Saturday, February 28, 2009

Customer Service: Your lifeline in the Crisis (Nicolette Wuring)

Editors Note: 

General Electric’s Jeff Immelt recently noted that the global economy is not simply undergoing an economic downturn, but an emotional, social and economic reset.  

Is your management team feeling panic about that?  Applying the thinking developed by the trustmeisters here in the Reputation Garage can help.  If Mr. Immelt is right, and we think he is, your management team will need to radically change its playbook.  And not only have the rules changed, there is not yet a lot of clarity around what the new game board looks like. 

Below our newest “trustmeister,” Amsterdam-based Nicolette Wuring, offers thoughts as this relates to her specialty: customer advocacy, operations and service.  In a follow-up piece, Nicolette will offer tips for keeping customers in this rough and tumble environment.


As your management team works its plans to manage the current downturn, it’s worth remembering that we are all at once suffering a financial market crisis, a world economic crisis, a management crisis, an ethics/values crisis, and a crisis of changing consumer purchase and lifestyle priorities. 

First and foremost this crisis is about trust, and trust is earned and lost by people. Over many years businesses became so short-term profit-focused that the managers, employees and even customers became just variables in the profit equation, traded off as assets or liabilities, not as the human beings they are. “Customer right sizing” is but one of hundreds of examples of this.  In too many cases the “right” was for profits, not the customer.  And the customer knew this and promptly withdrew credits on deposit from the company’s earned trust bank.

Or consider the CSR paradigm “People – Planet – Profit” that is widely promulgated here in Europe. Most corporations have not only been short performance on the planet-side, but also on the people-side. This has accelerated the profit collapse. 

The BIG question for industries and companies is how to become profitable again? The answer for 2009 is that you must get much better at finding ways to keep your customers by earning their trust. Relationships develop between people, not between “corporations” and “customers.” That’s where the customer facing people in organizations enter into the equation.

A good starting point is to answer the following questions:

1)     Do we have a strong level of “earned” trust among our customers? 

2)     Can we quantify it?

3)     Do we have strong managerial and operational competency to build trust through our customer-facing operations? 

4)     Have we set the right goals to drive trust, and are the right metrics in place to track progress?

Customer Service, Customer Care, Customer Operations, you know, all those people who manage the trust you build in your business cannot be treated as dehumanized robots, as ‘human doings’, managed at a task level for their quantitative results. One of management’s top priorites right now is to boost their role as the window to ‘the corporation’, representing the organization.  The bottom line?  You must find ways to help your organization to better interact with customers as human beings.  That is how you will earn trust and improve your relationships. 

Nicolette Wuring is an internationally acclaimed and awarded Customer Advocacy thought leader, speaker, author and boardroom advisor to Fortune 500 companies. She is the founder of Customer M@nagement Services,, a strategic consulting firm dedicated to helping business conceive of increasing their economic value by creating emotional connections and trust with their employees and customers.

Her latest book Customer Advocacy: When You Care People Notice is available on Amazon.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

In Toys We Trust (By Jarvis Cromwell)

When my brother sent me an Amazon link to Playmobil’s Security Check Point toy I was sure this was either a joke or a phishing scheme. 

Nope.  It’s real.  Buy it here.  Cost of the toy: $62.  Customer reviews: priceless.

Welcome to planet earth circa 2009.  If we had to pick a symbol for the low-trust headwinds blowing a destructive chill around the globe, this might be it.

Needless to say some Amazon customers are having fun with this one, as in this example:

I was a little disappointed when I first bought this item, because the functionality is limited. My 5 year-old son pointed out that the passenger's shoes cannot be removed. Then, we placed a deadly fingernail file underneath the passenger's scarf, and neither the detector doorway nor the security wand picked it up. My son said "that's the worst security ever!". But it turned out to be okay, because when the passenger got on the Playmobil B757 and tried to hijack it, she was mobbed by a couple of other heroic passengers, who only sustained minor injuries in the scuffle, which were treated at the Playmobil Hospital.

Or this one:

Do they make a Playmobil GSE Mortgage Set, complete with little plastic Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae CEO's, ...and maybe little plastic Congressmen that get really rich, really fast when they are in charge of overseeing little Fannie and Freddie CEO's? ...Oh, ...and maybe an armada of little plastic attorneys to protect the little plastic Congressmen and little plastic Freddie and Fannie CEO's.

Other customers are disturbed:

“It's disturbing because the toy teaches children that fear and paranoia is normal. That it's right and correct for society to distrust its citizens the minute they buy an airline ticket…. It erodes trust between citizens, replacing it with trust in a government entity (HSA)--a government that of late has done quite a bit to suggest that it in no way deserves that trust.”

Unfortunately there is a lot to be disturbed about as a parent in today’s world.  Not just the prospect of terrorism and the loss of childhood innocence, but also trust in the safety of the toys themselves.  More than 20 million toys manufactured in China were recalled for lead paint and other hazards in 2007 — 138 recalls in all.  2008 was better, but there were still over 70 recalls.  We note that Playmobil toys, manufactured in Europe, haven’t had any problems.

A quote from the New York Times in 2007 sums it up:

“Nobody wants to be a paranoid parent,” said Ms. Gumbinner, 39, of Brooklyn Heights, who works as a creative director for a Los Angeles advertising agency and is a co-founder of the site “I mean, where do you draw the line between cautionary and crazy?”

Monday, February 02, 2009

Will Sponsors Throw A Life Line To Michael Phelps?

by Stephanie Fierman

Well. Well, well, well. What can one say about the picture of Michael Phelps smoking marijuana from a bong?
Yes that’s right kids, your gold-medal idol is smoking grass. Weed. Ganja. He’s inhaled. And it looks like he’s done it before, too.

Having moms ourselves, The Garage shudders to think what Phelps’ mother may have said in reaction to the news. And if your Phelps’ reps at Octagon, you've started bailing water. Fast.

Phelps has issued a statement and apology using the “I’m young and dumb” approach and, as Fox Sports is already reporting, this event is likely to fade in the memory of the public. The question is whether sponsors will be willing to help mend his reputation as quickly.

Kid-focused McDonald’s and Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes, for example, have both counted on Phelps to project a wholesome, healthy All-American image. Maybe Phelps could just alter his pitch for McDonald’s a little bit: “Duuuude! After I smoke, I get, like, the wicked munchies. A Big Mac totally hits the spot.” Yikes.

Chances are good that Phelps’ fortunes will survive long-term if this side of him never sees daylight again. But if there's more to come – if this episode turns out to be only Strike 2 following his arrest for drunk driving in 2004 – his sponsorship potential may not recover for decades, if ever.

A version of this post was originally posted at