Undercover Opp

One of my favorite television shows this season is “Undercover Boss.” In each episode a CEO of a major corporation volunteers to disguise their appearance and go undercover at their own company for a week to perform various jobs, many of them often entry level. The goal is for the CEO to get a gauge on how well the business practices they and the other senior managers have created are being executed by their employees. While they tend to find many of their policies are effective these CEOs discover where the kinks in the business are as well. And, in the end, the experience often serves as a reminder how much impact frontline employees have in regard to the public’s perception and experience with their company.


Inspired by the show, I recently embarked on my own “undercover” operation and put a number of businesses rules and procedures to the test. From the examples below it’s clear that for some of these companies, their senior management would be embarrassed about how certain policies are being executed and surprised at the amount of money some of these missteps are costing them. Of five retailers, three clearly understood what good service means, but two definitely did not (coincidently those two represent the largest transactions).


Thumbs up to Tractor Supply for allowing me to return a defective $200 dump cart after the manufacturer left me hanging because the item was out of warranty by two weeks and I could not locate my receipt. The cart’s plastic bed cracked while I was transporting a small bush (well under the 1200 pound maximum the cart is advertised to hold) and the manager at my local Tractor Supply accepted responsibility that perhaps the cart was not put together correctly by them which led to the crack. She refunded the cost in full.


Thumbs up to L.L. Bean for taking back a rucksack after I discovered six months after it was purchased that its buckles failed to stay closed. By phone the customer service rep was able to locate my purchase history and guide me to the appropriate return forms on their website. Within two days of me shipping the item back I was credited its full price (plus my shipping costs).


Thumbs up to Costco employees who alerted me during check out that bread is sold as a two pack (I didn’t realize and only had one in my cart) and then mentioned there was a cart near the exit with loaves of bread I could chose from to complete my order. This kind gesture saved me from having to run a football-field length to the back of the store for another package of bread.


Thumbs down to Holoholo Boat Tours in Kauai for not only failing to give me a discount on their tour when I should have received one, but for not recanting that error when it was brought to their attention after the fact.


Thumbs down to Thrifty Car Rental for having an uneducated counter rep insist while walking us through our contract that a car returned a few hours after it was due back would mean we would have to be charged another full day’s fee ($100 plus with taxes) when in fact they only charge you by the hour.


Whether in a good economy or bad can retailers in grocery or any other sector afford to make errors like these? It seems far too many retailers still fail to understand the true value of keeping customers happy and just don’t get the correlation between dissatisfaction with a product or service and the damage to the company’s long-term reputation. Case in point – the Thrifty agent’s error caused us to back away from the rental and go with a competitor — impact to the company, $575 and a loss of all my future business. Holoholo’s $30 decision to stand their ground and insist I did not reference the online discount when I did in reality cost them $600 due to the three people who decided to go with one of their competitors after hearing of my poor customer service experience. So how about you? Up for the chance to go undercover to see for yourself whether some of the policies and procedures your employees are asked to execute make for a happy, long-term customer? I bet what you find might just surprise you.

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