We say that statistics are an important driver of memory. That is, they’re highly memorable. The question is – what do they mean? We’ve all heard the famous “lies, damn lies and statistics” quote, and some have heard Mark Twain’s racier version. Remember to start by asking “Who’s the audience?”
Last Christmas’ snafu with UPS and promised but undelivered packages illustrates why explanations that make sense to the speaker can leave the listener, like many UPS customers, unfulfilled. And we have a customer story of our own.
UPS and some of their large corporate customers like Wal-Mart insisted that the problems affected “only a small percentage of people.” Wal-Mart in particular promised customers who signed up for Black Friday door buster deals that, if the store ran out, they could register online and pick the items up by December. About 22.5 million people signed up. Even if “only a small percentage” didn’t find the promise fulfilled, that’s still potentially tens of thousands of customers – all of whom will tell their friends and family members. Wal-Mart offered $25 gift cards and apologized, and generally customers were pretty reasonable.
UPS provided a voluminous explanation of what happened: shortened Christmas season, too many last minute deals from retailers, lack of coordination between big customers and the shipper. The explanations were convincing but they didn’t change the situation.
Missing from the explanation was personal concern for each customer and what the undelivered package meant to them and their family. My family had our own UPS experience, not with Christmas presents but with payroll checks for employees of our two barbecue restaurants. They were due 2 p.m. Friday and didn’t show up.
Fred Smith, founder and CEO of FedEx, famously said that the information about the package was as important as the package. This described our situation with UPS.
Repeated calls to UPS over hours produced a combination of incorrect and misleading information. We were repeatedly told the driver was on our street and that he would be there in an hour, then another hour. The checks finally showed up hours late but only after we had gone ahead and paid people in cash, which messes up the accounting.
During the phone calls, customer service representatives were unhelpful and unfriendly. While I knew what was going on from the stories in the press, that didn’t solve our need to get employees paid. It may be true that, as claimed, “it doesn’t happen often.” When it’s you, the big picture is irrelevant. You want a solution and a personal connection--not excuses and explanations.
Here’s to hoping personal concern takes precedence in customer service interactions this holiday season!
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