With Christmas only 8 days away, you know the big man is doing his final check on his Naughty and Nice lists. This week Jimmy Kimmel was doing his part to help Santa identify the Naughty and Nice kids. If you didn't catch that episode, check out this short video:
Like Jimmy, Consumer Reports is identifying the Naughty and Nice companies! They recently released their annual Naughty and Nice Holiday List. This list is based on input from Consumer Reports reporters and editors who cover retail, travel, hospitality and telecommunications.
RadioShack: RadioShack definitely earned its spot on the Naughty list this year. They admit customers may see completely different prices online and in the store. When a reader shopped for an HDMI audio-visual cable, the store price was nearly twice the online price. Ouch. Hope Santa brings them coal for that one!
Verizon Wireless: After landing on the Naughty list last year for doubling their Early Termination Fee for smart phone users, Verizon found itself on the Naughty list this again year. To battle the Federal Communications Commissions plan to make it mandatory to alert customers before they exceed their monthly minutes, messages or data allotment, Verizon says they voluntarily provide ample warning to customers before they go over. Consumer Reports writers recently were notified only after they went over their allotment. Then Verizon took the opportunity to try to up-sell them to pricier plans. While not a guarantee Verizon wont find itself on the Naughty list again next year, under a deal passed with the FCC in mid-October members of the CTIA (the Wireless Association representing 97% of wireless carriers) agreed to begin issuing alerts of impending overages with a full implementation by April 2013.
AirTran: This cheap little airline finds itself on the Naughty list because you cannot pick your seat when you book your ticket. If you'd like to select your seat during booking, you'll be charged an additional $6 - $20 each way. At that price, I'll take my chances when I check-in 24 hours before the flight. If you're traveling AirTran this holiday season, I'll let you in on a little known secret: if you want the extra leg room without the price, check if the aisle rows are still available when you get to the gate. They'll be happy to change your seats (at no extra cost).
Southwest Airlines: As we all know, Southwest does not assign seats before boarding the plane. The chances of getting a prime seat is all based on boarding zone, which is determined when you check in. For an extra $10 per flight, travelers can check-in earlier to improve their group boarding position, which leads to better seats and their pick of the overhead space. Bags may fly free, but your bag may have a better seat than you do if you get the last boarding group. Another note, Southwest now also owns AirTran, is it a coincidence they both are on the Naughty list?
The Swiss Colony: This Wisconsin-based mail-order food firm is in "good" company with the policy that landed them on the Naughty list this year. Like many other businesses, they tie delivery fees to the dollar amount of an order rather than size and weight. If an order totals $25, shipping and processing is $5.95, but if the order totals $25.01 (yes, just one cent more), the shipping and processing jumps $2.99 per shipping address.
American Apparel, Liberty Travel, Sirus XM Satellite Radio and GameStop also earned a spot on the 2011 Naughty list.
Cablevision: Normally I expect telecom companies to appear on the Naughty list. However, Cablevision found itself on the Nice list this year because it offers more to subscribers who sign up for its Optimum Triple Play: free movie tickets on Tuesdays and deeply discounted tickets on other days. Customers who sign up for Cablevision's Optimum Rewards program also get perks like discounted popcorn and soda at participating theaters.
Live Nation: Live Nation found itself on the Nice list this year because it gives fans three days to cancel their ticket order and get a refund at participating venues. They also allow customers to exchange seats as better ones become available.
American Express: Amex always finds itself on my Nice list for the same reason it's on Consumer Reports': Peace of Mind. American Express' policy will cover a cardholder (full price up to $300 per covered item, $1000 per year) if they try to return it to the merchant within 90 days and are unsuccessful.
Costco: Costco finds itself on the list again this year. Like American Express, Costco gives customers peace of mind. They have a generous return policy and provide free tech support for many of their electronics. They also extend manufacturer's original warranty on TVs and computers to years from date of purchase.
Microsoft: Microsoft's Nice policy about software returns kept them off the Naughty list. Buyers have 45 days to return any software they purchase if they're dissatisfied—even if they install it on their computer!
Bi-Lo supermarkets, Orvis (also on the 2010 list), Crutchfield, Amazon.com and REI round out the 2011 Nice list.
Consumer Reports compiles this list based on specific policies and is not reflective of the company as a whole. Some of these companies ended up in the hot seat due to fine print, befuddling fees, etc. Southwest Airlines, for example, was on the Nice list last year for its Bags Fly Free policy and is often rated highly on best customer experience lists. In fact, it was ranked 13 in the 2011 Temkin Customer Service Ratings.
If you were to ask your customers, which list would they put you on? These tips may help you make the Nice list in 2012:
Keep Customers Informed.
Just doing this would have kept Verizon Wireless off the Naughty list this year.
Small Savings Mean A Lot.
Movie tickets aren't that much, but Cablevision is giving discounts that landed them on the Nice list. On the other side, Swiss Colony, AirTran and Southwest wouldn't be on the list if they reevaluated their hidden fee policies.
Chances are, you're not the only one that can meet your customers needs. If you don't appreciate them, someone else would gladly do that job for you.
Keep the Communication Channels Open.
Have multiple channels available to customers. REI found itself on the Nice list year in part because their return policy is so liberal and easy. You can return an item by mail or to any store, regardless of whether you purchased online, in a store or by mail. Offering service options such as online chat, self-service knowledge base, how-to videos, social media help, etc. can go a long way to land you on the Nice list.
Ask Customers How You Can Serve Them Better.
Finally, listen to what's going on in your market. I'm sure Southwest didn't make the list last year just because they guessed people didn't like bag fees. They listened to the market. This should combine formal customer feedback collection with other sources of such as what customer search for, reviewing inbound customer service emails or chats, social media chatter and more.
Of these five tips, I would wager the last one is the most powerful, if you take action on the feedback you collect. Without action, listening wont matter a bit.
If your customers wouldn't put you on the Nice list this year, chat with one of our Feedback experts or sign up for an online demonstration and let us help you start understanding your customers better so Santa wont bring you coal again next year.