Productive Leaders

Ph.D., CSP, CDR, US Navy Ret.,
CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame

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Beauty may be in the Eye of the Beholder, But Product Value is in the Eye of the Buyer

Leaders need to put themselves in the position of their consumers. The theme of this article is to encourage leaders to experience their product or service from their customers’ perspective.

  1. Buy your product, and then try to return it.Do the internet search. Price compare. Actually make an order to see how well the process works. Some companies do this very well. Kohls, COSTCO, and Walmart are all very good about product purchase procedures and customer service during the return process. They build up a loyal customer base by being helpful and considerate throughout the buying (and sometimes returning) experience.Customers want the buying experience to be fast, pleasant, and productive. That means they don’t want hassle or difficulties along the way. If a company makes the process too onerous or time-consuming, customers will
    simply find other places to buy what they want. One reason many customers buy online is they don’t have to deal with customer service personnel.

    Organizations should experience their processes to see how they can increase consumer loyalty through simply examining their own customer experiences. Consider the airline industry.

    The airline industry needs to understand why so many of us are willing to put up with the lack of seat assignments at Southwest. It isn’t that they allow our luggage to still travel with us for free, although that is a help. Many people LUV (their ticker symbol) Southwest Airlines because the booking and changing of tickets is an easy process. Not only is there ZERO hassle for changing a ticket, but their customer service people are sincerely pleasant and helpful.

    My most recent experiences changing tickets on two major airlines were expensive and time-consuming. I don’t understand why I get docked $150 for a ticket change (months before the initial flight would have occurred) and then when I tried using the remainder of the ticket after the $150 was deducted, the airline also kept the remainder of the amount that I didn’t use when I rebooked. Seriously? I traded in a $534 ticket for $178 ticket? After several hours on the phone with various customer service representatives who were neither pleasant nor helpful, I succumbed. I was defeated.

    No amount of marketing or clever slogans is going to reverse the damage of poor purchasing processes and unpleasant customer representatives. Are senior leaders oblivious to the fact that their organizations are driving customers away? Maybe. But I guarantee that the major leaders of the airlines do not go through their own ticketing process and customer service desks and, therefore, have no real idea how miserable the experience is for their consumers. So I fly Southwest whenever possible.

  2. Go through your own drive-in. While traveling cross country with 2 dogs in the car, my meal selections are limited to either restaurants that do not mind my furry ones sitting with me (read: NONE) or those fine dining establishments that have drive-through windows.So on a recent trip, I placed my order at the window, and proceeded to the payments and collection window. I politely asked if they would please throw away my coffee cup (from my first drive-through experience of the day) to make room for their drink in my cup holder. To my unhappy surprise, the answer was a firm NO.“We cannot accept trash at the window.” “Why not?” I ask (in my own customer voice, which is far sweeter than I actually felt). “It is our policy not to accept trash. But you can park, come in, and throw away your trash.”

    Not willing to be so easily dissuaded from my fried entrée, I persist. “Is there an outside trash can?” “No,” came the reply, “because people might put garbage in it.” Seriously?

    It is 10 degrees outside, and I have pooches (what if I had children in car seats?) to consider. “Cancel my order please” was my response on behalf of all people traveling with small children, those who are physically challenged, and everyone else. It is ridiculous policy, and one that I am sure senior management knows nothing about. Why? Because they do not procure their own products in the same manner as average consumers do. They need to experience their company’s purchasing procedure like their customers do.

  3. Make the call.Leaders of America, I dare you – call your own customer service department. How long are you on hold? How many voice mails did you have to go through? How many buttons did you have to press before you got to the right department? An actual person?Nightmare on Hold – A Customer Service Story:My worst telephonic customer service experience was with one of the biggest PC manufacturers. After they shipped me the wrong $150 part, I tried to return it. Sorry, I was one day outside the 20-day window, they answer. “But:” I pleasantly explained, “I have only been home from a trip for 2 days, and it is only Monday.” “Sorry,” says their customer service representative in a country that sounds far away, “The clock starts when you place the order. And you can only return it by DHL.” (The DHL service office was an hour and a half away from where I lived.) Huh?

    Again, not easily dissuaded, I persisted in trying to find a reasonable person to help resolve the situation. I made over 150 phone calls to their overseas customer service desk, and no one even pretended to care about my
    problem. One of their senior customer service representatives suggested that I donate the undesired part to a school, because there was no way they were taking it back. I fell outside the stated policy. There are no exceptions.

    On phone call number 151 (I started logging them for my own amusement, since I spent so much time on hold, and I thought that number might prove lucky), I asked for the phone number to their Headquarters, right here in the US. Surely, I thought, if I spoke to a manager, I could explain that the part was still sealed in its box, and the mistake was theirs. I was told there are no phones at their Headquarters.

    My three letters went unanswered (this process became a research experiment in customer service), and emails to the company customer service site were ignored. Remember, I still needed a part to fix my computer.

    After two weeks of irritation and countless hours, I bought a Mac. My entire company went Mac. For the cost of decent customer service and a $150 part, this PC manufacturer lost me and my entire company forever. Mac, I am happy to report, has GREAT customer service.

Leaders can protect against bad customer service before it starts by having efficient systems in place to take care of customers the first time. Not sure if your procedures are working? Make a return, go through the drive-through, and call your own customer service department.


  1. Sheryl Gunn

    I have been enjoying your newsletter and love the details of your product and customer service stories. Since I work for HP, I was shocked over the 151 phone calls to a major computer manufacturer. That is patience and perseverance above and beyond. Please tell me this was not an HP product and service issue!
    FYI for you and your readers… We have a wonderful tool available to all HP employees to help us assist HP customers (our friends, family, or even casual acquaintances). It is called “Voice of the Customer” and allows us to enter details of any customer experience that needs attention. The HP team who runs this service are very responsive and attentive to the issues submitted. Should you have problems in the future, please contact me or someone you know at HP to get attention. You can find an HP connection on LinkedIn or through another Social Media tool.

  2. Mary Kelly

    Hi Sheryl,
    Thanks so much for your note!

    No, this bad customer service experience was NOT an HP! I love my HP printers. 🙂

    I also love that your dog Tippy, raises money for MS. That is such a great cause. Can you tell me more?

    Thanks again for your note – I am sure it will help people.
    Warmly, Mary


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