//Back To School Public Relations Problems
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Back To School Public Relations Problems

Two things occurred recently that cause me to question whether some organizations get the concept of customer satisfaction and one demonstrates that one organization does understand.

The bad news first. You have probably heard the statistic: When you have a bad experience, you tell 14 others about, but when you have a good experience you tell about 6 people. My experience suggests that the bad experience statistic is conservative and that many people are talking negatively about their experiences with this company and some are taking actions against the company.

I arrived at my rental truck company (I’ll be nice and reserve the name) at the appointed 7 a.m. to pick up my reserved 17′ truck. Seventeen feet is important, because we were taking my daughter back to college in Boston and bigger trucks don’t maneuver within the streets of Boston on the best of days—let alone, Labor Day Boston University move-in weekend. Anyway, you may have guessed that my rental company saw fit to rent my truck the night before to someone who promised they would have it back by 10 a.m. The owner thought I would certainly understand and wait three hours for the reserved truck to return (the phones evidently don’t work at night since they didn’t call me to see if I minded). When I expressed concern for the late departure and the need to return that same day so my daughter could return to her summer job Saturday morning, the owner said we could have a larger 26’ truck for the same price. I inquired about why I couldn’t drive the other 17′ truck on the lot only to observe that the oil was running out of it. (The owner expressed he “didn’t have time to repair vehicles). I then explored for a minute whether I could jockey that big truck in downtown Boston when my wife asked if the bigger truck had air conditioning. If you remember the Friday of Labor Day weekend you remember it being blistering hot. The not-too-surprising remark was that the air conditioning was “marginal” and that “he didn’t have time to fix it.” Can you sense the lack of confidence, which was quickly overcoming us?

The final straw was the comment that “Our company policy is…” Customer Satisfaction 101 suggests strongly that responding to complaints with the phrase “Our company policy is…” should not ever occur. The phrase is an obvious duck from facing a disgruntled customer. The issues of mechanical ability and the rental of a reserved vehicle aside for a moment—this guy just had to say I am very sorry for what happened, I can let you take the larger truck for the same money, but, I unfortunately do not have any other options for you. I would have been upset, but I would have felt like the guy cared for the errors.

The next week we discovered my daughter was called to jury duty—in Boston. We immediately thought there was a mistake because she doesn’t reside in Massachusetts (my ancestors did back in the 1800s I guess) and because she is a college student. We learned there was no mistake, that Massachusetts law ordains that students in their colleges and universities are like residents since they live there almost nine months (they haven’t reviewed how often college students are on break these days either). Appeals all the way to the judge concluded with: “It will be a good experience for her.” There was no concern that she would be out of school every day for two solid weeks on a specific case. There was no concern that we were spending mucho thousands of dollars to purchase a product that she could not utilize. If you send your child to Massachusetts be prepared that they can be pulled out of school for Massachusetts civic duty before they are even of an age here in Maine to be legally called for such duty. The Massachusetts Legislature has no obvious regard for the customers who spend millions of dollars a year to send their children to school there. Maybe Maine should consider similar action for Massachusetts students coming here (maybe the civic duty would be litter control for two weeks each fall).

On a positive note, I received a call from the CFO of Boston University who heard of a paperwork snafu regarding payment of my daughter’s tuition. And, though the person handling the paperwork was proper there was no regard for the concerns I had as a parent and no willingness to validate what I was saying was true. (There had been a revised bill that she hadn’t seen, hence she was relying on old information.) The CFO tracked the problems down and personally called to say that everything was fine and that he “hoped others would act that way with him if he had a child in college.” What a nice experience that was.

Final note: In discussing the rental truck story, I have found that many, many people have had similarly negative experiences and have told hundreds of people about it—some have even pursued legal action. I hope they change their ways soon to survive.

By writing about this these negative experiences I have skewed the statistics. There are far more than 14 people reading this article and way more than six hearing about the positive experience. Customer satisfaction is extremely important since you don’t know exactly who is going to hear about the positive and negative experiences.


Originally published in the Kennebec Journal in 2008 as part of a monthly guest series on public relations and marketing.