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Arizona issues Arizona social issues Mobile technology

High Noon at the Nail Saloon

My son recently treated me to a much-needed pedicure at the neighborhood nail saloon–er, salon–which was much calmer than an earlier visit a few years back! So I thought I’d repost this older blog. The salon has new owners and employees who were alternately shocked and amused when I mentioned the events below!


Every now and then, I have a manicure or a pedicure.  So it was exciting for me and my neighbors when a nail salon opened right around the corner from us.

Not long after they opened their doors, I went in to ask if they were interested in getting a website. The staff didn’t seem to understand, or maybe they weren’t interested so I didn’t employ my usual charm and persuasiveness. But I took a brochure.

The Nail Salon Owner Likes My Dogs

Some weeks later, a woman who I think is one of the owners stopped me as I was walking by with my dogs. She fell in love with them. Not enough to get her off her mobile phone, but enough to shoot questions like “what kind of dogs are these?” “where did you get them?” and my all-time favorite, “how old are your puppies?”

Most impressive was that while petting them and making personal comments about Dino and Bella (“he’s kind of fat, isn’t he?”), she continued a lively conversation with someone in, I think, Vietnamese. I was impressed with this display of bilingual multitasking. I mean, I can’t even chew gum and write at the same time.

The Nail Salon Became the Nail Saloon

This past Good Friday, I decided to get a pedicure. My boyfriend asked if I’d accompany him, his mother, and his brother to Good Friday evening services. Since I’d never been to a Greek Orthodox service, and he’s been diligent about attending my Sedars, it sounded like a great idea and nice thing to do with his family.

But my feet were a mess, the weather was warm, and I wanted to wear my cute Tommy Hilfiger chunky sandals. It was time to visit the nail salon.

For the record, the service was great. It was more than half-full when I arrived but there was enough staff for someone to take me right away. The pedicure chairs were leather (maybe fake, I really don’t care), comfortable, and had all those kneading and rolling settings. The attendant brought me a cold bottle of water–a nice touch. I chose a pedicure spa treatment that included…well, you don’t need the details but let me tell you, that cheese grater thing took off about an inch of dead heel skin and my feet have never felt so good.

Enter the Nail Saloon Battlers

I had barely noticed a rather large woman on her cellphone when I entered the salon. But about halfway through the treatment, I heard her loud and clear and trust me, I wasn’t listening for her. I had my earbuds in, listening to the classic rock station on my own smartphone. I may even have closed my eyes for a minute or two. Until I started to hear snippets about a problem at work, something about a lawsuit, and a lot of talk that really shouldn’t be out on the public airwaves:

  • “I will send you a memo with bullet points detailing everything that happened.”
  • “I understand they intend to sue. I have a defense.”
  • “That just isn’t true!”

And on and on. And louder and louder. I looked at the woman working on my pedicure, and she looked at me. She and her coworkers looked at each other.

Drawing of a mobile device with a slash through it - turn it off!
Turn it off dammit!

Finally, a tall slender woman who’d walked in maybe five minutes earlier got up and said, loudly, (I’m still wearing my earbuds) “I’m sorry, I just can’t relax in here with her shouting.” And off she stalked to the front, stopping at the cash register and adding “I will still pay for your time.”

At that point, Loud Woman finally ended her conversation. I returned to listening for tickets to see Heart at the Celebrity Theater. Then the shouting started. Thin Woman yelled at Loud Woman for being selfish. “You’ve ruined everyone’s afternoon. No one here wanted to hear you on your cellphone. This is not the place to take calls like that.”

“I had to take that call. You have no idea why.”

“Oh yes I do. I think everyone here does. And no one wanted to hear your sorry-ass business problems.” She looked at the rest of us gaping at them. “How many people here think she’s behaved selfishly?”

We all raised our hands. The employees froze.

The Fight is On – Words and a Big Gulp Fly!

Loud Woman did look embarrassed for a moment as she turned to look back and saw everyone’s hands in the air. “If I behaved inappropriately I apologize.”

Thin Woman was on a roll. “You behaved like a real asshole. I came here–we all came here–to relax. No one can relax with you shouting your shit all over the place.”

“You can’t talk to me like that!”

“I can and I am–because you are an asshole! What kind of example do you think you’re setting for your daughter over there?” (points to a girl of about 11 or 12 who was sitting quietly on the other side of the salon. I had noticed her texting through a manicure).

Now I know, and the owners should have known, that when you start dragging someone’s kids into an argument and comments on how you’re raising them, that’s fightin’ words. And sure enough, a fight broke out.

Thin Woman stepped around the cashier, who was trying to block her way, to face Loud Woman, whose feet were still in a tub. There was another exchange, a dare to repeat something that was duly repeated, and Thin Woman lunged toward Loud Woman.

By then, the single man working there–possibly a co-owner–raced over and physically separated them. A second later, the cashier–the same woman who had admired my dogs– jumped behind Thin Woman to pull her away. At the same time, Loud Woman threw her Big Gulp at Thin Woman drenching her and the owners.

More shouting, and Thin Woman departed.

We customers all looked at each other. “Well,” someone said, “not what you see every day at a nail salon.”

Photo by Mike “Dakinewavamon” Kline

Categories
Internet access Marketing

Falling Off the Phone Tree

I’ve become pretty familiar with phone trees since I started providing phone captioning services for people with hearing disabilities.

This service is provided free from the Federal government through phone service taxes. But many of its users struggle with automated answering tools businesses use to reduce the number of live customer service agents. Here in Arizona, “customer care centers” (aka call centers) used to be a thriving industry that’s rapidly being replaced by this type of phone automation.

Trim the Phone Tree

Phone trees are often programmed to encourage people to go online for their customer service needs.

This is a problem for many elderly customers who can’t, or won’t use the internet for a myriad of reasons. Their phone is their main connection to the outside world.

I’m seeing two trends in “customer care.” Neither  are good for older people who rely on phone services:

  • Long hold times interrupted with messages to visit a website
  • Complicated phone instructions requiring several inputs

Both include automated messages of varying speeds and at different volumes. This is definitely not senior-friendly.

The Phone Tree System: Internet or Else!

I’ve been amazed at the patience of people  who remain on hold for a half-hour or more to settle a problem with credit cards or bank accounts. In many cases, they have no choice because they have trouble navigating internet sites or they don’t go online at all.

Yes, such people exist and they still deserve to be served. Pushing everyone to use web-based solutions is a terrible idea. It’s frankly  rude to those can’t access the internet or simply don’t understand it. Or who, like one of my clients, refuses to “learn computers” but still runs a thriving business as offline as possible.

Some phone trees are real hornets’ nests.

Then there is voice-recognition technology that makes the situation worse. Aging can affect a once-booming voice, but I’ve heard people quite clearly speak their account numbers only to be told, or interrupted before they finish, that “I did not understand you. Please try again.”

If there’s a problem understanding a caller, send the call to a live agent on —  preferably within a minute or two.

Phone Trees Are Too Fast for Many Customers

Older people take longer to process information and phone trees tend to be very rushed. Add in the inevitable delay for people who read captions generated on their phones, who find themselves in a vicious cycle of repeat-wait-repeat-wait-disconnect.

Customer-facing businesses need to understand that there are times when live, fluent customer service agents are necessary, even for the non-elderly or not-yet elderly. There are times when I opt for a live agent simply because the company’s online customer service process is so onerous it’s easier to put the phone on speaker and do something else while I’m on hold.

I’m fairly internet savvy so if I find a website to be burdensome, I can only imagine what it’s like for someone who retired around the time the internet took off.

Sometimes an older person will ask for the automated system to repeat something and are put on hold, where they get helpful advice to “resolve the problem faster” by going online to visit:

“www.VERYLONGBUSINESSNAME.com/customercare and click on the Help Me tab at the top right-hand side of the page.”

A person who doesn’t want to go online, or can’t, may get an estimated wait time as long as 40 minutes. Seriously.

I’m glad to report that most people who wait for a live agent are gracious to them. Agents are usually (but not always) polite as well, even if they have to be told to speak more slowly.

Some Phone Trees Have Too Many Branches

Phone trees that force extensive interaction with the phone are the worst. And again, much of the problem is with instructions spoken too fast plus extremely limited time for callers to respond.

I’ve been surprised myself when I’m about to respond to a phone prompt only to hear “invalid response” because I haven’t entered the information yet. I’m still pretty spry but sometimes I have to take off my glasses to read an account or credit card number. This nanosecond of activity is apparently too long for some phone automation systems.

Now think of older people who move more slowly to put on or take off glasses or reach for a pair. They will never make the automated system happy.

Those who are waiting for a caption to come through sometimes don’t even get to finish reading the instructions before  the command “invalid input please try again” comes through. This understandably flusters them. So they either press zero for an operator to be put on a (usually) long hold, or just hang up. I’ve noticed that men hang up more often than women.

Calling the doctor? Be prepared to memorize a long list of “options”

numbered buttons
Press one if you’re calling from a physician’s office…

Physician offices have long phone trees with a lot of  “options” to remember. Here’s a typical example:

  1. “If you are a physician or calling from a physician’s office, press one.”

Do their calls go to some special Bat Phone that’s answered right away? Why do physician offices get priority anyway? Shouldn’t patients be the center of the medical universe?

2. “If you are a pharmacist, press two.”

3. “If you are calling for a prescription refill, please hang up and contact your pharmacy.”

4. “If you are calling to schedule, change, or cancel an appointment, press three.”

5. “If you need to speak to a nurse, press four.”

  • If you need to speak to Dr. Dre’s medical assistant, press 127594.
  • If you need to speak to Dr. Oz’s nurse, press 460367.
  • If you need to speak to Dr. Gupta’s PA, press, 9904523.

Actually, my sample names are too short. Many doctors seem to have really long names. To continue:

6. “If you are calling for a referral, press five.”

7. “If you are calling for a medical records release, please fax your request to 212-555-4593.”

8. “If you are calling to speak to our billing office, please hang up and dial 1-888-555-4529 and dial extension 460285.”

9. “To repeat these options, press six.”

Is this really necessary? How about offering a short menu like “Patients and their representatives press one. All other calls press two” and go from there.

Phone Trees Don’t Have to Be a Burden

I get it. Companies like automation and there probably is no going back.

Going forward, more seniors will be perfectly fine using the web to schedule doctor appointments, check their financial statements, and order take-out.

But right now, many phone trees expect too much from callers. If hiring someone to answer the phone isn’t an option, businesses that rely on this technology can make a few changes that make them easier to live with:

  • Drop the long-winded menus
  • Use the same voice throughout the menu
    • Slow down the tempo!
    • Keep an even volume
  • Don’t bother with messages to entertain or inform people on hold.
    • They can confuse callers who think they’ve been connected to a sales office.
    • When a live person does pick up, the person waiting may not realize he’s no longer on hold! This sometimes results in the call being disconnected.

It’s OK to offer an online option to take care of customer service issues, but it should never feel like waiting for a live agent is some kind of punishment. Use a creative solution like an automated callback or a voicemail message that will be returned.

Remember, seniors talk to each other about how they’re treated not only by their children, but by doctors, financial advisers (who usually have excellent phone skills), and the customer service they get from services like credit cards, banks, and cable companies or DISH.

Categories
Arizona business Lifestyle Marketing

When a Coupon Isn’t a Reward

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post on LinkedIn about making customer rewards like coupons worthwhile to customers.

I relayed a story from a friend about a spelling-challenged bakery that had mangled the spelling of her son’s name on his birthday cake. In exchange for their trouble, she got a complimentary mini-quiche and access to an email service that provided free items at local shops. Trouble was, the shops weren’t local to her, and most required her to purchase something before getting the freebie.

Around the same time, my local grocery store began handing out slips labeled “not a coupon” that gave fairly detailed instructions about how to get future coupons. My post questioned the wisdom of making it difficult for customers to use the rewards shops and brands bestow upon them.

Are Coupons Always the Answer to Encourage Brand Loyalty?

Branding is a very important part of marketing. It sets products apart from competitors.

Coupons have long been important marketing strategies for brands. As a consumer, though, I have to question if they are always the answer to promote brand loyalty.

I recently got another “not a coupon” that apparently wants me to carefully track certain purchases in order to qualify for a future register discount. In this case, the point is to encourage General Mills products.

Problem is, I don’t really care which conglomerate manufactures the cereal or granola bars I buy. Like a growing number of consumers, my #1 focus are the ingredients, one in particular: high-fructose corn syrup. I do not buy any products that contain it.

And if a “coupon” like this one restricts me to certain “participating” brands-within-a-brand, I really am not interested in it at all.

I first saw these "not coupons" like this one in 2013.
Coupon confusion isn’t new.

To make it even more confusing, the fine print lists several participating General Mills brands “and many more.” How would I know what ones are participating? I suppose I can rely on the store to tag the participating brands. But is all this planning worth my time and the store’s?

I mean, I do plan my shopping and make a list. I think most people do. And I note on my list certain brands to buy when (1) I have a coupon and (2) I have already vetted the ingredients.

One of this store’s competitors has made it super-easy to use coupons through an app that downloads coupons to my store card. Now that’s convenient.

I call up the app while I’m shopping to make sure I’m buying the right quantity, size, etc. I’m actually more loyal to the store than to any brand other than those I habitually buy because they meet my “standards.”

Not All Brands Issue Coupons

There are a couple of brands that have won my loyalty outside the supermarket. Neither of them issues coupons, at least not as far as I know.

One is Gloria Vanderbilt jeans and slacks. I’m not very comfortable wearing most other brands. But Gloria’s have never let me down.

I’ve worn her clothing for approximately 16 years, which coincides with my son’s birth. Before that, I wore other brands as well. I was despondent until I tried GV. God bless you, Gloria.

I have never received a GV coupon but I do get general discount coupons from the store itself.  Ironically, the same store also supplies the only jeans brand my son wears. However, I have never been alerted to sales for either of these brands. This is interesting. Obviously, I don’t have to buy jeans as often as, say, eggs or orange juice, but you’d think stores would track branded buys, wouldn’t you?

Make Coupons and Customer Rewards Easier to Use

I’ll reiterate an earlier plea for stores and brands to make coupons and other rewards easier to use.

The store where I buy GV sends out general discount coupons pretty often. It also rewards purchases with small dollar-amount coupons that expire within a couple of weeks.

Maybe I’m not a typical shopper. I think I used these two-week coupons just once. I wish the store would extend their coupons’ shelf lives like the grocery stores and grocery brands do.

Here are a few other ideas I’ve heard, some of them from readers:

  • If you’re participating in a “shop local” rewards program, provide a map that shows where each participating store is located. It’s easier for customers and boosts your program by showing how many stores are part of the program.
  • Don’t penalize long-term customers by always refusing to share special offers for new customers with them. Some crafty customers will cancel a magazine subscription, for example, if the renewal is expensive and wait out the time for new customer deals.
  • Give customers more time to use coupons or rewards.
  • If you’re an e-commerce company, offer free shipping as often as possible and not just for first-time customers.

Remember, customer loyalty can’t be taken as a given. Unless your product is truly unique (as GV is for me), your competitors will figure out how to attract your customers.

I’m curious to know what you would like to tell your favorite shop or brand to do to make you even more loyal? Will you share it below?

 

Categories
Marketing

Be Smart With Coupon Offers

Do you use coupons? I use the ones that are easy on me, like these from Ace. I get them through snail-mail about once a month.

Ace coupons are easy to use within a generous timeframe.
Ace is the place for coupons!

Coupon fans run the gamut from those who check out the coupons from those mailer packets to those with apps on their smartphones and save tens, if not hundreds, of dollars, when they shop.

I once worked at Target and was truly wowed by people who showed up with handfuls of clipped coupons from the Sunday paper. Once, I rang up a couple who saved over $300! I was truly awed although the managers were visibly annoyed.

Coupons endure for merchants and customers. Smart merchants will target (no pun intended) coupons to people who regularly use them and sweeten the deal by making them easy to redeem.

Is Your Coupon Really Special?

A few years ago, a friend in New York put me in stitches with a coupon story.

She went to a neighborhood bakery to order a birthday cake for her eight-year-old son. Upon picking up the cake, she discovered her son’s name was misspelled.

His name isn’t all that unusual. She has excellent handwriting. There’s just no way that someone can read the name “Seth” spelled out in block letters as “Sith.”

I should mention this was around the time a Star Wars movie came out. It introduced us to the Sith, who are not nice beings.

“Velerie” asked to speak with the bakery manager, who was a little embarrassed about the misspelling. She managed to change it without mangling the cake decoration.

She also gave my friend a mini-quiche for her trouble and added her name to a “special” email list where she would receive offers for free samples from several “nearby” establishments.

If you live in New York, nearby means a short walk, or maybe a quick subway ride. It does not mean the other side of town.

My friend lives uptown, near Columbia University, but some of the offers came from stores all the way down town, like in SoHo. The only actual offer in her neighborhood was from the same “bakkery.”

And with one exception, all the “free” samples required a purchase. What’s so special about that?

Don’t Be Stingy With Discounts

One trend I don’t understand is to make customers work for a discount.

In other words, being kind of stingy with coupons. I see this in grocery store brands that offer discounts if  you buy four or five of their products to get the discount.

I certainly understand the idea of brand loyalty. People will be loyal to brands that have products directly related to one another.

For example, iPhone owners will buy an Apple watch. And if you’ve had good luck with a particular brand like KitchenAid, you’ll probably buy another KitchenAid device rather than a Cuisinart.

I’m not so sure this carries over in the grocery store, though. When I jot down that we need ketchup, I already know I want ketchup that doesn’t have high fructose corn syrup. Only a few brands offer this, and they raise their prices to leave out this totally unnecessary ingredient.

A coupon should be easy to use and not require customers to work for it.
This coupon requires customers to work for it.

But why make me buy four more Heinz products to get the discount? Honestly, I’d have to think about other products Heinz makes and whether I need them right now.

Coupons that at least tell you what the manufacturer offers are a little more helpful, like this “non-redeemable” one. It also requires careful date-tracking, making you work twice as hard for a few bucks off. I received this coupon about a month before I could even use it.

Don’t Forget to Reward Existing Customers

One of my pet peeves are rewards for new customers only.

My boyfriend recently decided it’s time to upgrade from his iPhone 4 (don’t laugh) for the iPhone 7 after seeing several ads on TV his provider was running for new customers.

He figured that since he’d been with the provider for several years, he would be able to make a deal. But his provider is apparently blind to loyalty.

So he signed up with another provider, paid a bit more to get the 7 plus, and dumped the old provider.

I’ve had a similar experience with my internet provider. I constantly received cards and emails encouraging me to switch to it to get all kinds of cool services for free. I called to get the freebies and was informed these offers are only for new customers.

I pointed out I had been a loyal customer for eight years. The sales associate agreed. I asked if I could cancel right then, and restart the service to get those great deals. Nope; I’d have to go without for at least three months.

Since there’s really only one other ISP in my area, I swallowed my pride and stayed. But, I did call some months later threatening to switch and was able to get basic cable and the Internet for a lower price.

Sometimes, just asking politely works. A while back I noticed an American Express booth at Costco that was giving away really high-quality insulated coffee cups to people who signed up. I immediately wanted one but I already had the Costco AmEx. I explained this to the guy in the booth who shrugged and handed one over.

“You deserve a reward now and then,” he said.

Show Your Customers Genuine Appreciation

You know who your best customers are. Give them rewards they can use.

Here are some ideas I found from Hubspot and Marketing Donut:

  • Reward each purchase. Walgreen’s awards purchase points you later use at the register.
  • Offer cumulative discounts and allow a reasonable time frame to redeem them.
  • If you ship product, ship for free for orders over a certain amount.
  • Partner with nearby businesses that provide complementary services. If you own a pet store, maybe the groomer down the street would consider entering into a loyalty program with you.
  • Offer discounts on special sales days to customers on your email list.
  • Give away a few free items for multiple or high-cost purchases. Make sure the customer can use the giveaway; if not, offer an alternative or raincheck.

I have a friend who buys her makeup at Macy’s. They keep giving makeup samples that are obviously not for her skin type. She’s too polite to ask for samples that match her skin. But shouldn’t people who sell makeup give her freebies she can use?

Coupons are a great way to attract and retain customers. But if you make them difficult to use, aren’t particularly useful, or exclude current customers, they’ll get tossed into the email or actual trash. Be nice to y0ur customers and offer them coupons and deals they can use.