Broken Promises

Were you missing something you ordered this Christmas?

My daughter was. She complained about a number of late-arriving packages ... packages that were supposed to have arrived before the 25th, but didn't. Curious, I did some research on the web to see just how widespread the late-delivery problem was ... and what retailers were doing to make amends with inconvenienced customers expecting last-minute Christmas gifts. I learned my daughter was not alone.

THE CHALLENGE: It was a disappointing Christmas for many shoppers, particularly those who placed orders after mid-December. In part, this was because of record levels of online orders during the final week of the holiday shopping season, and in part it was because of bad weather and logistical problems. The poor attitude of many front-line service people also played a role. It all added up to a huge holiday mess. Consider the following.

» A big Colorado snowstorm led to late arrivals of approximately 50,000 packages that UPS had committed to deliver in time for holiday gift-giving. After publicly promising refunds, UPS then unwisely changed its mind, earning itself both bad press and enduring consumer anger. As one fed-up consumer put it, "This makes no sense. They get paid. It snows in Colorado. That's what it does here. So how are you in the business that you can't deliver what you say?"

» FedEx had major lapses in on-time delivery and customer satisfaction. FedEx is still reeling from the damage inflicted on its brand by this real-life footage of a delivery employee carelessly lobbing a customer's computer monitor over a fence -- thus destroying the monitor. Seven million people have now seen the video.

»The US Postal Service finally delivered one very patient Arkansas customer's holiday package. The package arrived on December 16, 2011. It had been postmarked on December 10 ... of the previous year!

THE MARKETING TAKEAWAYS: Following are three lessons for marketers based on the holiday problems that too many consumers experienced.

Lesson #1: Late delivery and poor service are not "Operations problems." If an internal problem affects consumers, that's a marketing issue -- as both FedEx and UPS learned the hard way this year. Acknowledge the problem, be accountable for it publicly, and say exactly what you are doing to fix it.

Lesson #2: Attitude matters. Interestingly, most of the online complaints I read centered more on the poor communication skills of front-line service people than on the actual delays. This means there is a serious hiring and training gap. That should be fixed, too.

Lesson #3: When you break a brand promise, make amends. Although FedEx and UPS have issued limited "apologies" for the most outrageous breaches of their commitments to consumers this December, neither industry giant seems to have grasped the magnitude of what just happened. Each broke critical brand promises. Consumers who trusted them and were let down deserve restitution.

Ernan Roman is President of the marketing consultancy, Ernan Roman Direct Marketing.
Recognized as the industry pioneer who created three transformational methodologies: Integrated Direct Marketing, Opt-In Marketing, and Voice of Customer Relationship Research.

Ernan was recently inducted into the Marketing Hall of Fame.

Clients include Microsoft, NBC Universal, Disney, Hewlett-Packard and IBM.

2010-12-08-ernan.jpgErnan was named to "B to B's Who's Who" as one of the "100 most influential people" in Business Marketing by Crain's B to B Magazine.

His fourth and latest book on marketing best practices is titled: Voice of the Customer Marketing: A Proven 5-Step Process to Create Customers Who Care, Spend, and Stay.

Ernan is also the co-author of "Opt-In Marketing: Increase Sales Exponentially with Consensual Marketing" and author of "Integrated Direct Marketing: The Cutting Edge Strategy for Synchronizing Advertising, Direct Mail, Telemarketing and Field Sales."