Is Your Customer Experience "Naughty or Nice?"

Brian Cantor

Companies invest millions of dollars and thousands of hours into their customer service efforts. They consistently attempt to decode customer sentiment, hoping they can deliver products and accompanying support that resonate with buyers.

That "right answer" can often be difficult to uncover. Sometimes, price changes send customers running and the company’s stock price tumbling. Other times, they go without any notice and objection from the market. Sometimes, IVRs and self-service roll-outs make customers feel like the business does not care about their needs. Other times, these measures improve efficiency and put smiles on the faces of those accustomed to dealing with slow, uninformed, unintelligible service reps.

Still, patterns do exist within the market. Just recently, a number of major banking institutions came face to face with outcry in response to proposed fee introductions. Companies like Apple, meanwhile, continue to use simple, tried-and-true tactics for building powerful loyalty with their users.


In conjunction with the holiday season, Consumer Reports issued its annual "naughty or nice" list, putting corporations’ customer service and marketing tactics to the test against some common desirable and undesirable proclivities. Your company might not have made the list, but where do you fall on these polarizing service issues?

(Though summarized and contextualized by CMIQ, the list and its claims are entirely from Consumer Reports)

Naughty Companies – Shame on You!

Illogical, Excessive Fees

Air Tran – The airline actually charges a fee to select a seat when booking online.

Liberty Travel – The agency has been criticized for advertising misleadingly-low prices that do not include an often excessive assortment of taxes and fees. Assorted taxes and fees, baggage charges and flight switch fees are, apparently, relegated to the fine print for some deals.

Southwest – Inconsistent with its brand image and no seat assignment policy, Southwest allows customers to pay an additional $10 per flight to check-in ahead of the pack. This will improve the boarding group position and often give the customer a better pool of seating and overhead bin space options.

Sirius XM – Customers who opt for a paper statement and to pay their monthly bill via check face a $2 monthly surcharge.

Inconsistent Pricing

RadioShack – In this era of omni-channel purchasing, can RadioShack truly justify offering identical products at different prices online than in the retail stores (CMIQ Note: RadioShack is not the only store that does this—there have been first-hand accounts of the same type of disparity at Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Staples, although it could be true that they are more agreeable to honoring the lower price)

Return Headaches

American Apparel – American Apparel offers different return policies for online versus in-store purchases. Online customers have 45 days to return the product, brick-and-mortar customers only have 30.

GameStop – Beneath a sea of "conditions governing returns and exchanges," GameStop ultimately declares it has the right to refuse any return.

Nice Companies – Making Santa (and Customers) Proud!

Returns Happen

Bi-Lo Supermarkets – The supermarket chain offers a double money-back-guarantee on returns for all products, no matter what the reason.

Live Nation – Ticket buyers have three days to cancel their orders and apply for a refund. They can also upgrade to better seats, should they become available after the purchase.

American Express – The credit card company covers certain purchases, offering credit of up to $300 in the event the merchant will not accept a return within a 90 day window.

Microsoft – Allows for returns and refunds on hardware and software purchases, even if the software has been installed on the user’s computer.

REI – The retailer accepts returns and exchanges regardless of the reason, and it gives customers a limitless window to make the return via mail or any brick-and-mortar location.

Costco – The wholesale-style retailer is known for its generous return policy, which can be up to 90 days even on big ticket items.


Cablevision – A great example of brand synergy, customers who subscribe to the cable company’s Triple Play service (phone, Internet and TV) receive, among other Rewards, discounted movie tickets (including a pair of free tickets every Tuesday) and concession stand items at the Clearview Cinemas locations.

Crutchfield – Installation, setup, troubleshooting and tech support are offered to customers for the life of the goods purchased.

Costco – Praised for its return policy, Costco also scores on perks—it extends the warranty of major tech purchases to two years.

"Getting" the Customer

Amazon – Just ask Larry David about the annoyance of hard-to-open technology packaging– it can be miserable. Looking to build a feedback rapport with customers, Amazon urges customers to share photos and commentary on manufactures’ packaging, awarding a "Certified Frustration-Free" logo to those companies that make the grade.

Orvis – The e-tailer is praised for initiating a live chat sequence if a customer browses a specific product for a lengthy period of time (CMIQ Note: It is unclear what Consumer Reports’ criteria is for evaluating this type of service—while the Orvis strategy sounds appealing, many companies can get quite annoying with their "let’s chat about this" pop-up windows)

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