (who has access to thousands of other prospective clients) for a buck a month? Incredible.  I guess we’re witnessing the death-throes of customer service and professional integrity.   

Damn, skippy, but this is disappointing.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Self Publishing School's "100 Percent Guarantee" Isn't What It Seems to Promise

I would like to warn readers away from a writing service that seems to have scam-like characteristics, especially when it comes to honoring their "100 percent refund guarantee." This regards a writing support service offered by Chandler Bolt's Self Publishing School, which offers a 90-day "Bootcamp" for $497, or $600 if you pay in three equal portions, which is what I did.

Here's what happened: I signed up for the 90-day bootcamp and made the initial $200 payment, and while the materials offered were not bad (not great, but not bad), I quickly realized I had over-stretched my personal-time resources, and I wasn't able to keep up with the 90-day program. Since they offered a 100 percent money-back guarantee, I asked for a refund. That's when the horror story began.

Instead of honoring their request, they made me jump through seven "flaming hoops" (i.e., complete seven specific tasks, including creating a book outline and writing an introduction and at least ten pages from the first chapter) before I would qualify for their guarantee. This was all new to me - that was NOT made clear in the promo material.

As a result, I had to spend nine hours completing these seven steps, creating the "proof that I'd given the course a chance" (even though that wasn't the issue, and they knew it). Then I had to send this information to them - even to the point of using my phone camera to take pictures of my screen since I've never known how to take a "screenshot."

So I sent in all that material as an attachment to a return email (return from the email which spelled out the requirements). Then, about 10 days later, while still waiting for my promised refund, I got another email. This one said I had to re-send these items via either Dropbox or Google Docs - a process that exceeds my admittedly-limited tech-ability (i.e., I know you can do that, but I've never known how to do that). This one also said that the refund offer was only good for 30 days (and they'd eaten up nearly two weeks in this back-and-forth, leaving me to think that by the time I finally complied, I'd be told I was "too late" for the "100 percent guarantee" that I'd get my refund, just for asking.

While a reminder of the deadline seemed threatening, the re-send demand just seemed absurd, since they'd already received (and acknowledged receipt of) the proof that I'd taken those seven steps. Suddenly, that "guarantee" seemed a lot more like a bait-and-switch than a legitimate offer - no matter what I did, they kept adding new and (for me) nearly impossible tasks.

Finally, in frustration, I called the company then emailed the owner (who never replied) - but finally, after a flurry of emails and phone calls, I finally got someone's attention. Earlier today, I finally my refund. But if I hadn't been persistent, I'm sure I'd have been out of luck, refund-wise.

What is my warning here? Before you commit big bucks to any writer-help organization, check out the specific terms of delivery of services, as well as the specifics of their refund policy (if any). Don't get stuck like I was.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Outback Steakhouse Strikes Out

It's been a while since I last ate at Outback Steakhouse, but primarily because my work environment changed so I wasn't frequently on that side of town, but I had reason to go to Henderson Nevada today so I dropped by the Outback on Stephanie for a good meal.  Actually, I stopped by to get a GREAT meal, but that's not what was served.  Well, their Diet Coke was above average (which is another story for another blog), and the loaf of bread was the same as always (which is good - it's not my favorite bread, but it's exactly what it's always been - good enough to enjoy), although even this wasn't hot, but had obviously been sitting out for a while.

But instead of Diet Coke or fresh bread I went to Outback for a medium rare ribeye steak, a Caesar's salad and their garlic mashed potatoes, the meal I always choose when I go there.  First came the salad.  Have you ever had a dry Caesar's salad?  I didn't think it was possible, but in this I was wrong.  There wasn't enough dressing to bring the lettuce to life.  Big disappointment, but it's just a "side" so, all other things being equal, I wouldn't object.  However, then came the steak. 

Right up front, I looked at it and was stunned. It was small.  Really small. Since I order the same steak almost every time, this wasn't just a guess.  It looked to be at least a quarter, maybe a third smaller than usual.  Which wouldn't have been so bad except it also seemed to have more than usual fat and gristle.  Finally (this is the trifecta of disappointing steaks), the steak seemed to have been over-tenderized, to the point where it was falling apart. I'd never realized how the texture of meat impacts it's appeal and enjoyment.

Finally, the garlic mashed. Not sure how you can screw this up, but it was as dry as the salad.

Ok, that covers the meal.  When I paid (by one of those damned machines on the table - for the prices I pay at Outback I'd like to deal with a real person, but maybe that's just me), I was asked to take a survey, which I did, and ended it by including a text message to the store management.  It couldn't have been a message that the manager wanted to get, but I'm truly surprised that the manager didn't immediately reach out to me, if only to apologize, if not to try and make it right.  But so far, not so much.

Maybe it's just the Outback at Stephanie, but when I consider the size and quality of the steak, I've got to believe that this is a corporate decision to downsize the meal instead of raising the price.

If you're jonesing for a steak, you might do better somewhere else than Outback Steakhouse. I know the next time I want a steak, I'll find another place to go.
Fifty-Fifty Alert - My Pillow - Not All Bad, But Sure as Hell Not All Good

We both have sleep problems, so eventually the commercials wore us down and we got the buy-one, get-one-free, My Pillow, then gave them a try.  The vote is 50-50.  Lynn likes her My Pillow just fine; I gave up on mine within less than a week.  So instead of a good deal on a $50 pillow, we got a less-good deal, $99 for one pillow (the other one is not being used, nor is it going to be used, except for the cat, who likes it just fine).  Basically, you'll either like it or hate it, and if you can find someone who has one and give it a try before you buy, you will likely be far happier than I am.  Ask Lynn and you'll get a very different answer, because she likes her My Pillow.

One final note - My Pillow is fighting (and settling for seven-figure sums) lawsuits about health and other claims. I know nothing about this, but it wouldn't be fair to my readers (both of you) without mentioning this.

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Fine Art of Losing A Loyal Customer - Big O Tires

I have been a loyal customer of Big O Tires - the local operation on North Nellis Blvd. in Las Vegas - for more than 20 years.  The reasons are simple.  They are close, they provide good service at good prices, and most of all, they respect me as a customer and as an individual.  As I get older, that respect has become more important to me - life is too short to be treated rudely by people who are nonetheless eager to take my money.  But that had not been a problem ... until late last month.

I was getting ready for a 3,000-mile trip to see the kids and grandkids over the holiday, and I needed an oil and filter change and new tires - so I headed to Big O.  It was about 5:40 p.m., and the store had always been open until 7, so I saw no problem.  When I got there I saw they now closed at 6, so I figured I'd get the oil changed then, and I'd get the tires the next day. 

However, I was turned away.  They said they couldn't change the oil before six, when they closed.  There was no sense of recognition that they were creating a problem for me, nor were they apparently aware that, in addition to turning me away, they were being rude.  This was an entirely new attitude - they'd always been accommodating, until the time when I really needed them.

As problems go, this was a small one. Jiffy Lube was more than happy to take my money for an oil change, a new filter, a fuel system cleaning and new wiper blades - all for about the same, or maybe a bit less, than Big O would have charged.  And I had no problem finding a tire store - at 6:30 on a Friday night - who'd sell me four new tires, two new wheels (I'd had one stolen while I was in the hospital - talk about adding insult to injury) because I wanted a full-sized spare for the trip. 

Big O lost all of that business - in the grand scheme of things, this is not a problem for Big O (they can live without $750 or so) - but they've also lost my future custom - so no more tires, no more oil changes, no more servicing every 3,000 miles, no more me.  That won't shut them down, either.

HOWEVER ... if you want good service and a modicum of respect, you can no longer count on Big O Tires to give you what you're looking for. There are many competitors - so, like me, go looking for someone else to provide your nuts-and-bolts, bread-and-butter car service.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Olive Garden - Thanks for Nothing (literally)

 But Wait ... It Gets Much, Much Worse ... (or, how to use a "make-good" to destroy customer loyalty forever)

Here is the blog I posted immediately after a bad experience.  There is an update, which only makes things much worse.  So, if you have already read this, scroll down and read more. Otherwise, realize this is a disaster (for Olive Garden) in three acts ... but it's a great lesson on how to piss away three decades of solid customer loyalty in under two weeks - and, apparently, without even trying.

Sometimes small mistakes have big consequences.  Like "forgetting" the salad dressing for an anniversary dinner.

Today (as I write this) is my wedding anniversary.  Since Lynn was feeling a bit under the weather, we decided to get carry-out from Olive Garden.  They were having a salmon special that Lynn loves, so the choice was obvious.

I got the food - it's delivered to you at the bar - and usually the server unpacks the take-home bag, but this time she didn't. I notice this, but didn't take any action.  After all, Olive Garden had never let me down.

Got home with hot food and sat down for a wonderful anniversary dinner.  As we usually do, we ate the hot food first, while it was hot, but we were both looking forward to the salad, which we love.  It's our dessert!

Only this time there was a problem.  The good folks at Olive Garden had "forgot" the salad dressing.  How you do that, when there is a cut-out in the lid of the salad container for a cup of salad dressing is beyond me.

You know how a magic moment can be shattered by one otherwise small problem?  Well, that's what happened tonight.

So thank you, Olive Garden, for nothing.  For lacking the quality control to ensure such a simple-but-important mistake doesn't happen to people who are counting on you for a good dining experience.


I just sent the following to Olive Garden, and I hope they choke on it.

Dear Olive Garden:

I want to congratulate you for destroying three decades of deep and consistent customer loyalty, and really sing your praises for the way you did this in less than two weeks, and did so without breaking a sweat. 

If you'd set out to drive me away, you couldn't have done a better job.  So good job, folks.

First, I had a bad experience on December 17. (note - I'll clip this here because you've read it in more detail above - basically, I just reminded them what happened).  

So I contacted Olive Garden via their website, and a few days later I got a call from a woman at the restaurant (Nellis Blvd., Las Vegas). She seemed to have a bit of an attitude, as if calling me was One More Thing she had to do to make her day complete; but, she asked what happened, so I told her.   Then, not very graciously, but she kept in check and I figured she might actually be having a Real Bad Day, so I cut her a bit of slack for attitude.  

Anyway, she said she'd send me a gift card.  That was nice, and for a brief moment I felt good about what they were doing to make good on a mistake that caused me a lot of unnecessary grief on my anniversary.  Then she blew it.  

What wasn't so nice - especially since she was trying to make up for a mistake and "win me back" as a loyal customer was the way she asked me very specifically what I'd ordered. It came across loud and clear that she was afraid that she might give me "too much."  

I didn't ask for a gift card, and I would have been happy with one at any value (i.e., a $20 Gift Card to make up for a $40 meal would have been OK).  But she had that "grasping" aura about her, as if this had to measure up.  I've got to tell you, that took the luster off the "make good."  Olive Garden had not "won back" my loyalty by her miserly attitude, but I figured it was all in a day's work (so to speak). I like the food and I suppose I'd be back despite her, so I let it go.

Then, everything started to fall apart all over again.  A week later I get an email.  It said that it's an e-gift card. Apparently, the corporate assumption was that Everyone On Earth gets their emails on their phone, so they could just flash it.  But
I don't, so it was worthless to me.  I wasn't about to carry my desktop computer over to Olive Garden and hook it up to demonstrate that I'd gotten an e-Gift card, and I didn't feel much like printing it out (it ran to pages and pages) - plus, it occurred to me that a print-out might not be acceptable, since somebody could print out dozens of them. 

Instead of a "make-good" that was supposed to make me feel better, this kind of fumbling, bumbling "make-good" was really starting to annoy me.  So I called the store and got "Mike," the manager.

I explained what had happened and he remembered me - "the guy who didn't get his salad dressing."  I'm not sure if that meant he was bothered that his store had let me down, or if he thought I was a petty jerk.  But he seemed like a nice-enough guy, so I continued.

I asked him what I was supposed to do with an email e-Gift card.  He said, in effect, "just show it to us on your phone."  I explained that I don't get my email on my phone - he actually seemed shocked (apparently this is more common than I thought, though how people manage emails on phones is beyond me).   I have thousands of mostly-business emails archived on my computer, and I use both screens to read and answer them.

I got even more annoyed at this arrogant corporate assumption that all "real" customers get their emails on their phones, making me a second-class customer, but Mike seemed like he was trying to make things work out, so again I "let it slide" - they were making a hash out of what was supposed to make me feel better about Olive Garden, but Mike didn't make the policy, and you can't fight city hall.

He said he'd mail me a gift card.  I gave him my address and sat back, waiting to get it and imagining the "free" dinner Lynn and I could enjoy there. 

But the next day (today), Mike called me back.  He hadn't mailed the gift card.  Instead, he said he had to ask for the digital code on the email e-Gift card.  That made two assumptions. 

One, (again), that I get my email on my phone, so I could give it to him - and that's just Alice through the Looking Glass kind of thinking.  And ...

Two, that I'd saved the email, even after it had proved useless and a replacement was on the way.

What Mike was doing, clearly, was taking steps to make sure that I didn't use both the plastic gift card and the digital e-Gift card, thereby stealing from Olive Garden the retail price of two meals.  There can be no other reason why he wanted that digital code.  

He couldn't have said any clearer that he (and, by extension) Olive Garden, didn't trust me and really didn't care that I knew they didn't trust me.

That kind of "respect" destroyed the last vestiges of goodwill and loyalty.  I told him so and hung up. 

Make-goods are supposed to make an injured customer feel better about the company that "wronged" them, not feel like a suspected thief.  

This may sound petty, but I went into detail for a reason.  I work every day with clients who are paying LOTS of money trying to win customer loyalty.  Every time Olive Garden runs an ad, they are trying to both attract new customers and - much more often - trying to remind customers to be "loyal" and come back by.  Yet so often, this is undermined by:

a.  Ill-advised corporate policies (I have little doubt that Mike was trying to follow a corporate policy when he asked for that code); and,

b.  Poorly-trained (or motivated) employees like the first one with the attitude problem, or Mike - who should have known how his request for the digital code would be taken.

It takes major investments in marketing to attract new customers and win back old customers. It takes almost nothing to destroy that loyalty and make mockery of their advertising and marketing investments.

That's the lesson for the readers.  For Olive Garden, the message is a bit more simple:  I give up.  But I will tell my friends.  Count on it. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Change for the Sake of Change - A Bad Idea

There seem to be two schools of thought when it comes to "change."  One school says, "If it's not broken, don't fix it;" the other school takes a different view:  "If it's not broke, break it."

While I often welcome change - especially needed change - I tend to be conservative in my views towards those who change something for the sake of change.  Here's why:

Fragile Customer Loyalty:  Customer loyalty is hard-won, fragile and remarkably powerful when it comes to supporting a business or product.  A while back, I did a survey of 3,000 people in Palm Beach County Florida who'd been with the same doctor for more than 11 years.  Of these (the doctors were horrified to learn), a clear majority would change doctors (breaching that loyalty) in order to cut their wait-time by just 15 minutes, or their co-pay by just $25.  Clearly, in this case, the loyalty doctors assumed was theirs (allowing them to keep customers waiting or charging them all the market would bear) was only skin-deep.  If that.

Real Customer Loyalty:  On the other side of the coin, real customer loyalty has people choosing - without thinking about it - the store they'll shop at, the fast-food drive-through they'll patronize, or the product they'll buy.  That's what sellers want - loyalty so deep that customers won't even consider other options before laying down their magic plastic.

That is loyalty worth having.

Yet when companies adopt change for the sake of change, they are destroying the too-fragile link that bonds customer to product or vendor.  That can have ruinous financial implications.

Example One - Smith's Grocery Store (a Kroger company):  I have been shopping at one grocery store for 16 years, for two reasons. First, it is the closest to my home, making it convenient.  However, there is another grocery store (inside Walmart) that's less than a quarter-mile more distant from my home.  Location convenience is not a big issue here.

The second, and most important reason for patronizing this store is simple: After 16 years, I am comfortable in knowing that I can instantly find any product I might want, because I already know where it can be found on the shelves. I don't have to think about it, I don't have to go searching for it.  This means that it takes me about 20-30 minutes to find my weekly $200 worth of food items, check out and be heading back home.

However, within the past month, the store (probably at the behest of "corporate" - in this case, Cincinnati-based Kroger) experienced a store layout make-over - and suddenly, the products I sought out were not where I'd been used to finding them.  It took me more than 20 minutes longer - basically doubling my time in the store - to do the family's weely shopping in the "new" store than in the old.

Frustrating.  But more important, it shattered the bonds of loyalty.  I didn't shop there because I knew the people - turn-over in that line of work is too great.  And I didn't shop there because of quality - the brand items are the same, and frankly, Smith's shopping bags are so flimsy that I have to request that everything be double-bagged ... or I can look forward to chasing canned goods down the driveway as they roll toward the street out front of my house.

Now that the only good reason for shopping at Smith's - the convenience of knowing where items I generally buy can be located - was gone, I realized that I might as well check out the Albertson's a couple of miles down the street from Smith's.  The drive isn't that much longer, and because I no longer had the bonds of loyalty to hold me back, I'm now "shopping" for a new grocery store. It might wind up being Smith's, but don't count on that.

Example Two:  For decades, I have been a loyal customer of Vaseline's lip balm, which comes in a soft-plastic tube.  This tube fits easily in my pocket, and because it has a screw-top lid, I don't have to worry about the lid coming off, allowing the petroleum jelly to get all over my wallet and pocket knife (the other two "residents" of that pocket).    This product is important to me because I live in the desert (Las Vegas) - the average humidity is about 9%, and petroleum jelly lip balm is essential to day-to-day comfort.

I chose Vaseline because it was based on petroleum jelly, rather than was.   I'd learned a couple of decades ago that the major lip-balm brands, such as Blistex, use a kind of wax that shuts down the body's natural production of lip-lubricating oils. In effect, it's addictive.  If you use it long enough and regularly enough, you'll wind up having to use it all the time.  However, this is not the case with petroleum jelly.  And while there may be other brands of petroleum jelly-based lip-balm on the market, I chose Vaseline ... then stuck with them because I was a satisfied, loyal customer.

Not anymore.  When I went to a couple of drug stores looking for replacement tubes, I couldn't find any.  Eventually, I asked a clerk for help and was told that Vaseline had stopped making the tubes in favor of a small plastic box, about the size of two sugar cubes side-by-side.  Apparently, they expected me to make the switch-over.  However, there are several problems with that:

One:  To use this box-packaged petroleum jelly, I have to swipe it with my finger, then apply it to my lips.  Which means my finger really ought to be clean before I apply it, and it means that I'll then have a finger coated with petroleum jelly - I'll need something to wipe it off.  Taken together, this suggests that I need to access a restroom where I can wash my hands both before and after each application.  NOT convenient.  Or, I can take my chances on finger-cleanliness and wipe my applicator-finger off on the inside of one of my socks, or the inside of one pant-leg.

Two:  Packaging - the lid is snap-on, and it easily snaps off in my pocket if it rubs my wallet or pocket knife the wrong way.  That's one problem.  The other is that, because of it's hard-shell cube-shaped design, it often pops out (unnoticed) when I grab my wallet, pocket knife or keys.  Within days of purchase, I'd already lost my first jelly-cube.

Three:  Flavor - the old stand-by petroleum jelly had essentially no taste, which suited me just fine.  I didn't want a lingering flavor.  However, in the stores, there are now two options - plain or petroleum-jelly-plus-cocoa-butter.  Maybe the cocoa butter is supposed to enhance the product's lip-protection quality, but it definitely imparts a taste.  And for those stores which only have one shelf-spot for the product, what they offer is the cocoa-butter product.  Which I don't want.

Bottom Line:  I am now in the market for both a new grocery store and another brand of petroleum jelly.  The store loyalty would never have been in play without this unnecessary and (for me) unwelcome change.  As for the lip-balm,  I was perfectly satisfied with the "old" product, but I can't find it anywhere, and I'm not wild about its replacement.  The loyalty is gone, and I'm now trying other manufacturers' products, as long as it's petroleum jelly-based and sold in a tube.  So long, Vaseline.

The Risk of Change

These two examples highlight the risks of change.  When I lost my bearings in the grocery store, I no longer had a reason to maintain my loyalty.  The "change" Smith's wanted might inadvertently also be my "change" to a competitor's store.  The "change" Vaseline came up with - actually, two changes, packaging and product composition - already have me scrambling for an alternative product (one that's blended and packaged to meet my preferences) - so, for them, "change" means "we've just lost a long-term client, probably forever."

For some reason, the corporate gnomes at Kroger decided that a make-over change was good - they probably assumed it would bring in new customers.  However, they didn't understand that such a radical change could lead customers like me to start shopping around for another store.  I'm assuming that if the suddenly lost-in-the-store customers hang on through a few shopping trips, they'll start to figure out where "their" products can be found, and their convenience-based loyalty will be reborn.  Perhaps, but for certain they're going to lose some customers.

The same goes for Vaseline, but even more-so.  I was a loyal partisan in favor of Vaseline's lip balm; now I'm actively looking to replace them.

So marketers beware - change for the sake of change will cost you customers you don't  need to lose.  If Vaseline had seen a market for their petroleum jelly cubes, they could have expanded their product line, losing no current customers while also attracting new ones.  But they chose change, and now they're scrambling to make up the market share they just drove away.

Smith's couldn't do that, but they might have implemented changes gradually, with helpful on-site signage saying "pudding has moved to Aisle 3, middle of the aisle" or something like that.  But by making all the changes at once, they have put customer loyalty "in play" ... and that's never a sound marketing strategy.

Note:  I have contacted both Kroger's (for Smith's) and Unilever for Vaseline, but have received no reply.  Should that change, I will update this blog.