‘Take This Catalog and Shove It!’ – A Modern Customer Relations Parable

Somewhere within the bowels of Restoration Hardware, somebody got themselves a calculator and said to themselves, “Hey! I know how we can save a whole lot of money—let’s print these babies all at once!” What they failed to take into account was the potential negative reaction of their customers

Somewhere within the bowels of Restoration Hardware, somebody got themselves a calculator. And when they added up the cost of creating, printing and mailing multiple catalogs throughout the year, they said to themselves, “Hey! I know how we can save a whole lot of money—let’s print these babies all at once, and drop ship them via UPS. It’s gonna save us thousands in time, paper and postage!”

What they failed to take into account was the potential negative reaction of their customers.

When 15 pounds of catalogs landed on my doorstep I was stunned. At first I thought they must have mistaken me for an interior designer, and figured I need to be “in the know” on every single product SKU in their inventory.

But upon further examination, I was simply disgusted at their lack of marketing savvy. Not only did it take me more than 10 minutes to cut off all the plastic that encased them, but the books instantly filled my small recycling bin in the kitchen.

As a marketer, I wondered why I was even on their list. Not only have I not spent $1 at Restoration Hardware in the last 12-months, but upon further reflection, I’m not sure I’ve spent more than $100 there in the last several years!

Cranky, I took to Facebook to see if I was the only recipient of this marketing fiasco. It turns out 45 of my FB friends were also on the receiving end of this giant mailing effort. And 25 of them left equally cranky comments of support to my rant. One even suggested that we collect all the catalogs in the neighborhood and drive over to RH headquarters and set them ablaze on their doorstep! Yikes!

Next, I decided to let Restoration Hardware know of my frustration. First I visited their FB page and left my post, expressing my disgust. Taking a quick peek again this week, I’ve discovered lots of lots of similar customer complaints, including comments like “I will never shop at your store again!!!”

But the highlight (or perhaps lowlight) was my experience with the RH brand directly. I went to their website and completed the Feedback form. But it was the response I got that told me that RH is clueless when it comes to marketing. To help put this into perspective, I’ll share my note to them and their canned response. This is all a true case study in what not to do.

From: carolyn@goodmanmarketing.com
Received: 6/6/14 1:49:23 PM PDT
To: carolyn@goodmanmarketing.com
Subject: RH – Feedback

As a homeowner, I am appalled at the 50 lbs of catalogs you sent me recently. It took me 10 minutes to cut through all the plastic, so I could dump 13 catalogs in my recycle bin. I posted my crankiness to my FB page and have had over 40 others respond with equal disgust.

As a marketer, I am stunned at your lack of understanding of your customers and prospects. It can’t possibly make good financial sense to send me all this stuff as I haven’t made a purchase from you in years … and even then didn’t spend more than $100. Please, I’m begging you, take me off your mailing list … and contact me if you want some help with marketing strategies and tactics that can truly pay off with engaged customers, higher average order sizes, and brand evangelists.

From: Restoration Hardware Customer Service [mailto:webcs@restorationhardware.com]
Sent: Saturday, June 07, 2014 7:22 PM
To: Carolyn Goodman
Subject: RE: RH – Feedback <<#419189-1221170#>>

Dear Carolyn,

Thank you for contacting Restoration Hardware regarding our sourcebooks. We respect your environmental concerns and assure you that we are also very conscientious about our global footprint. The paper we use for our catalogs is sourced from sustainable forests, certified by ‘Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification’ (PEFC). According to the PEFC website, the group works throughout the entire forest supply chain to ensure that timber and non-timber forest products are produced with respect for the highest ecological, social, and ethical standards.

Additionally, we recently reduced the number of sourcebooks and the frequency by which we send them. Mailings that were once monthly are now only twice per year. For those who prefer to view our catalogs online, we have made our sourcebooks available on our website and through various smartphone and tablet applications.

In order to ensure that you are removed from our mailing list, please cancel your subscription via our website by clicking here. If you are unable to do so, please respond with the name and mailing address in which the sourcebooks were delivered, and we can certainly cancel your subscription for you.

We sincerely value your feedback. It is through our customers’ input that we continue to improve our quality of service. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with us.

Again, thank you for contacting Restoration Hardware.

Sincerely,

Jenna Blase
Email Customer Service Advocate
Restoration Hardware

Hello, Complaint Department? My Friends Are Listening

If it costs five times more to acquire a new customer than to keep one, why do brands continue to try and ignore customer complaints? For as long as there have been businesses selling goods and services, there have been complaint departments. And I’m guessing that as the number of sales increased, so did the number of complaints. So why did it take until the creation of the Internet and the popularity of social media for so many businesses to really start to address customer satisfaction issues?

If it costs five times more to acquire a new customer than to keep one, why do brands continue to try and ignore customer complaints?

For as long as there have been businesses selling goods and services, there have been complaint departments. And I’m guessing that as the number of sales increased, so did the number of complaints. So why did it take until the creation of the Internet and the popularity of social media for so many businesses to really start to address customer satisfaction issues?

In the early 1970’s, interactive voice response (IVR) technology came into vogue. While it was designed to service high call volumes, reduce costs and improve the customer experience, we all know it was a great way to avoid actually talking to customers—especially those with complaints.

As companies got bigger, somebody decided that titles like “customer service rep” weren’t friendly enough, or didn’t accurately describe the importance of the position. (Perhaps because they didn’t actually provide service? Well, that’s a topic for another day.)

That said, titles changed to be things like “Customer Relationship Specialist” or “Customer Interaction Management Specialist” (I kid you not). But it didn’t change the job function … nor the attitude or behavior of the rep who was supposedly resolving your complaint.

As complaints soared, so did the many ways businesses tried to avoid a direct dialogue with those harboring a complaint. Once consumers discovered that pressing “0” usually connected one with a live body, businesses changed that option. I recently called one financial institution to complain that the ATM had eaten my card (yes, I was standing in front of the machine reading the teeny-tiny 800 number posted to the machine in the least obvious location). I probably went through five or six different “menu” options before I finally got someone live on the phone who told me that he had never heard of an ATM eating a card before. So I guess he felt it was helpful to call me a liar. Hmmm …

Next came the Web—and with it the “Contact Us” page. But once again, businesses became overwhelmed with the number of consumers who wanted to have a dialogue with them. Now when you visit “Contact Us,” there’s a form to fill out or worse—no email or phone number, but just a link to “Commonly Asked Questions & Answers” or “Popular Topics” or, one of my favorites, “Where’s My Stuff?”

Have you ever tried to call Amazon? Yeah. Good luck finding a phone number. I will say that I had a problem with my Kindle and, after quite a bit of scouring around the website, found a phone number from a dialogue in a Kindle forum. I called it and got GREAT customer service (I think it was Bob’s first call all day because he actually sounded happy to help me).

Now the Web has created a whole new business complaint system—and it’s for all the world to see. From the formalized review process of Yelp and Angie’s List to sites that let you rate your experience with a product/service like OpenTable.com or Hotels.com, you can whine all you want and it’s very difficult for the brands to respond/resolve (even if they wanted to).

It’s easy to go to a company’s Facebook page and post a rant (I’ve seen some really ugly comments posted on some of the biggest brands’ Facebook pages).

I know these public forums can be an extremely unfair system—especially to smaller businesses who live and die from customer reviews. And I know that not everyone is reasonable with their expectation about a product/service, nor do all consumers have legitimate complaints (although they may feel otherwise).

So here’s my suggestion: If you want to build a positive image of your brand, create a culture that allows for customer feedback and conflict resolution. Make it easy for customers to find a phone number, call you and speak to a live person and/or email you and get a fast response. Empower your reps to resolve issues quickly and fairly—perhaps invest in training them how to listen with empathy, and how to make a decision to do “the right thing.” Spend less time and money on “satisfaction surveys” (which I personally dislike) and more time on “creating satisfaction.”

Net-net, treat every customer as if they were your most valuable asset—because they are. It will return a bigger ROI than any marketing campaign investment.