business news in context, analysis with attitude

On Friday, we took note of how the folks who make Noxzema shaving cream may not have known that when they got as complaint on the phone the other day, the dissatisfied customer was none other than David Letterman. He told the story on “The Late Show” the other night. He’s been a 40-year user of Noxzema, but has found recently that the consistency had changed and that the cream would not stick to his face. He had one of his assistants call to complain.

The folks at Alberto-Culver told the Chicago Sun Times that they offered him a coupon for a new can, a move they said was “standard procedure.”

But Letterman said - on the air, to millions of viewers - that Noxzema said that it was having a nozzle problem.

Here’s what I wrote:

Here’s the real problem ... and it is only compounded by the fact that Letterman has a soapbox.

You had a four decade user of the product with a complaint. Loyal users can be advocates for a brand, but unhappy customers almost always can wreck a company’s brand equity. Dismissing a complaint so cavalierly only serves to compound the complaint, not solve it. Resolving the complaint - and showing real compassion - serves to reinforce the strength of the brand.

Furthermore, Letterman obviously was a loyal customer who cared enough about the brand to complain, as opposed to just switching to another brand.

So pay attention next time the phone rings. It may be a grousing customer offering you a real opportunity to show how great a company you are, and how strong your brand is.

One MNB user objected to the way I conflated the various versions of events with a breakdown in customer service:

According to your story, Letterman was a loyal customer who cared enough to have a staff person complain.  Not make the call himself.  And you have his version of their response.  A second hand story, because he wasn’t the one making the call.

Then you have the version from the company side, again, not first hand.

One of the problems with having a platform is the credibility of the speaker, and sometimes things can be slanted for the effect of the moment.

Not saying things didn’t go just as Letterman related they did, but how do you know for sure?

Therein lies our dilemma, just because it’s on the web, on TV, on Radio... is it true?

You’re missing the point.

The essential facts of the case are not in dispute. Letterman had a staffer complain. The company offered a coupon. Letterman thought that the reaction was not appropriate, considering his four-decade loyalty to the brand.

I think that having a staffer make the call actually makes the Noxzema reaction more typical than if Letterman had called himself.

But here’s what even more important. Letterman has a soapbox, and used it. But every customer has a soapbox these days, on the internet ... and companies need to be more responsive, more sympathetic, more action-oriented when it comes to dealing with consumer complaints.

Get used to it.

MNB user Theresa Ruppert wrote:

We always see examples of how companies are doing it wrong.  I wanted to share 2 examples of companies doing it right.  A big problem for online companies is consumers shopping on the site and leaving items in the shopping cart.  After looking for an item at I put it in the shopping cart, but was not ready to buy it.  The next day I received an email from Costco reminding me of the item and noting that shopping carts are cleared every 48 hours.  The reminder sent me back to the site to complete the purchase.   What an awesome idea!

The other example is from Amazon (big surprise there).  I had been looking for a specific type of book on the subject of yoga, but had not found the exact item I wanted.  During a visit today the site recommended 3 books that were often purchased together that fit my needs to a tee.  The result was a purchase for me and yet another win for Amazon.
Final point is that I did share these good points with a colleague.  Noxzema messed up.

MNB user Dave Thompson wrote:

I could not agree more with today's article concerning the Letterman/Noxzema story.  Reminded me of an incident a few years ago.  I had an issue with the local Best Buy and spoke with the location manager.  Resolved the issue, then we began to talk about our common retail backgrounds, customer service and treating them as you would want to be treated.  He told me about a man who came into the store at least once a week, would peruse the store, but rarely bought anything, maybe a CD once in a while.  The gentleman was very modestly dressed, T-shirt, old blue jeans, ratty sneakers, not much to get in the way of making you think he would be a big spender.  His frequent visits to the store caused the manager to strike up conversations with him and a casual friendship formed.  Later on, during the holiday period, same gentleman comes in, dressed in custom made suit, strolls up to the manager and tells him he wants to buy 20 Playstation 3 systems as Christmas bonuses for his employees!  Retail on the system at the time was around $600.  Minimum $12,000 sale, all because the manager went out of his way to make that customer feel special.  Moral:  You never know who is on the phone, or who is standing there with you in the retail environment!

I took yesterday off, noting that it was “a national holiday, a school holiday, and therefore a day on which Mrs. Content Guy and the sole remaining living-at-home Content Kid have the day off,” and that I had pledged to spend the day with them.

One MNB user wrote:

MLK Day is not a national holiday (I wish it was!), but rather a Federal holiday. How do I know this?  Because I'm at work instead of being home with my kids who, like federal employees, are off school today.

Sorry I got the terminology wrong.

I wish you’d had the day off, too, and I grant you that I’m probably luckier than most for being able to take the day off.

I’m glad I did. Among other things, I got to go to the gym with my wife, have lunch with her, and hit the Apple Store with my daughter.

Good day.
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