Written by ReAnn Ring, Entrepreneur and Business Coach.
Change, a word we either embrace or run from, can often mean a make or break for those of you in the business world.
Recently I encountered a few surprise unannounced changes that pretty much set the tone for a thumbs up or thumbs down, but certainly not a neutral response. Granted, change, if handled well and with plenty of notice depending on the situation, possibly incorporating feedback from the end consumer, employees of the company, and vendors, prior to a big move, can be good, if not excellent, to ensure a happier work environment internally, a more dedicated and growing customer-client base, and certainly a surge in sales and popular name in the industry and beyond in the market place.
A good name, according to the Word of God, is about the highest form of compliment pinning a mature and seasoned name on a company. Wisdom looks far beyond the immediate to the ripple effect that an alteration in a business model can make on any level of operation inside of a company all the way to service provision standards to the public, to the product line itself out on the market.
On the flip side, change when not handled well, can ensure a big direct hit to a company’s credibility and ability to be trusted, when it goes unannounced and worse yet, when it’s done with the old bait and switch method. Surprised and once loyal customers lose confidence, and any more now, the immediate cancer of words can pour out with bad press on social media to the news media and more, with murmuring, grumbling and outright anger on social media and can most certainly doom a company to a reputation of unprofessionalism which take a long time to redeem. It’s not long before the influx of complaints flood the email box of the seller and even on up the chain to the company owner. Before you know it, the new task of putting out fires and responding to those messages, becomes a full-time job scramble to fix what was once thought a good move.
Sometimes is vastly obvious that a company’s last thought that should have been their first concern, is the response of their end users and even their employees. Let’s use a couple of examples I know of personally:
Example A. The “Think I Am” Company, www.thinkiam.com, had, I say in past tense, a wildly popular Vitamin B Energy Drink I and numerous consumers enjoyed called “I Am Energized”. For well over a year I have been hooked and even heralded the praises of this powerful healthy little drink offering a much more natural and safe alternative to the Monster Drinks that are now pinned with some shaky and scary bad press lately. The berry flavor of the “I Am Energized” was very pleasant and this three ounce liquid natural vitamin supplement filled bottle was an easy grab to throw in a workout bag even offering a great healthy replacement to just a plain cup of morning coffee to the start of your day. It truly enhanced a workout and sustained energy levels throughout a rigorous day at work.
From time to time, I could hardly find it locally at my closest Sprouts and began the trek to other stores for this favored drink, in order to beat the other customers to the punch, to wipe out the shelves where they were in supply. Often I would order the four-for-three deal on-line directly from the company itself and would scour the net if they too were temporarily out of stock looking for a secondary supplier. Back-orders so often on such a popular drink caused me to ration my current supply and certainly should have spelled a great big message to the creator of the drink that they were onto some good and profitable.
But wait a minute … what happened? Recently, unannounced, the I Am Energized Drink suddenly offered a surprise change, from the familiar berry flavor to a new semi tart unfamiliar flavor with an unpleasant aftertaste and a change or two in their formula. Highly noticeable mind you. After my trip to Sprouts yesterday, once again wiping out the last remaining box of drinks after the first Sprouts store was out of stock, I had the first sip of the new change this morning only to be met with a big fat disappointment.\
I had heard the rumor of this flavor change from a friend who loves the drink as much as I, and was holding fast that the new flavor and formula would rock my world as much as the other. Normally a pretty tough advocate for health products regardless of flavor, I can overlook such an offense, but this new flavor, which upon some investigating, turns out to be an indistinct lime taste, was a deal breaker for me. Thankfully I kept my receipt and a trip back to the store to replenish the empty box that sat from my purchase, is definitely in order.
So the emails began to the customer service contact. Reading the response from the company that my friend and I wrote asking what had happened, they tried to convince us that the effect of the drink was the same, that other customers had written the same complaint, and that it was just the flavor and other ingredient change that had taken place. Once this large supply of lime was sold out, the berry would be soon reintroduced again to the store shelves. Not sure how long that will be, but I can guarantee, the shelves won’t be emptying from the word of mouth sales I used to do on the product, nor my own pocket book, and can’t imagine the demand for this particular flavor being nearly as high as the previous.
So how should this have been handled differently for a wildly popular drink? I wonder, why would they not have put a different colored label to indicate that flavor offering rather than the switch of flavors in the same bottle? How about asking their favorite stories like Sprouts to give the new flavor a spin on a test market to see if it would be well received? And for certain, not announcing with one single word on the label as the to change, just proved to be another bait and switch and made me wonder if the company were having financial issues or something close to that effect. I imagine if funds are tight the addition to the line in a totally new bottle and color of label might be cost prohibitive, but certainly pouring something new into a bottle labeled the same can literally and figuratively leave a bad taste in a customer’s mouth and now a loss of sales from a dedicated consumer such as I am – pun intended.
Example B. The other company I wanted to mention was the Invoiceable.co website that did the old surprise bait and switch into the newly developed Invoicely. co, https://invoicely.com/ that offers an on-line invoice service for business. Wow I loved that previous site, full of easy end-user buttons maneuvers, handy widgets, easy to function items for tracking sales, visually easy to read, and simple entering and updating client information for use of ease, and more.
One night while catching up my invoices I had literally logged out of the website that was Invoiceable.co, only to log back on an hour later to finish my work, to an entirely new format, new business name, new colors, and new website. I think I logged back out and in about three times to make sure I had not made a mistake in typing the URL. There was no inbox email as a warning, no formal announcement anywhere on the home page, and a sudden new heart racing panic as I searched for my previous three years of invoice transactions nowhere to be found. My company had done well into a million dollars in sales and believe you-me, there were more clients just like me with higher and lower business income that were facing that same shock and disgust as I was during that change.
Consequently, many went on a rant on social media, shared our infuriating experiences of having to figure out on our own how to merge our old records into the new, with only social media and an email to the new company inbox to get any answers as to what was what and certainly no answers as to why. The company gave a measly weak Twitter response apology and a link to the old website so we could at least “temporarily access” our old records to be sure things were transferred correctly to the new site as there were numerous glitches to the new set-up that even to this day, a full year later, I am finding.
Customer emails and entire accounts disappeared and even reappear, and there is really no way to reach anyone in customer service. They don’t respond well to your inquiries on line, with a natural concner that this could happen again. Since they didn’t handle the first steps with grace and a wide-spread stronger response to their paying clients, I doubt that they will handle our money and trust any better from the lessons they should have learned. I also learned that I needed to do more homework on this type of website as I am unable to transfer my data to Quickbooks or any other system to be sure I have a back up file.
Invoicely.co – BAD MOVE, this is the quintessential “no no” in business and the lingering comments on social media are there forever for anyone to read. Maybe you thought the quick change artist maneuver might have saved you some customers from a mass exodus when you were about to make your stealth changes in the night, when in reality it proved quite opposite – you did nothing but make good paying customers angrier than hell. To reference my notes above, the feature you might want to add for good measure and to make up for you poor customer service, is a way to merge our records off of your website into an Excel Spreadsheet or downloadable file so we can leave you, customer info intact, and go on to another safer and more dependable on-line service or at least allow us a form of back-up in case your company tanks without a word. For now we are stuck with you and I still can’t find some of my customer information that mysteriously disappears.
To conclude, one of the worst business moves a company can do for their own name and longevity, is to mess with customer loyalty, their money, their favor, their tastebuds, and their trust. Reputation spreads fast and thankfully for social media, comments and feedback are kept at the touch of the fingertips for a quick search to see what your track record has been. True they can gain a new following and certainly they can regain the trust of the old client base, but is it really necessary to go through something like this when an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?
Here are some tips for change I would recommend to any company getting ready or even considering to do a change;
- Get a test group and do a trial run. I’m talking people who already love your product and services, and not just an employee who is looking to say “yes” for the sake of job security. See what they say, work out the glitches as much as possible, to avoid a rash of angry and frustrated feedack.
- Announce changes before hand when possible. Recalls on car parts that are dangerous are often announced and major car companies make it known that they are about to do an improvement to their line when they need do. Your company might not be that size to do a media announcement, but if you have an email or phone number, or business mailing address, giving your client the courtesy of a note that change is coming, it will say volumes about business etiquette and the fact you even care about those that spend money on you.
- Address the issues on line as well. Go public with social media and let people know what is going on, creating a buzz ahead of time.
Hopefully this will be helpful for those reading it to learn that communication of changes to come or even an option to give feedback with a demo of what changes could take place that are favorable, could save a company in the long run from a disappointed and enthusiastic end-user list. May you continue to be busy and prosperous.