If there were a subtitle option to the headline above it would read something like “the new power of social networking.”
When I wrote about my failed dealings with Brookstone it was, for me, more about just getting something off my chest than anything. I was also really surprised that this one (albeit prolonged) failure at customer service had stayed with me as long as it has.
Think about it: how many times have you had a run-in with an airline or restaurant or cable company or whatever that you walked away from telling yourself “I’m never doing business with them again!”? You know it’s happened and you will probably also concede that the anger faded away next time they had a good fare, convenient location, or affordable deal and you were letting bygones be gone. It is likely that companies count sometimes on the fact that they can either bring you back without really trying or just survive without you.
Brookstone certainly hasn’t suffered without my business these past few years, have they?
I still can’t say why I remained so angry with them. How long ago was it that I wrote about AirTran’s shoddy customer service? I’m pretty sure I’m flying them again this summer (though it could also be JetBlue and they have some crazy pilots.) I can also recall vowing never to do business with any of the following companies all of whom I have patronized since (and in most cases, patronized regularly): Denny’s, Starbucks, Wal-Mart, Ritz Camera, Chick-Fil-A, Jiffy Lube, and NTB Tire & Battery. I’ve also had run-ins with just about every airline I’ve ever flown and rank amongst my least favorite SAS. While it’s true that I haven’t flown them again since they made me feel guilty for not giving up a window seat to sit between two fat dudes on a beautiful daytime flight over Europe, I also haven’t had much in the way of an opportunity to take to the vennlige himmel either.
So there was this part of me that couldn’t determine (and frankly still can’t) what about Brookstone left with such a persistent and negative feeling. Just walking by their store made me grumble the way you do at another driver who is annoying you in traffic. You’re just happy to get away from them. It was as much my surprise at my own intransigence that led me to write about it.
The one thing I didn’t think would come out of it would be any sort action on anyone’s part. For me it was looking back at something that had already happened, something that was history, and just telling the story. This is where our subtitular “power of social networking” comes into play.
The old adage was that the customer who gets good service tells one person but the customer who gets bad service will tell ten. That was mostly true six years ago. For me it was more like twenty and if you add the trickle down theory of people I told telling other people and so on and so on and so on (thanks Faberge shampoo!) you probably maxed out at about fifty people. No big deal, right?
Since I wrote my post, it has been viewed 140 times. If you type “I hate Brookstone” into Google, I’m the fourth option down. I don’t know where I come up on “Brookstone bad customer service” but that search string returns 684,000 results (in .26 seconds, no less.)
The internet (and the ability of shmoes like me to write on it) has given every bad customer service interaction the potential to go viral and become a huge problem for companies. There was the video sensation “United Breaks Guitars” or the soldier shooting up his HP printer. Google the name “Paul Christoforo” for one of the most grand-daddiest of all customer service screw-ups.
No, I did not go viral but that was very much not my intention. What I did do, though, was tweet a link to my post with an “@Brookstone” attached.
Enter Mike Hansen.
The same day my post went up I got a comment on it from Mike. He worked at Brookstone and was reaching out to me to apologize for what had happened and find a way, in his words, to make it right.
I was gobsmacked (not a word I get to use often. In fact, if we’re going to be technical about it – not really a word at all.) In thinking about what I write, I think only about the people I know who read this. I don’t always follow with the Twitter as I should and I think had I written this one later at night I wouldn’t have done it. But that “@Brookstone” ended up making all the difference.
I e-mailed Mike and asked for a phone number where I could reach him. I gave it a day or two and then ended up leaving him a message. He called me back after eight o’clock on a Friday night. He was working late.
As it turned out, to say that Mike wasn’t part of the company when I had my problems with them is a bit of an understatement. He had only been with Brookstone for a matter of weeks. He was brought in, he explained to me, as a “culture changer.”
His background is in nursing and HR and not, at all really, in the selling of knick-knacks and do-dads. It would appear that someone at the company finally came to the conclusion that the “Wicked Witch of the West” types that I had dealt with years earlier were doing much more harm than good. The culture was bad and it needed changing.
To his credit, when I wanted to spend time on the phone learning more about him and his approach to this new job of his, he was game. He was not grudgingly reaching out to me just because I had posted and promoted something negative. There’s no customer service and then there is the begrudging customer service that comes in the form of someone essentially trying to buy you off for as little as possible so you’ll just go away. This wasn’t Mike’s approach in the least.
He talked about his past and I illuminated more of my experience. He asked me questions that made it clear he had not only read my whole post but retained it as well. He didn’t dive right into the bargaining of what it would take to make me go away. This was a good choice by him since I wasn’t really interested in that idea. I was taking a much more journalistic approach to this unforeseen development.
In the end, we were on the phone for nearly a half hour and it was, aside from the business of it all, a very enjoyable conversation. When, for instance, I asked how he had found my post so quickly and he told me about their Twitterific vigilance, this lead to entire side conversation about the power of social media and just some of the effort he was undertaking to make the most of it.
It wasn’t just about responding to customers, he told me, but how they responded as well. It had to be more than just a “we’re sorry.” I can get my five-year-old to say “I’m sorry” to any of the people he wrongs on a daily basis, but to get him to convince someone he means it is entirely different. Brookstone has made some big, positive leaps forward in even monitoring something like Twitter but their responses, especially when limited by that 140-character limit, need to be finely honed. This was Mike’s take on it, by the way, not my own.
We talked about the fact that their on-line and retail businesses were in many ways separate and this didn’t always work well for either them or the customers. He made mention of some other companies (Zappos in particular) who understood that sometimes taking a small loss on a return item can lead to bigger gain from a return customer.
We also talked about the fact that he was based in Missouri and not New Hampshire as I had assumed and about the fact that I had just finished coaching Maggie’s soccer team and we had won. Neither of us was rushing through the conversation and at no point did I feel like he wanted me to just take something and move on.
And at no point did he ever ask me to change or remove a word from what I had written. He still hasn’t.
In the end, he and I found a way to make the past right; more right than I could have imagined in fact. I haven’t yet made it back into a store but I know that I am going to do so soon. I no longer feel angry every time I walk past their North Shore Mall location. Rather, I think of Mike and the fact that this company now has at least this guy, this one guy, who understands what customers like myself really want. The fact that they hired a culture-changer at all, come to think of it, indicates that they actually have more than one person that understands this. Mike is just beginning the process but, as far as this customer is concerned, he’s off to a great start.
And that’s what I am now. Once again, I can call myself a customer of Brookstone.