Momma Told Me: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
I'm about to make a statement that, at first glance, may seem odd to many.
You see, some of the brands I hold the highest loyalty towards didn't actually start out on the best foot with me. In fact, many of them down right flopped, and in big ways!
As a modern consumer, with limitless options for material product purchases, and a plethora of discounts, deals, and reviews for local food; I have the luxury of personally 'blacklisting' a company or establishment. That is, I could most likely choose to never patronize the brand again, choosing an alternative option, and never feel inconvenienced for it. I can shop online for deals in other countries, communicate with Yelp-ers about frequented eateries, and I have the right to state my opinions in public forums, like this blog, without being held for slander. My point? We, as consumers, hold the power.
Now, I've never bashed a brand or company on Momma Told Me, nor do I feel the need to call a company out, or mention anyone by name. However, I have noticed an alarming pattern with big chain businesses lately, and appreciate the forum to 'vent' per say. I am the type of consumer who values Customer Service far above cost or convenience. Sure, I love a 'good deal', but let's face it, it's not really a 'good deal' if the product falls apart, or say, the quality equals the price? This is why I spend much more time spreading my loyalty to brands (big and small) that take the time to listen to their consumers.
Ah, 'listen', there's a big word! With retail management experience, myself, I know the importance many large chains try to enforce in training. I was taught, and I most certainly agree, that most consumers simply want to be heard. We don't expect free stuff to be thrown at us (though I would expect to not be required to pay for a faulty product or service), and we don't expect a lifetime membership to your brand. Many of those who take the time to actually write in to a company/brand are sitting down to write a thoughtful communication because they WANT to continue to patronize the brand/company, but see a big area for improvement. Sure, there are those who simply write in every experience, and can never be pleased- but a company that treats all of their feedback as one or the other will certainly never grow!
In particular, my concern is for big brand chains that are partially corporate owned, and partially franchised. I have noticed that many companies like this, when it comes to handling complaints or concerns in regard to franchised locations, tend to tiptoe around resolution. An example would be one very large chain pizza delivery company down the street from me. About a month back I wrote in to the corporate website, informing them of poor product quality. In particular, their boneless chicken side was grossly misproportioned, and not up to company (advertised) specifications. I promptly received an (clearly) automated response, via email, with the assigned customer service rep's name;
I am really sorry to hear about the poor sizing of boneless chicken you received. We totally understand your disappointment and frustration with a _______ Pizza experience that was less than great. We appreciate you contacting us and giving us the opportunity to fix the situation. My name is Danielle and I will be happy to help resolve your issue.
The _______ location where you ordered is locally owned, so my first step is to report your concern to the owner, S___ _______h. This will give their office the opportunity to hear your feedback firsthand, and do what it takes to keep you as a loyal customer.
Jenna, your feedback is a gift and we appreciate you contacting us. Once again, I am really sorry that we let you down. If you do not hear from a local supervisor in 3 days, please contact us again so that we can make sure this is resolved for you.
Three days later, after not hearing from the actual location or the ______ Pizza Customer Support Team, I sent a follow up email, which was acknowledged by a Cleopatra, which was followed up 24 hours by 'Robin';
I'm sorry you had to contact us again about the poor sizing of boneless chicken you received. I apologize the local management has not contacted you to make things right. I will immediately report this again to the management of the_______ store and request they contact you as quickly as possible.
In appreciation of your business and for taking the time to bring this situation to our attention, I will be sending a gift card through the mail for your use at any Domino's Pizza store. You should receive the gift card in approximately 7-10 days.
Jenna, we hope to regain your trust. Your business is very important to us and we want to give you good reason to return as a loyal customer.
_______ Pizza Customer Care"
With an initial claim filed on March 27th, and 5 follow up inquiries on my part, I received a duplicate copy of the initial customer care response, with an inclosed $10 Gift Card, on April 10th, nearly 2 weeks later. I'd like to note I was at no time contacted directly by anyone at this local location, in regards to my concern. Additionally, the $10 GC didn't even cover my primary order (the one I had first wrote in with concerns about). I responded to the company, thanking them for their gift card, but inquired as to why I had still not heard from the branch owner. I received no follow up.
So, last night, on the heels of traumatic family events, and a very long day, I pulled out the complimentary gift card to order from the same location (literally at the end of the street we live on). I ordered the same order we 'usually' get, again, ordering the boneless chicken as I had the time before. Now, almost 4 weeks from the original incident, I picked up my order and proceeded to inspect the quality upon arrival at home. I was absolutely appalled to note, not only were the same quality concerns still present, they were this time worse! I had paid $.75 a piece for fried gristle and breading hardly larger than a quarter!
Now, here is where I am having trouble with the chain, as a whole, and it's 'customer care' breakdown. If the location's owner, or even manager had taken the time to contact me (at the company's urging, or my physical request in store), there just might have been *at least* a note on my account to handle us, as customers, with care. Instead, I immediately felt that this particular owner was, and is, making a conscious decision to stretch materials and inflate profits by serving a sub-par product to my local community. As it turns out, after submitting a follow up complaint last night, I still have the copy of my last complaint to this pizza chain (circa 8/11). Interestingly enough, upon rereading the (almost identical cookie cutter response), I have come to realize that this location is owned by the same individual who owned the location I complained about 7 months back, 2 towns over, on almost an identical concern!
The _______ location where you ordered is locally owned, so my first step is to report your concern to the owner, S__ ________h. This will give their office the opportunity to hear your feedback firsthand, and do what it takes to keep you as a loyal customer.
Jenna, your feedback is a gift and we appreciate you contacting us. Once again, I am really sorry that we let you down. If you do not hear from the local owner in 3 days, please contact us again so that we can make sure this is resolved for you.
________ Pizza Customer Care Team"
After this, additional experience, and understanding, I have now resolved to stop patronizing the national chain as a whole. I understand large International companies receive many complaints and concerns, and likely have various methods of automated, or automatic aided, even outsourced, responses. Unfortunately, there has been no follow up on a personal level. I've been informed I will be receiving another $10 gift card, in the mail, I have no intention of using. The sheer principle alone, of giving the company another $4 (which would be the overages from our 'usual' order), after such a blatant lack of concern really grinds my gears. In conclusion, I am greatly disappointed to see that once trusted American brands are franchising multiple locations to people who, essentially, tear down the ethics and quality of the brand. If a company is going to partially franchise, they need to be aware and accountable for the impact those owners choices and actions will have on the image on their brands!
For every consumer who writes or directly contacts a company about a concern, there is another that simple walks away and 'blacklists' the company for their error. When a customer reaches out, that is a second chance. The way I see it, the brand can either form a lasting relationship, based on trust and earnest concern, or turn the customer off entirely. As a woman who deals with PR, and customer feedback daily, through her work and this website, I can honestly say there is no greater PR, than that of redemption. Unfortunately, after three chances, this particular company has failed. Have you noticed a favorite brand or chain being drug down by local owners? How do you handle bad service/product, how many chances do you give, before moving on?
What Daughter Says: Most consumers simply want a company to listen. Cookie cutter responses, with lack of follow through on promises made only serve to make the issue worse. There is a limit to customer loyalty, and those deserving will surely rise above their competitors in the end.