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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Douglle$$ Lawn Care Story

My last two entries have been prompted by complaints. Now I want to tell a positive Customer Service story.

Last week I once again served as Substitute Host on the Abdul in the Monring radio show on 1430 AM. A call came in from a lady named Denise Mertes. This call came in right after a caller named Ann had asked for a POSITIVE customer service story. Denise called in with a doozy!

She wanted to tell me about a fellow named Doug Pagach who started doing lawn mowing for Denise's 80- year old mother Charmaine some months ago. Doug is the sole proprietor of a side business he calls "Dougle$$ Lawn Care" (503-3441 if you want GREAT service for less money!) Charmaine had hired Doug to cut her grass but over the months Doug, a born handyman, has become "a true blessing" to Denise and her mom.

To quote Denise, "He's repaired her shed; he's planted (and continues to water) her flowers; he's trimmed her shrubs; he's shoveled snow." But it hasn't stopped there. Doug's become a true friend to Charmaine, so much so that, having learned of Charmaine's love of home grown tomatoes, he dropped several off when he last visited.

I was so impressed with this "home grown" service that I called Doug to confirm the story and find out what makes him tick. It was worth the time.

A 1991 Ben Davis graduate and the holder of an Associate's degree from Vinceens U, Doug is (SURPRISE!) a former employee of O'Malia Food Markets. "I worked for Pat O'Riley (then Assistant Manager at O'Malia's West 10th)in '87 and '88," Doug said proudly He also credits his 92 year old grandfather for "practically raising me and teaching me even before O'Malia's to do it right the first time and every time."

Doug's fulltime job is as a pool installer for Perma Pools, a twelve year career. He just started the landscaping and general fix-it gig "when the economy went south" a couple of years ago. He described it this way. "There's still enough pool work for about three days a week in the summer. I generally do that Monday through Wednesday and then do the lawn cutting and landscaping late in the week so my clients can enjoy the beauty of their yards on the weekend!"

I was so impressed with Doug, who went on to tell me how much he's learned from his many visits with Charmaine and how funny and positive she is. I encourage you to call him for your lawn, handyman or pool needs. I guarantee hel'll take care of you! After all, he's an "O'Malia Food Market Alum"!

Saturday, March 6, 2010


Recently I served as guest host for a local talk show, Abdul in the Morning, on 1430 AM WXNT here in Indianapolis. I interviewed Bill Nicholls, Vice President of Ritz Charles Catering, one of my Customer Service Training clients and a highly respected company here in Central Indiana. We talked about customer service, how Ritz Charles manages it so well, and of course we took calls from listeners.

One turned out to be from my sister-in-law, though she disguised her name and I didn't know it was she until later. She wanted to share her recent experience at her neighborhood BLOCKBUSTER store, where she goes regularly.

She had wanted to watch ROOTS in its entirety. The way it was set up, she decided to pick up one DVD at a time. After she'd watched the second DVD, she returned it and asked why it seemed a section had been skipped. The answer surprised her (and she rents DVD's there quite often, with two young kids). She was told that episode II was on the back of the first DVD. Of course, she asked if she could have the first DVD back so she could "catch up" without paying, since no one at the store had told her to turn the DVD over and there was nothing on the jacket to that effect. The employee's answer was, "NOT MY BAD!"

About this time, her son Jonathan approached with excitement over a "Rent one/ get one free" offer. He pointed to the display with the sign attached. The SAME employee said, "Sorry, that offer ended yesterday!" and told someone to remove the sign. No apology. No empathy. Nothing.

Remember. I'm on the air with her. I suggest she go right back and talk to the Store Manager. Her response: "HE IS THE STORE MANAGER!"

What do you do when you've gone to the highest person on site and gotten such an incredibly bad response to TWO problems you the customer did not create? I suggested she find an 800 number or go the the company's website. We all know that's a lot of trouble.

Did BLOCKBUSTER hire the wrong employee AND make him a manager? Is their training poor? Did they not empower him? Who knows? But if I were my sister-in-law, I'd find the next closest video store and bid "FAREWELL" to the neighborhood BLOCKBUSTER!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

CItibank Customer Service Fiasco

Here'a a scenario that was originally sent to me a couple of years ago. I've shown it to over 5000 people and it occurred to me that this blog is a good way to show it to even more. I have two people role play it in my Customer Service Training programs and keynote speeches. It's a classic example of what can happen when an organization fails to hire the right people, train people properly, get people to "buy in" to a culture of service (or fails to have such a culture), fails to empower people, or is gulity of some combination of all the above. It gets a lot of laughs but it's deadly serious as well. Enjoy!

This is so priceless, and so easy to see happening, customer service being what it is today.
A lady died this past January, and Citibank billed her for February and March for their annual service charges on her credit card, and then added late fees & interest on the monthly charge. The balance had been $0.00, now it'ssomewhere around $60.00.
A family member placed a call to Citibank:
Family Member: "I'm calling to tell you that she died in January.
Citibank: "The account was never closed and the late fees & charges still apply."
Family Member: "Maybe you should turn it over to collections."
Citibank: "Since it is two months past due, it already has been."
Family Member: So, what will they do when they find out she is dead?"
Citibank: "Either report her account to the frauds division or report her to the credit bureau; maybe both!"
Family Member: "Do you think God will be mad at her?"
Citibank: "Excuse me?"
Family Member: "Did you just get what I was telling you . . . the part about her being dead?"
Citibank: "Sir, you'll have to speak to my supervisor"
Supervisor gets on the phone.
Family Member: "I'm calling to tell you, she died in January."
Citibank: "The account was never closed and the late fees & charges still apply."
Family Member: "You mean you want to collect from her estate?"
Citibank: (Stammer) "Are you her lawyer?"
Family Member: "No, I'm her great nephew." (Lawyer info given)
Citibank: "Could you fax us a certificate of death?"
: "Sure." (the fax number is given)
After they get the fax ...
Citibank: "Our system just isn't setup for death. I don't know what more I can do to help."
Family Member: "Well, if you figure it out, great! If not, you could just keep billing her. I don't think she will care."
Citibank: "Well, the late fees & charges do still apply."
Family Member: "Would you like her new billing address?"
Citibank: "That might help."
Family Member: "Odessa Memorial Cemetery, Highway 129, Plot Number 69."
Citibank: "Sir, that's a cemetery!"Family Member: "What do you do with dead people on your planet?"

What fun it is dealing with "customer service"

Friday, January 22, 2010

MAYBE Sears DOES care??

Several months ago, I blogged about my discontent with Sears (and Nordic Track). Well, the power of social media has eventually led Sears to contact me about by dissatisfaction with its service.

You may remember that my wife and I were poorly served by Sears concerning the delivery and installation of a Nordic Track treadmill I had purchased at Sears. To fully review, check the Sears blog of October 14, 2009. As far as I was concerned at that time, I was done dealing with Sears and, by publishing the story, I'd "gotten even" with them for their apparent lack of caring about a pair of longtime cusotmers.

That was until the day before yesterday. About ten days ago, I received a call from a gentleman named Robert, representing Sears, who left a cell message and asked me to call him back at an 800 number to discuss our situation. After about 5 voice mails between the two of us, he finally reached me on Wednesday, the 20th. By the way, Bob was calling from Austin, Texas and I live in Indianapolis.

Neither of us had a copy of the actual blog available (I was in my car), so I repeated my entire story as best I could. He did a terrific job of listening. He offered a very sincere apology and, understanding that the situaion was beyond solving, also offered me a gift certificate or a discount, and promised to see what he could do to help Sears solve the problem on behalf of its millions of customers.

He also tellingly admitted to me that he'd heard similar stories many times. His exact words: "You're not the first with this kind of complaint!"

He told me I'd get a call in about 10 days to verify that I'd received the gift certificate I accepted. He also emphasized that he understood the certificate does not make up for the irritation and inconvenience my wife and I suffered.

In short, he did everything he could at the time. And I feel better towards Sears thanks to his efforts. I emphasized that I doubted Sears would ever get as "customer friendly" as it used to be but that I appreciated any efforts he could put forth towards that end.

Finally, he gave me an e-mail address (not sure if it's double secret or not) and asked me to use it any time I felt the need.

Sears is just one of thousands of companies that have policies and prcedures that make it easier for them and tougher for their customers. But I'll give them credit for finally showing SOMEBODY cares. THANKS, ROBERT!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Two Great Corporate Cultures

Most recently I blew off some steam about a problem my wife and I had with Sears, Nordic Track and a third company whose name I don't even know. Since then, we visited our newly married daughter and new son-in-law in St. Louis this past weekend and they were sharing their frustration concerning their brand new, inoperative refrigerator that they had bought from-- guess where? Sears, of course. And the story was eerily similar.

All this got me to thinking about how it must be that Sears had dropped a refrigerator ball in St. Louis and a tread mill ball in Indianapolis for the same family in the same couple of weeks. And the answer came to me. Somehow, Sears has gotten its SERVICE CULTURE in this area all messed up. I understand that Nordic Track knows more about the machines than Sears does. But the company that SELLS you a product should stand behind it and not pawn it off on a third party delivery partner and then expect the customer to do all the legwork when the product doesn't work. And Nordic Track needs to work on its service reps' telephone skills!

I recommend that the folks in charge of customer service for Sears check out two of my favorite books on Customer Service Culture. These books feature two of my favorite companies-- Nordstrom and Southwest Airlines.

THE NORDSTROM WAY by Robert Spector and Patrick McCarthy is subtitled "A Handbook for Implementing Great Service in Your Organization". It begins with an exhortation by a Nordstrom Exec concerning culture: "You can't TEACH culture. You have to LIVE it. You have to EXPERIENCE it. You have to SHARE it. You have to SHOW it" (p. 3).

The book also shares one of my favorite business concepts-- Nordstrom's INVERTED organizational pyramid (p. 124). Suffice it to say that this organizational pyramid puts customers at the top, those who serve them next to the top and the Chairman and the Board at the bottom. Somehow Sears' handling of our tread mill purchase and my daughter's refrigerator purchase didn't make us feel like we were at the top of the Sears chart.

Finally, Chapter 7 is entitled "DUMP THE RULES" and quotes former co-Chairman James Nordstrom on rules: "The minute you come up with a rule, you give an employee a reason to say no to a customer. That's the reason we hate rules." I LOVE THIS!

Southwest Airlines has a great culture that, like Nordstrom, puts customers and employees first. There are two books about Southwest and I recommend them both. The founder, Herb Kelleher, wrote NUTS several years ago. It's a terrific read on culture. That was followed more recently with DO THE RIGHT THING by Kelleher's successor, Robert Parker.

Like Nordstrom, whose overriding rule is "Use good judgmnent in all situations," Southwest has one basic rule, emphasized on page 3 of the new book. "When in doubt, just do the right thing." Southwest tries to do this with their employees and their employees try to do it with the customers. The chapter on how the company treated employees and employees treated customers the week of 0911 is a textbook example of how this works and it might bring tears to your eyes.

Chapter 20 is entitled "Interview for Attitude." The Nordic Track employee I described as "less than empathetic" in my last entry was NOT interviewed for attitude OR somehow his employer RUINED his attitude. Either way, it's not good!

I recommend EVERYONE who cares about his/ her company's service start with these two books-- and don't stop there! Sears and Nordic Track-- you could use these books and more. You have great products and great track records but your culture is breaking down in this former customer's eyes!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sears and Nordic Track/ Process over People

It all started when my wife Rita bought me a Nordic Track tread mill at Sears in Castleton Square. That was Valentine's Day, 2002. Great product. It worked until we decided not to renew the service contract. That's when the frustration began. Two weeks ago (September 30), the tread mill expired.

After several calls to the Sears store, it was determined that we'd have to call Nordic Track. Frustrastion began to build when Sears' computer generated phone system gave us one choice-- the "Fitness Department" and it took several calls with lengthy waits to get anyone to pick up. Bad system to start. It got worse.

When we finally got a human, we were given a toll free number for Nordic Track, who is supposed to service the equipment. I hoped to get the original tread mill repaired. I was told by a less-than-empathetic Nordic Track person that it would cost $155 for a service call (since I was no longer under warranty); THAT THE SERVICE REP. WOULD GIVE ME A NUMBER AND I'D HAVE TO CALL IN THE PARTS ORDER MYSELF; and that it would be another $55 to come back and install whatever. I understood.

My wife and I decided to go back to Sears and get another tread mill, which we did on Saturday and Sunday, October 3 and 4. Sears agreed to deliver and install the tread mill on Thursday, October 8.

I found out on the 8th that Sears contracted yet a third company to deliver and install new Nordic Track equipment. When the delivery team arrived at the very end of the two hour window, they installed the tread mill but it was defective. Either that or the installers didn't know how to do it. The main guy called Sears, put me on the phone with them, then bolted, saying he was late for the next delivery. You guessed it. After he'd left, the Sears Service Rep. informed me I'd have to go through Nordic Track, left me a number and left me hanging.

We tried calling Sears to talk to our salesman but, again, no one in "Fitness" answered several calls. Checkmate! Rita, sensing my utter frustration, took over. Abandoning the effort to reach "Fitness", she asked for the Business Office . No answer. So she called back and asked for the Store Manager (it was 8:00 P.M.). She got a recording but left him a fairly caustic message.

Finally, today (October 14) the people that Sears contracts showed up with a new machine (not the same crew as before) and the tread mill is installed, one week after it was supposed to have been.

Rita's message to the Store Manager said, in part, "We have almost $1100 on our Sears charge with a faulty piece of equipment in our home. We've dealt with Sears, Nordic Track and whatever company you contract. We can't talk to anyone at Sears. I don't usually get angry. Stuff happens. But boy, am I irritated!"

Have you had it up to here with this type of service? If so, let me know about it by replying to this blog. It's time We the Customers fight back!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


One of the big problems in the world of Customer Service today is that too many companies do not trust their employees to take care of the customers. Since the employees are the ones who deal with the customers, not empowering them is the customer service "kiss of death".

Mary Kay Ash, when asked why her cosmetics business had been so phenomenally successful, answered, "I try to hire really nice people and I try to let them be as nice as they can be." Sounds simple but it isn't. Companies must first start with HIRING. And it's hard to find "really nice", competent people. But it's worth the effort for companies like Mary Kay's.

Another great Culture of Service is on display at Nordstrom's. Too many companies specifically and too many industries generally (Google Customer Service Hall of Shame) have too many rules. Nordstrom V.P. James Nordstrom had this to say: "Rules give employees another reason to say 'no' to a customer. That's why we hate rules!" In the book THE NORDSTROM WAY, I was able to find one rule: "Use good judgment in all situations!" Seems like one dandy rule to me!

Here in Indianapolis and in several other mid western cities, Mike's Car Wash sets a terrific Customer Service standard. I've never pulled into Mike's, no matter how hot or cold it was, when the employees weren't very friendly and professional. I know Mike's President Bill Dahm personally and I know his commitment to hiring the best, training them best and finally EMPOWERING them is second to none.

Being able to empower employees means a company has to make a huge commitment in time, money and resources to hiring, training and empowering. And the commitment must be ONGOING. You must constantly remind even the most senior employees that Customer Service must be JOB ONE. It's not easy. You can't empower without paying attention to these basics. "Hats off" to the minority that do. "Brickbats" to the majority who don't!

What Did My Clients Say?

Very worthwhile…highly recommended to anyone who values customers.” -Julian Peebles, Ruth Lilly Health Education Center

“Thanks again for the wonderful presentation. It was exciting that our employees were fired up and began to think forward and place themselves mentally into some of the situations they may encounter at Victory Field.” -Randy Lewandowski, Assistant General Manager Indianapolis Indians

“…the overall attitude of our management team is much more positive…and the team is much more aggressive in tending to clients ‘and guests’ needs.” -Chuck Lazarra, President, Ritz Charles

“Danny is an excellent presenter who understands the benefit of high quality customer service. He relayed heartfelt stories that translated to our business and reinforced the impact that each of us has on customer service and its effect on our success.” -Doug Ruggles, Corporate Training Director, F.A. Wilhelm Construction Co., Inc.

“Your talk was very insightful and right on point. It also was entertaining and a lot of fun. The points you made were simple but highly effective. Your expertise in the area of customer service was obvious.” -Chad Wilke, Senior Event Coordinator, Indiana Convention and Visitors’ Bureau

“Danny is a delight—so full of energy—you feel inspired after spending just a few minutes with him. And there were several great pearls that I walked away with.” -Pam Bales, Consultant, Benefit Associates

“We have worked with many consultants over the years, but none more energetic than Danny. He worked diligently with us beforehand to model the program to our specific needs… From the President to the newest supervisor, we are all excited to begin implementing what we learned tomorrow morning! …..” -Rick Roberts, Vice President, Engledow Group

“I am also conducting the first Team Leader Training Class tomorrow. With a little help from the Danny O Experience I think it will be a hit! Thanks for being such a great motivator!” -Michelle Nichols, Corporate Trainer, Ossip Optometry

"I know some of you have brought in speakers in the past to inspire your staff. As you probably know, I’m difficult to impress. Well, Danny impressed me. For one thing, he’s one of you and not just another speaker. He made me wish I was working back in the stores. And for you wholesalers, he’s would be a great motivator for speaking to your independents. He got huge applause from the WGA retailers. I definitely see you having some quick payback having him speak." -Dave Livingston, DJL Research, LLC