Prudential is a PruDON’t
As we’ve discussed in class, it is really important that companies create synergetic incentive systems in order to drive greater affectivity and efficiency. For example, in order to make sure that Apple customers are provided the best customer service experience possible, Apple hires workers for their personable skill sets (instead of technology knowledge) and does not pay its sales associates based on commission. This strategy relieves pressure off of sales associates, maximizing their ability to help customers in friendly and genuine matter.
This is a lesson that Prudential should learn from Apple. A large part of Prudential’s business is to provide and sell life insurance, a service, or lack there of in Prudential’s case. As the world becomes more automated and technologically advanced, customer service can sometimes suffer as a result, especially for industries such as life insurance, accounting, or law where the its consumers may not be to familiar with all the detailed nuisances. Thus, in these industries, customer service should be especially important.
However, my recent experience has left me feeling cheated. In search of a more personalized experience in addressing my personal life insurance information, I took time to visit a local Prudential office to upgrade my life insurance policy. After spending an afternoon with the agent filling out forms and making calls to “corporate” I was relieved to finally be done with the task and confident in my decision to not do this online and risk not having it done correctly. Yet, I was so very wrong. 6 months later I was billed for something that should have been automatically taken care of. But after spending time at McIntire and learning about customer perceptions, I decided to be more forgiving and called the 1-800 number to resolve my issue. After going through the convoluted automated calling system, I was finally directed to a real representative who kindly told me that the papers I had signed 6 months ago had, in fact, not been filed and that my agent no longer worked for the company. Thus, my policy had not changed. The representative did, however, provide me with a solution and I was willing to give Prudential another shot. She advised me to fax in my re-signed form and gave me a confirmation number for our call and discussion.
This is where, however, the Prudential’s customer value system fails. No confirmation number or call was ever provided to me. Even when I took the initiative to call in the next day to confirm the reception and process of my policy change request, the representative told me that I needed to call back a couple days later and could provide me no further information on the reception of my request or its status. When I called back a week later my status was not still updated and I had to, again re-send in my request. As discussed in class, the first mistake can often be forgiven. However, the second and third, not so much, as I will never recommend the company to others in the future; the hassle is just not worth it for something as important and complex as life insurance.
Prudential really needs to evaluate its current customer value system as employees really aren’t taking responsibility for the services they’re providing to customers and there are no repercussions to this. This leads to a lack of incentives for employees to operate to the best of their abilities and can lead to greater customer un-satisfaction when problems arise. Although the company may not feel the negative effects in the short run, the long term effect is loss of current customers, as well as lost opportunities of potential future customers who have been scared off by scorned customers such as myself, using the internet to warn others and instigate justice.
Five years ago I never would have thought to look online for sunglasses. With products like that, it’s important to give them a test run in the store before making a purchase. My recent Zappos experience was enough to convince me otherwise.
Zappos has retailers beat on selection, customer service, and convenience. Zappos offers over 50 sunglass brands in thousands of styles. Consumers are able to sort through their vast inventory on the basis of brand, style, color, price, size, and material. In addition to in-depth item information, each style includes a video of a male and female model to give the consumer a better idea of how the product will look on his/her face. On top of all this, Zappos offers free 2 day shipping and a no questions asked return policy.
The first pair of sunglasses I ordered from Zappos was way too big for my face. They were too big for anybody’s face. All I had to do was print out the return label, slap it on the original box, and put it in the mailbox. Two days later I was credited in full. The second pair was more acceptable. I tried them out for about a week, took them to Foxfield, snapped a few embarrassing pics in them, and decided I could do better. I sent them back Monday and was credited for them today. I’m currently writing this blog post while shopping for my third pair and I’m really feeling it this time. I think I’m going to find a winner.
My point is, Zappos provides amazing customer value through its selection, customer service, and speedy deliver, but should they trust their customers this much? If I wanted to, I could have a new pair of sunglasses every week without paying a dime. While Zappos taking a big risk by trusting their consumers this much, their strategy creates powerful customer loyalty and brand resonance. It have certainly made me an advocate.
I grew up with a Qdoba near my house, and out of that experience it became my favorite Americanized tex-mex chain. Much to my surprise later on, I found out that this opinion was not shared very often. Chipotle is often the favorite of many people my age, and it shows when you see the constant line at their stores. I finally visited my first Chipotle this year, and despite the wait, it was indeed a superior experience. The slight improvement in the freshness of the food is probably not enough to make me forego the convenience and short line of Qdoba, which I was fine with for years of my life. The biggest difference is the store experience. The place looks fantastic, the staff is friendly, and it is easy to find everything you need. But the one thing that really helped me through my sodium and spice filled meal was the presence of an appropriate water cup. Qdoba gives you the smallest water cup I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure if this is because of customer mistrust, or if they really want to save money on water. Ultimately it gives you a rough feeling as you sprint back and forth to the water machine through the course of your meal, which is less of an issue at Chipotle or other fast food restaurants. This slight to the customer experience perhaps best depicts the many subtle reasons why so many other people with better access to Chipotle prefer it to the otherwise similar Qdoba.
In line with what we have often discussed in class, this article discusses the additional long-term value loyal customers can provide. The article starts by saying, “Once a prospective customer becomes a buyer, it’s important for marketers not to overlook or ignore their their needs.” This reiterates what we have discussed about the need to continue serving customers post-sale and along all touch points to truly create customer value. The article also asserts that it usually takes 3-5 years for companies to reach the point that 25% of their customers are repeat customers. This demonstrates the need for long-term investment and patience in waiting to see returns – something today’s businesses are often unwilling to do. Through several infographics, the article offers tree recommendations for “providing a customer experience the customer deems worth repeating”:
- Encourage High Initial Purchase.
- Push for the Second Sale.
- Invest 25% of the Marketing Budget On Returning Customers.
While I do not challenge these recommendations overall, I do draw a slight issue with one of the statements made a few times in the article – that firms should especially focus the 25% of marketing efforts that should go toward return customers on those who make larger purchases. While I undsertnad the logic – retain those customers who buy more – I argues this is a risky strategy because high disposable income customers’ loyalty is both expensive and difficult to obtain. Those who have to think less about the value of their purchases will garner less value from discounts and marketing ploys. In addition, they can afford to spend anywhere and thus do not have to make decisions between companies. As such, I suggest companies avoid investing too heavily in trying to obtain the loyalty of these customers.
I stumbled upon this article and thought that it was a nice follow up to our whitepaper analysis on RadioShack and our class discussion of how physical retailers can compete with the biggest Internet retailers. Geofencing apps are not new but they have yet to reach widespread popularity. I think we talked about similar apps to these in class.
Shopkick is an interesting app because you don’t actually have to buy anything to earn the rewards; all you have to do is walk into the stores to get points that count towards rewards. If the deals are good enough, I can definitely see how this app can get me off my computer and into the store. Because going to any participating store generates points, the shopper is incentivized to do more shopping away from his computer. This is a good idea for an app, but is the incentive really motivating enough? Is this just another one of those apps that you’d download once because it’s a cool idea, and then never think to use?
Kapture works a little differently. In order to gain rewards, the user has to take a picture in the store and then troll his favorite social networks by uploading pictures for points. I’m conjecturing here, but I don’t think many people would be willing to take on the reputation of that annoying over-sharer just to get points towards a buy-one-get-one-free ice-cream scoop.
Eventually, geofencing apps will be optimized to create real value for consumers but at this point, I think there is still work to be done. Current trends indicate that the future of couponing is mobile, so I wouldn’t be surprised if many more apps like these show up in the near future. Eventually, someone is going to get it right.
On April 2, Shirley provided a solid overview of Tim Cook’s recent apology to the Chinese market regarding Apple’s incongruous warranty policies in China. The controversial mishap elucidates the global imperative for businesses to increase their knowledge, confidence, and skills for serving customers across disparate cultures. This perspective implores globally integrated enterprises to seamlessly integrate best practices in customer value with multicultural awareness so that consistent value may be delivered to all customers, regardless of cultural differences. Anand Subramaniam, VP of Worldwide Marketing at eGain Communications Corporation, dubs this process Multilingual, Multicultural Customer Service (MMCS) and outlines six suggestions to develop it: (1) assess the importance of customer service, (2) assess target markets, (3) assess the scope of customer queries, (4) train agents, (5) adopt culturally nuanced policies and practices, (6) leverage technology. Although there is certainly no magical formula for serving a diverse customer base, Subramaniam’s recommendations illuminate the fundamental need to understand differences and act on commonalities. Realizing and responding to these points of parity and disparity lead to real cross cultural synergies in the customer value sphere. However, easier said than done. Developing and implementing best practices to leverage cultural diversity will undoubtedly remain a necessary challenge in today’s global business environment.
And no matter how many sweet old ladies they put at the check in counter, it cannot by any means come close to countering their terrible customer experience.
Allow me to spin a quick yarn of one of my recent flight experiences. Being originally from the west coast, I make quite a few flights back and forth across the country. And most of the time, I tend to fly a particular airline because of the lower fares and availability of flights directly in to Cha0rlottesville. Since I respect anonymity we’ll hid the brand’s identity. Let’s call them United Airplane Flying Company (United for short).
Well, the last time I flew United from California to Virginia, I had a stop over in DC, normal for cross country flights. Unfortunately there was a mechanical error in my plane, so United was kind enough to put me in to a cab to Charlottesville. Time passes and my opinion of United had increased to slightly bearable, all else (five or six delayed flights in the past few months) aside.
So when I planned to return to California for this Spring Break, ever as ever to see the sunshine, I strode in to CHO airport with bags packed expecting like any normal person to get on my flight home. But see, that’s where I went wrong. I expected United was aware enough about what they were doing that they would still have a ticket with my name on it.
What reality told me at 4:30am that day was that I did indeed purchase a return flight to San Diego. However, since I did not board the flight out of Washington-Dulles to Charlottesville back in January, I was considered a no show, and the rest of my trip had been cancelled.
Take a moment to comprehend that. I was booted off of a flight because I was a no show on a flight that didn’t exist. Even with years of background in philosophy and logical modelling, I honestly still cannot wrap my head around this.
So I booked another flight on the spot in order to get back home before next Wednesday. This of course necessitated I (1) rent a car, and then (2) drive up to Reagan International in DC. And once I arrived in DC expecting a direct flight, the selfish five year-olds that run the airline tapped me on the shoulder. Not only did I have a layover (which under normal circumstances are definitely bearable), but I had (3) two layovers. One in Philadelphia and one in Phoenix. That’s three strikes United. Now I may not be getting my M.S. in Geography, but Philadelphia does seem to be a little bit in… how do we say it… the opposite direction of my destination?
And so ended my horror story once I showed up in San Diego, a full twelve hours after I was slated to arrive. And I still haven’t gotten the money back for the flight I purchased on the spot.
The one bright spot in this entire situation was that all of the staff I interacted with were very compassionate and empathetic, and tried their very very best to get me where I needed to go. I mentioned earlier my flight from DC to CHO was cancelled for mechanical errors. Well another UVA student had her flight cancelled for weather conditions, which, for some reason, does not get you a taxi ride to your final destination (maybe the bad weather was her fault?). The woman at the customer service desk very sympathetically turned a blind eye to me offering the other stranded student a ride down to Charlottesville, even though it was very strictly against company policy.
But even the best employees in the world can only do so much for your company if the processes that it is comprised of are absolute garbage. A company is a network, and like all chains and connections, they’re only as strong as their weakest link.
The customer satisfaction level is at all-time high now for retailers. However, there is still some retailers that are lagging behind the average level. (Surprisingly Walmart is the worst of all)
American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) has just listed 9 worst retailers in terms of customer service. More information on customer-service ratings came from the MSN Money/JZ analytics 2012 Customer Service Survey.
Another important fact is that customer satisfaction level with online retailers are much higher than with traditional retailers.
Click the link to check which 9 retailers are busted.
Let me rant for a moment about the portion control at Lemongrass, a local Viet/Thai restaurant we have at the Corner.
Needless to say, the food at this restaurant is pretty good and I go there often for both lunch and dinner. My personal opinion is that this place offers the best tasting Asian cuisine at the Corner, but every time I go, I’m always disappointed by the portions I receive.
Not long ago, I went to Lemongrass for dinner with several friends. The place is quite small, so our table right in the center of the restaurant is only a foot away from the table next to us. When our entrees arrived, my friend was dismayed to find that her Pad See Ew (stir fried broad noodles with soy sauce, egg, Chinese broccoli, and sliced meat) was much smaller in portion compared to the other times we ordered it. My own Thai Spicy Beef and side jasmine rice were also lacking in portion. An extra serving of rice costs $1.50, so they always have a tiny serving of jasmine rice in a small square plate. If you want value for your dollar, Gingko’s (the Chinese restaurant next door) gives you all the rice you want as well as large dish portions.
Twenty minutes later, as we sit happily chatting away, the three girls at the table next to ours also received their orders of Pad See Ew. Glancing over briefly, I gasped out loud in shock at the enormous portions they received. Their plates contained almost 3 times the amount on my friend’s plate.
Although this experience made us unhappy customers, we did not complain (as usual) and will probably soon return to Lemongrass again for more Pad See Ew. The food is reasonably good and the location is good, so the restaurant will probably not have many problems even if they give irregular portions.
Recently, while booking my flights to GIE, I was transferred from Kayak.com directly to jetstarasia.com. As a rather apprehensive online shopper (I am only slightly paranoid about the security of online transactions and getting my identity stolen….), the thought of purchasing an expensive item (flight ticket) from a little known, foreign website and airline which I had never previously heard of made me feel very uneasy. However, being that all of my other options for one-way tickets from Thailand to Singapore were from equally obscure airlines (i.e. Tiger Airways and Scoot), I decided to take my chances.
As a very cautious online shopper, the first red flag came up when a message popped up while being transferred to jetstarasia.com, stating that my flight fare would be quoted in THB (Thai Baht). Not that there’s anything wrong with that (I must sound like an arrogant American), but purchasing flights online in a completely unfamiliar currency made words like “sketchy” and “shady” come to mind, words that I wouldn’t want to associate with my purchase experience of an expensive item (expensive for me is >$100). Good thing that nowadays it only takes two seconds to Google “2999 THB to USD.”
Anyways, after selecting my desired flight itinerary, I proceeded along with the purchase process through to entering passenger information. So far, so good. That was, until I hit the baggage check section, which allowed me to choose from an array of different baggage fees, depending on the weight of my checked baggage. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am very used to having to pay extra fees for checked bags. However messages such as “Charges will apply for excess or oversized carry-on baggage at the airport” (with the italicized words in red) and “Adding checked baggage after booking costs a lot more” (with italicized words in bold), as common sense as they are, made me feel as if I was being forced to check my bags now. Not knowing what weight my baggage was going to be (and not being too comfortable with measurements in kg), and faced with options that jumped 400 THB per additional 5kg, I just randomly picked one, hoping that I wasn’t being swindled. Red flag #2.
I continued along to the next section– seat selection. Here’s where the third red flag came. I had the choice of paying an additional fee to reserve/preselect a seat. That’s fine, but closer examination of the fine print showed me that paying this additional fee didn’t even guarantee that I would receive my selected preference. In Jetstar’s words, “Jetstar will attempt to accommodate your seat preference, however due to operational considerations cannot guarantee that your seat allocation will be as your selected preference.” So if I paid an extra fee, I could reserve a seat, but it wouldn’t be guaranteed. If I didn’t pay a fee, I would be randomly assigned to whatever seats were still available at check-in. What a headache.
The cherry on top came on the final stage of the booking process, under the payment section. After entering my credit card information, a new “booking and services fee” was dumped on me (a charge applied to all credit cards except for the Jetstar MasterCard), in addition to a new message:
“The airline does not guarantee it will be able to carry you and your Baggage in accordance with the date and time of the flights specified. Schedules may change and flights may be delayed or cancelled for a range of reasons including but not limited to bad weather, air traffic control delays, strikes, technical disruptions, network changes and late inbound aircraft. Flight times do not form part of your contract of carriage with us. Please ensure accurate passenger details are provided in step 3 of the booking process so any changes can be notified. To the extent permitted by law, the airline excludes liability for any costs, expenses, losses or damages incurred by the Passenger as a result of failure to meet a schedule. Travel insurance is recommended.”
I’m not sure if these terms and conditions are the same or as explicitly stated during the booking process of JetBlue or another American airline, but I was extremely frustrated by this point. I felt as if I had been lured into selecting this airline because of its cheap flight fares, but then had several separate charges and fees dumped onto me that made the end price not so attractive. It’s true that my final flight cost was still pretty decent, compared to what I’d pay for a flight from IAD to JFK, but the purchase process itself made everything seem so sketchy and non-transparent. As mentioned by one of the HBS articles on pricing strategies, partitioning prices to highlight benefits can fail miserably when consumers “sense that sellers aren’t being straightforward about the total cost.” Not only that, but partitioning prices to highlight standard features (such as baggage check and use of credit cards for online purchases) rather than competitive advantages really worked against Jetstar.
Conclusion: I purchased my flight, which cost me about 1,300 THB more than the original stated price ($35 USD). While the added fees were by themselves not that much, the purchase experience made me resentful and angry towards Jetstar. My advice to low-cost airlines who want happier consumers? BE UPFRONT ABOUT YOUR COSTS!