The Department You Need to Check to Avoid Service Failures

In 2008, the shipping company DHL ran an ad campaign touting their outstanding customer service.

Each ad showed different service encounters where a DHL employee went above and beyond. The tagline was, "We're putting service back in the shipping business."

It wasn't true.

In November that year, DHL announced they were pulling out of the U.S. domestic shipping business. The company faced a myriad of problems, one of the biggest being their woeful customer service.

DHL's CEO, John Mullen, was quoted at the time as saying, "It's hard to see what could have been done that would have led to a different result."

But, there is something they should have done: audit their marketing and communications.

Why Conduct an Audit?

Your company's advertising is essentially a promise to customers. So, if you advertise something, you had better be able to deliver it. Customers naturally get disappointed when you promise them something and it doesn't happen.

Imagine a chain of furniture stores that promises same day delivery in their advertising. Fast delivery is the hook to get you in the door. But, what happens if there's a laundry list of exceptions to the same day promise?

A customer who expected same-day delivery when she ordered a couch won't be very happy to learn it will actually take two weeks.

It's scenarios like that that make it essential to conduct a regular marketing and communications audit. You'll avoid service failures if you spot (and fix) promises that aren't being kept.


How to Conduct Your Audit

Here's a three step process you can use to audit your marketing and communications.

Step 1: List all advertised promises. Check your advertising, brochures, and other collateral. Find out what your salespeople are pitching. Look at signage. Listen to your hold messages.

Step 2: Test each promise. Run a test on each promise to see if your company can actually deliver it. For instance, a bank is promoting their ATM machines as a faster and easier alternative than completing a teller-assisted transaction. You can test this promise by timing the same transaction via both channels.

Step 3: Make a list to fix. Identify broken promises that need to be fixed. Perhaps your advertising needs to be adjusted. Or, maybe your company needs to boost some capabilities to improve operations. The key is making sure what's promised is what gets delivered.


What to Audit

Here are a few specific things you should consider auditing.


As I write this, I'm waiting to get my car back from the mechanic. I was told it would be two days, but I just called to check the status and learned it will now be three. 

Check on anything you deliver, whether it's a service, merchandise, or the time to complete a repair or service call.

That's why Netflix frequently sends it's DVD subscribers an email asking, "When did you mail this DVD?" or "When did you receive this DVD?" They're monitoring their delivery to make sure it stays within the promised range.


Response Time

Check out fast you respond to customers via various channels. 

For example, the new response time standard for email is one hour. If you can't respond in one hour, make sure you have an auto-responder set up to let customers know when you will respond. And then, time your responses to make sure you're fulfilling that promise.

KLM does this for their Twitter account, regularly posting their expected response time on their profile page.

Product Image

There's a great scene in the movie Falling Down where Michael Douglas's character, D-Fens, loses his mind because he's served a fast food hamburger that looks nothing like what's shown on the menu. 

Source:  IMBD

Source: IMBD

It's an extreme example, but customers really don't appreciate it when the product doesn't match what's advertised.

Look at the product images you display on websites, brochures, menus, etc. and make sure they closely match what you're actually delivering. 



You can learn more about this and other techniques in a new training video, The Manager's Guide to Managing Customer Expectations on 

Here's a short preview video.

You'll need a account to view the entire course, but I can hook you up with a 10-day trial.

PS. Check out this slightly different, but still excellent How-To article from Denise Lee Yohn on how to conduct a brand diagnostic to scale up your brand.

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.