Advertising great service is like Al Capone's Vault

 Beware of advertising great customer service.

Beware of advertising great customer service.

On April 21, 1986 an estimated 30 million people tuned in to watch Geraldo Rivera host The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults. At the time, it was the largest-ever audience for a television special.

A secret vault purportedly belonging to the infamous gangster Al Capone had been discovered at Chicago’s Lexington Hotel while the hotel was undergoing renovations. Rivera was on hand to oversee the opening of the vault.

Speculation about what the vault might contain ran wild. Would there be treasure?Historical artifacts? The bodies of Capone's victims?

A medical examiner was even on hand just in case human remains were found. The IRS was standing by too in hopes of recovering some of the $800,000 in taxes that Capone still owed.

What would they find?!

The great reveal finally occurred live on national television. All that was found was an empty bottle and some debris. The much-hyped show was a bust. 

Companies should be wary of creating their own Al Capone’s Vault when they advertise great customer service.

United Airlines launched its Flyer-Friendly advertising campaign in September. You can view the television spots on United’s website while a carefully edited stream of positive Twitter messages scrolls to the right. 

In reality, United is far from actually being Flyer-Friendly. Bruce Temkin wrote an outstanding analysis on his blog that showed United’s customer service rankings are still quite poor.  On a personal note, my most popular blog post of 2012 was a collection of text messages from my wife as she endured a comically inept delay while traveling on United.

United isn’t the only company to advertise amazing service that doesn’t exist. DHL ran an advertising campaign promoting their superior customer service despite lagging far behind their competitors. They ran these ads right up until they pulled out of the US market for express shipping because their poor customer service and operational woes left them unprofitable. 

Circuit City, Chase, and American Airlines have all tried similar tactics. “We have great service” is also an advertising staple for small companies. Rarely are these claims actually true.


A better way to spend your money

Advertising is generally directed at acquiring new customers. Companies with lousy service have to constantly solicit new customers because their current customers keep leaving.

These companies would be much better off redirecting that advertising money towards fixing their customer service. 

Here are a few reasons why:

It’s easier to sell to customers you already have. A recent blog post by Colin Shaw shared this staggering statistic: 

The probability of selling to an existing customer is 60 – 70%. The probability of selling to a new prospect is 5-20% – Marketing Metrics.

A 2013 study commissioned by Zendesk found that service quality has a clear impact on customers’ buying behavior: 

  • 52 percent of customers increased their purchases due to good service
  • 59 percent of customers stopped buying altogether due to bad service

The same Zendesk report found that many customers are more than willing to advertise your customer service on your behalf:

  • 95 percent share bad experiences
  • 87 percent share good experiences
  • 58 percent share their more experiences more often today than five years ago

Today’s customers are pretty smart. They’ll quickly figure out if your advertising claims are true or false. Don’t be Al Capone’s Vault.