Why Companies Botch Customer Care

Do your customers come first? Companies spend a fortune to win and keep their customers. They advertise and market their products and services like crazy. Because of that cost, you would think every company would want to keep its customers happy.

It’s more cost-effective to keep an existing customer than to win a new one. If that’s the case, why do some companies screw up customer care so badly?

Customer care is the glue that keeps customers connected to the company. Customer care is one of the important building blocks that let companies grow.

Many companies do a great job of taking great care of their customers, and they continue to grow. Companies like VistaPrint, LL Bean, American Express, Target and many others do a great job.

Doing Right by Their Customers

In its training, the Ritz-Carlton Hotel emphasizes that employees are ladies and gentlemen in a service role. This idea says it all for the companies that are the winners in this race. Why don’t all companies understand how well this approach works? If they did, there would be many more thriving companies and happy customers.

There are plenty of companies that never seem to see the pothole right in front of them — they fall right in, head first. If the company had respect for its customers and cared about them, it wouldn’t have this problem. If it cared about hanging onto customers and trained its workforce to put the customer first, it wouldn’t have this problem.

A company that screws up but then apologies and makes amends doesn’t have this problem. So, what is the excuse for all the companies that do a lousy job at customer care? Following are a few pointed examples.

LA Fitness: Poor Customer Care

I have joined my share of health clubs throughout my life. Several years ago, I joined LA Fitness and was generally happy. My son wanted to join, so I signed him up as well. After a while, he lost interest. He canceled his membership at the front desk and stopped going.

A few years later, he mentioned to me that he was no longer a member. I checked my credit card statement. LA Fitness had continued to bill me for his membership, every month, for years. I called the company to explain. Although its records showed the membership had not been used in years, LA Fitness would not give me a refund.

It would have been an easy fix for LA Fitness, but the company screwed it up. It didn’t even have to offer me a refund — if it had offered me a credit, I would have been happy. Instead, its failure to do the right thing killed an otherwise good relationship.

Wells Fargo or Sun Trust Bank?

I’ve been a customer of Wells Fargo ever since it acquired Wachovia. I used to love Wachovia — Wells Fargo, not so much. There are many reasons, including the recent PR disaster over creating fraudulent customer accounts.

So, there is a Sun Trust nearby where I opened an account a few years ago. After a while, I withdrew most of the money, leaving a US$500 balance in the account. I thought I would use that money for holiday gifts this year, but when I checked, it was all gone. Apparently, the bank had been charging a service fee, month after month, chipping away at my account balance.

I lost $500 to Sun Trust and got nothing in return. The bank should have notified me after a few months, informing me that it was emptying my account and giving me other options. It didn’t — it just took my money. That’s not a good way to win trust and build customer relationships.

That negligence over several years, and the bank’s poor customer care after I discovered the account had been emptied cost Sun Trust a customer.

Big Box Stores Online

We are Walmart and Target stores within walking distance of my house. I shop in both stores and enjoy the experience. Over the last few years, both have been expanding their businesses online, with websites similar to Amazon.com. I have used them both and have been happy. When I order something, I can return it at the store with no problem.

That is, I could until recently. Target is still a great store to shop at, either in person or online. However, Walmart has become a big disappointment. Apparently, it now lets other stores sell at its online site. Yet it doesn’t make it clear that you are not buying from Walmart. That would be fine if the return policies were uniform. They’re not.

I bought something but wanted to return it — but the neighborhood Walmart couldn’t take it back and its staff didn’t know what I should do. After visiting several other Walmart stores, I finally learned that another company had made the sale to me, and that I would have to contact that company regarding my return. That wasted plenty of my time.

After contacting the other company, I returned the product. Surprise — I had to pay for return shipping. When I received the refund for my purchase, I got another surprise. The company had withheld a restocking fee. If the company had told me there would be a restocking fee, I would have just kept the item. So that purchase cost me time and money.

Walmart gave me no warning that its regular return policies would not apply to that purchase. In essence, I was on my own, but I didn’t know it. Now I fear doing business with Walmart online, since it doesn’t stand behind all purchases on the site. Is my reluctance to shop there what Walmart really wanted to accomplish? I don’t think so. So why doesn’t it care about making its customer happy?

Good Customer Care for All

The list goes on, but I think I’ve made my point. In fact, I’m sure you have your own list of sour experiences with customer care. Customer satisfaction is what companies are built on. Thank goodness there are great customer-oriented companies. They make it easy to reward them with customer loyalty.

Companies need to focus on improving their customer care if they want to have a solid growth curve going forward. It’s really just that simple. Companies grow or shrink based on how they treat the customer. There is plenty of competition.

VistaPrint Does It Right

Vistaprint is a great example of a company that gets it. It makes high-quality business cards you order online, for less than you can get at a local printer. Vistaprint missed something on my first order, so it made a second order at no cost.

That time it was closer, but still not right — so the company filled my order again. After a few times, it was evident that Vistapring cared about my satisfaction. Now I don’t remember the problems — only that the company was focused on making its customer happy. Bingo. That’s one key secret to success.

Companies must understand the importance of the customer experience, and they must train their staff to put the customer’s needs first. Customer care and customer relationships are an ongoing process. Mistakes occasionally are made.

When that happens, the company should take responsibility to fix the problem and make the customer happy. If not, it risks losing the customer — and that’s not something any company wants. So, companies that want to keep their customers should take a lesson from the winners, not the losers.

Jeff Kagan

E-Commerce Times columnist Jeff Kagan is a wireless analyst, telecom analyst, industry analyst, consultant and speaker who has been sharing his colorful perspectives on the changing industry for 25 years. Email him at [email protected].

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