Customer Experience, Kick the Customer and Other Stupid Experience Related GamesDo you enjoy kicking your customers? Don't cringe at the question. It's not as crazy as it seems.

I'm still nursing bruises from three companies -- a major department store, a national automotive service club and a local home heating oil company -- that apparently think inflexibility, excuses and a failure to compromise are the keys to customer service.

And yet, while many companies stumble when it comes to serving their customers, others shine -- even during this busy time of year, according to ClickFox, a provider of experience analytics.

The Good, the Bad and the Silly

Target, Macy’s, Nordstrom and Best Buy know how to keep customers happy. They ranked top in customer service according to the 2013 ClickFox Holiday Customer Experience survey. While it's a small survey, reflecting the views of only 535 consumers nationwide, it has some interesting results.

For instance, not all retailers measure up. In fact, with fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, consumers have actually lowered their customer service expectations. The majority (78 percent) believe retailers emphasize having the best deals and prices during the holidays and more than half (51 percent) think giving the best customer service during this period is the lowest priority.

However, there are limits to their patience. If negative service experiences are not resolved at the first point-of-contact, consumers will use every channel in the book to get the attention of service representatives, including email, use of social media and, finally, calling customer service. According to ClickFox CEO Marco Pacelli:

Many retailers have a siloed view in their engagement with their customers. It is important to realize that consumers are more likely than ever to leave a trail of negative engagements in multiple channels before calling the contact center.”

Back to Reality

Let's divert for a moment from the theoretical world of the survey to, well, the real world -- and go back to those three companies that did me wrong. None of the companies had even a weak conviction that the customer was always right.

Take Lord & Taylor, for instance. As the oldest luxury specialty-retail department store chain in the US, you might think it would know the secret to customer service. But apparently it doesn't, even when it comes to online shopping. 

Lord & Taylor Facebook Posts

Here's what happened. I ordered a pair of boots online. As soon as I hit "submit" on the order, I realized I had forgot to update my shipping address. So I went to the website for a live chat. Even though I tried to start a chat during the hours it was allegedly available, nothing happened.

No, I take that back. When I tried to initiate a chat, the interface generated an email -- and a reply that someone would get back to me as soon as possible. (That was three days ago.) So I called customer service. But no one could help me because my order wasn't in the system yet.

So I waited for email confirmation of the order and called back. But was it possible to change the shipping address or even cancel the order? Ah, no. Thinking someone with more authority could help, I asked to speak to a supervisor. None was available. Hours later, one called back. The bottom line: there was nothing she could do.

So much for resolving a problem.

A Dead Car, No Heat

Lord & Taylor was my third customer service failure in two weeks. On Black Friday, I called my local AAA motor club for battery service. According to its marketing materials, AAA will install a new battery: "Right at your home, workplace, or even on the side of the road."

But the club sent a technician to jump the battery instead -- twice -- even though I stressed I just needed a new battery. On Saturday, the club told me it didn't have a battery to fit the car. (No battery? It's a Ford Edge, and this is New York City.)

So I had a friend take me to an auto parts store, where I bought my own battery. On Sunday, I called AAA again, explained I now had the battery and asked if the technician could come back and install it. The answer: No. At this point, I gave up and called Geico Emergency Road Service, a benefit I receive through my auto insurer. Thirty minutes later, Geico had someone on site, installing the battery.

Throughout this whole adventure, I was incessantly tweeting @AAA. And the next day, I called the motor club's public relations department. All I got were more excuses -- and a reason to cancel a 30 year membership.

The next Sunday, the oil burner at my house malfunctioned. With no heat and rapidly falling temperatures, I called the local company for service. But it had no record of me "calling to establish an account," even though I had cell phone records of a 10 minute call back in October.

Is it my fault that someone at the oil company failed to set up the account correctly? Apparently so, because it charged me $185 for an emergency visit -- which should have been covered by the service contract I had purchased.

Data-Driven Decision Making

So let's go back to the bright side and revisit one of those four companies that made the top of the ClickFox list -- Macy's. What's it doing right?

At the National Retail Federation's 102nd Annual Convention and Expo in New York City earlier this year, I spoke with Kerem Tomak, vice president of marketing analytics at Macys.com. "We use analytics to understand our customers, as well as to serve them the right information, at the right time they need it," he said.

Tomak said multichannel campaign management helps businesses understand how customers interact across multiple touch points — on- and offline — and then use this insight to build two-way communication channels that benefit everyone involved. That kind of data-driven insight can create better customer experiences, he said.

What bothers customers most? The ClickFox survey found:

Negative customer experiences are driven by representatives across the sales floor, contact center and returns process, which may be attributed to untrained temporary workers hired to meet holiday demand. Customer service hotlines and sales floor representatives are the worst offenders with 31 percent and 29 percent respectively of consumers identifying them as the worst service touch points during the holiday season. Negative contact center experiences can be mitigated with more accurate consumer data and better proactive communication on order status while consistently negative experiences with sales floor representatives point to a lack of training."

More data. Better communication. Improved training. Let's hope some of the companies that don't seem to understand customer service very well will listen up.

Title image by Tobias Arhelger (Shutterstock).