• Bill Leinweber

  • About Bill Leinweber

    Bill Leinweber's mission is to help businesses and organizations grow by combining efficient processes with great customer and employee experience.

    Bill is the Chief Experience Officer & Owner of Landmark Experience LLC, a consultancy, where he loves to help business leaders walk in their customers' shoes and devise memorable and meaningful experiences for both customers, guests, visitors, employees and business partners. After all, have you ever heard of customer loyalty and business growth without GREAT customer experience?

    Bill's 30 year career spans retail and office products distribution operations in both small, family-owned and global mega-businesses. He has managed customer service operations, sales support, customer on-boarding and business intelligence teams while also serving as an internal consultant and subject matter expert. Bill has helped his past employers improve their customer engagement processes and achieve their goals of customer experience excellence and loyalty.

    Bill loves to talk and speak about customer experience as well, so don't be afraid to ask!

    Bill Leinweber
    Landmark Experience
    513-227-9037
    www.LandmarkExperience.com

Does Your Service Leave Customers ‘Holding the Bag?’

The subject handbag on Michele’s arm

My friend, Michele, received a bag as a gift. But not just any bag and not just any gift. It was a Michael Kors handbag received from her husband at Christmas. And it was RED! Michele loved the handbag, she’s crazy about her husband and apparently, the red color is a big deal too. So Michele called me the other day asking for advice because she had a really bad customer experience with Michael Kors. To quote her, she was expecting a good “Landmark Experience” and instead, well it was a landmark alright but not good. Not good at all.

First, my disclaimer. If you whipped out your antonym dictionary and looked for the opposite of “Fashionista,” my picture would be there. Much to my partner’s dismay, I am not a devoted follower of fashion. What I do know is customer experience. I’m an expert on that. So I did have to ask Michele, “Who the hell is Michael Kors?” “Oh, luxury brand fashion designer.” Once I figured that out, we were ready to move on.

Now, back to the red handbag. Here’s the deal in a nutshell. After only several months of owning the red handbag, the inner lining began to fray and then tear. By summer, the lining was torn in 4 places. Michele has purchased a ton of Michael Kors products – shoes, clothes, wallets and other handbags, even her bridesmaids’ gifts. I nearly choked when she told me how much she has spent on Michael Kors. Then again, she had the good sense to marry an attorney so, good for her. The red handbag cost more than several hundred dollars. Michele also owns another Michael Kors handbag and the lining on the first bag is fine after four years of use. For the money her husband spent and for the perceived quality of the brand, the red handbag was not living up to expectations. So off she goes to the Michael Kors Cherry Creek store in Denver.

And here’s where the experience really goes bad. The Michael Kors store associate told Michele that the tears in the lining were “normal wear and tear” (ironic, isn’t it. I never took the “tear” literally before). She proceeded to say that since it was “normal wear and tear,” Michele could take the handbag somewhere to get it repaired at her own expense (even though that is contrary to Michael Kors published policy and voids the 1-year warranty) or she would have to pay for the repair if the bag was sent back to Michael Kors.

Michele was not pleased.

The store associate offered another option. She could exchange the bag for the same style bag in the store, although they had only black and brown because the red was a special, limited edition. But the cost of the bag has since gone up by fifty dollars, so Michele would have to pay the difference to exchange the bag for a color she doesn’t want.

To make matters worse, the store associate was able to find Michele in their “system” but couldn’t see all the purchases that she has made over the past several years. So while Michele’s lifetime customer value was pretty high, they couldn’t see it. All they saw was a very unhappy customer and all they offered her was their “policy.” Well actually, not even that. They weren’t living up to their policy. Here’s what the Michael Kors website says:

HANDBAGS & SMALL LEATHER GOODS

Handbags are protected from the original date of purchase by a one-year limited warranty (proof of purchase required). If the handbag or small leather good proves to be defective in material or workmanship under normal use anytime within the first year, we will repair or replace the item free of charge with same or comparable product. Defective handbags will not be returned to customer.

The variations in color and texture are the prized characteristics of beautiful tanned leather. Over time, the leather will acquire a patina and may also darken due to the oils from your skin and direct sunlight, further enhancing the natural look of your handbag. Please refer to our Product Care Guidelines for further information on caring for your handbag or small leather item.

Conditions and Exclusions:

The warranty does not cover damages arising from dye transference, accidents or misuse, or from any alteration, service or repair performed by any other party other than Michael Kors.

I’m pretty sure Michele didn’t carry around her Ginsu knife collection in her Michael Kors bag, so I’m confident we can say the bag got “normal use.” Yet there was no offer to “repair or replace the item free of charge with same or comparable product” as their policy states. Additionally, the store associate never asked Michele, “What would you like us to do for you?” She never got the store manager involved to see what could be done outside “the policy” to satisfy this (clearly) very loyal customer.

Wow. Does this sound like any way to treat any customer, let alone a luxury brand customer? The disconnect here is that the experience of OWNING a Michael Kors bag is nothing like the experience when quality falls short and service needs to recover. Inconsistency.

Hey out there, listen up. The cost of losing the lifetime value of a customer is way more than the cost of a silly handbag (sorry, Michele, I mean a stunning handbag). It doesn’t matter if you’re peddling your aunt’s secret pizza sauce or making expensive handbags. If your service falls short, then customers just feel duped. They feel like you don’t really care about them – you care only about your money and your policies. And when customers feel like you don’t really care about them, then they start questioning why they were loyal to your brand in the first place. For all your hard work, that takes you back to square one with customers.

Is it time to take a look at your brand experience? Is there consistency between quality of product, service, support, after market, re-orders, brick-and-mortar, online, phone, chat, email? Or do each of these places where your customers show up live in their own little world, disconnected from the promise of your brand and your vision? If you need help figuring that out, let me know.

Bill Leinweber

Landmark Experience

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7 Responses

  1. Hi Bill,
    Love your summary “if service falls short customers feel duped”. It is true. They also feel mistrusted — as if the service provider is saying that it’s the customer’s fault.

    The lifetime value of your friend MIchele to the Kors brand is far greater than they are assessing.

    I sense also a (common yet still disturbing) lack of “felt accountability” as Dr. Bob Sutton calls it (http://twitter.com/work_matters).

    Many large enterprises fail in customer loyalty because at the front line, the staff do not have a sense of empowerment and accountability to engage and retain the customer. When that happens, it’s important to look at the company leadership and wonder why they have not developed a customer centric culture. Other retailers (Nordstroms) has done it.

    Great example and it illustrates clearly what happens then companies don’t “get it”.

    Best,
    Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™
    http://katenasser.com

  2. Great comments, Kate. Your insights are always spot on. You’re absolutely right about trust. There’s a very strong bond between loyalty and trust. Customers have a strong desire to trust the businesses they buy from. At the same time, the customer wants to “feel” trusted by the business. When front-liners treat customers with suspicion and “policies,” the whole notion of trust and loyalty unravels. Michele’s experience with Michael Kors is definitely a “brand damaging event.”

  3. Agree with Kate’s comments. It’s amazing how many large companies talk the loyalty talk, and then have front line staff (those who have the largest amount of actual customer and prospect contact and communication) who are ill-trained, not empowered or know merchandise 101 but not how to give empathy or show customer’s they are valued.

    If Michael Kors group is on Twitter or Facebook, perhaps Michele needs to have a little chat or tweet with them there 🙂

  4. So true, Melissa. If a business depends on repeat transactions, it’s imperative the front line staff recognize the value of the customer, especially when a product or service failure occurs. And to your point, customers can share their stories on social media channels. I believe Michele is doing just that! Thanks.

  5. Too many retailers seem to have educated at the Ferengi School of Business it seems (Ferengis are a Star Trek race known mostly for their unscrupulous business practices – “Never, ever give the money back!).. It’s like they were trained by insurance companies – the first 9 answers you get from them are – NO!

  6. Thanks, Shaun. A dissatisfied customer is a such a huge opportunity to create a loyal customer – I just don’t get it when businesses don’t train their employees to recognize the opportunity and act on it.

  7. Nodding a lot to this article. I’ve had my fair share of bad customer service experience but this has got it down pat as we’re talking about a luxury brand here. Wow. Maybe Michael Kors should start looking at how it handles it customers.

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