Saturday, April 22, 2006

New Regular Feature: Jake's Rules Of Customer Interaction

I'm frequently peeved at the clueless ways in which the big boys deal with customers. Sometimes, it's just one store, or just one region, and sometimes the stupidity envelopes the entire chain.

I'm just guessing here, but I'm pretty sure that I'm bothered by this often enough that I can begin writing about it regularly. If I can do that, then I can make my own little guide. Thus, "Jake's Rules Of Customer Interaction."

My motivation for writing this is not only to get my views out there. Oh sure, I'd love it if the business world dropped everything and read my posts to get a pulse of what's going on out there. But that isn't going to happen. What I really want is insurance against a coming age of similar cluelessness. I know a lot in bursts, and sometimes I forget a lot of really important things that were once fresh to me. I want a place to read from a younger, more in-touch-with-the-consumer-mindset, clueful me. And that is this place. Off we go!

A semi-relative is getting married. She, and her semi-relatedness are unrelated, and her husband is mostly irrelevant also. Mostly.

He used to work at a Subway near my former home in Clinton. This was the period of 2000-2002 or so. At the time, Subway as a chain (as I got the story) was having a problem with stolen rolls of stamps.

You probably already know this, but Subway had for years a loyalty reward program that dealt with filling a card up with stamps and trading it in for free food. You had to make purchases to get stamps, unless you found a way to steal a roll of stamps from a Subway restaurant. Then you'd have a free 12" sandwich for every 12 stamps (or was it 10?) you licked and stuck to Subway Club cards.

I've heard that for a while, you could even buy counterfeit stamps on Ebay and pull the same scam with the same result.

As I was told, for a time each Subway location was to determine on its own what to do about stamp fraud. Some stores made no changes, and some decided to punish customers.

I'm not going to sugar coat this. The Subway stores that did anything but business as usual were punishing customers for an internal problem. This is an extremely unwise business strategy.

In light of this threat, the Clinton store first made the policy that only stamps from that store would be honored. I worked, went to friends' houses, and went on other trips at the time, and I'd generally end up with stamps from three or four Subway locations on each card. But my home Subway no longer wanted my stamps. I was unhappy, and I told the store manager as much. But why listen to customers? What do they know?

Next, this Subway decided that they would keep the Subway Club cards in a recipe box at that Subway. If you were a customer and you wanted a stamp, then you would have to put your name, address, and phone number on a card so that they could pull your card out of the box and apply the stamps themselves the next time you came in for a sandwich.

The privacy implications alone make my libertarian heart scream. I chewed on the manager for a while, and told her that I wouldn't be coming back unless they fixed it.

About six months later, I went back in. An employee there (might be the guy that's getting married) said he hadn't seen me in a while and thought I'd never come back. I asked him if the store had corrected its course, he said no, I left. I haven't been to that Subway since.

"But what about the new Subway Cards?"

Now when I go to a Subway, I hand a plastic card with a mag stripe on it to the clerk, and he/she puts a point onto it for every whole dollar I spend at the restaurant. I like Subway sandwiches a lot, and I generally carry 600-700 points on my card at any given time. Sometimes I use a few of them, but mostly I just let them rack up. The kid running the register frequently utters something like "OMGWTF?" when he/she sees how many points I have, and I usually make a joke about saving up for the Subway Cadillac. This is how we play our game. But is it ok?

There are two problems with the new card program.

First, if you pay attention, the free stuff actually costs more than double now. Six 12" sandwiches used to earn me 12 stamps, which amounted to a free 12" sandwich. If a 12" sandwich runs $5-7, then I spent $30-$42 for each free sandwich. Now a free 12" sandwich costs me 90 points, which is easy, because that means $90 whole dollars spent at the register, not including the change I spent on each purchase. If my purchase total came to $4.92, that's 4 points according to their rules.

So I'm being rewarded less than half as much, or I'm paying more than twice as much for the same reward as before. You can see it how you choose. Either way, Subway is getting screwed less (no stolen stamps), and I'm getting screwed more.

Second, Subway brought in the sandbags when the storm had already done the damage. The Clinton store management had already left me outraged and not spending money at Subway with no solution in sight. Subway had already punished their customers for a good couple of years before the first new Subway Cards were being handed out. They lost money because they couldn't swallow the idea of giving away a few more fraudulent sandwiches before they could get the new program in place.

Thank you, Krys, for helping me put words to the above idea.

Subway, Subway. For all your "Doctor's" this and "Fresh" that, you and all the king's marketers couldn't have seen this coming? Maybe I'm giving you too much business even today, in the age of digital points.

And so I give you, and all the world, and most of all me:

Jake's First Rule Of Customer Interaction:

Don't punish your customers for internal problems. Solve them from the inside out, and make the solution apparent to the customer only when absolutely necessary.

And thus it is written. Good night, brothers and sisters.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What you are saying is exactly right -- I have worked for Subway both as a sandwich maker and also as a store inspector (or "consultant" as they call it!)

The problem with Subway is that in many aspects of the business, they don't have the control over the store owners to keep them from doing things such as what you described with the cards.

The owners often do things that are against "Subway Policy" for one reason or another, and lose customers in the meantime!

That's just the way it is -- maybe with all franchises to some degree, but with Subway I've seen it a lot!!!