This post is unlike any of the others I have written and totally dissimilar from the analytical work my firm is known for. It is a personal anecdote to highlight a theme that I, and others, have discussed, lectured on, pontificated, and screamed about: the value of customer service and retention.  

It is about hair.

I was in need of a haircut and colour treatment — badly in need of a haircut and colour treatment — but was away from home and far from my regular service provider. The owner of my local hair salon has long positioned himself as knowing all the right people. So, three weeks ago I asked him for a recommendation for a salon while I was away.  

Up until this point, I was a “true promoter” — a 9 or 10 on the Net Promoter Score (NPS) scale — of the salon and a high-revenue client.

I should note that the salon is on the more expensive end of the segmentation schema of beauty salons, with a reputation for great customer service. This great customer service was viewed in light of the normal course of the day-to-day activities of a salon. This included the greeting by name upon entering; offers of coffee, tea, imported waters, or wine to drink; and on-time fulfillment of appointments.  

However, when a client had a need outside of the “normal,” the system broke down. Despite assurances, no recommendations were forthcoming. E-mailed requests for a reference were met with excuses.

I would have preferred honesty, an admission that the owner did not know of a salon in the city I was in. Instead he stalled, perhaps hoping I would forget his initial commitment to help me find a temporary substitute.

Meanwhile, my bangs were in my eyes and grey roots were starting to be obvious.  I needed immediate help.

How is this relevant to advertising departments? Most newsmedia companies have overcome the horrible customer service that plagued the industry. Remember the incorrect bills, ads in the wrong sections or on the wrong days, and unanswered customer phone calls? I recall them emerging in just about every customer interview and advertiser satisfaction study, in newspapers big and small.  

Let’s assume news media firms are at an acceptable level of everyday service.  (If not, that needs to be addressed before reading any further.)  The question you need to ask is, “What happens when something outside of the everyday arises?

  • An advertiser needs to move some perishable goods now, outside of current contract parameters.

  • A retailer needs to get a message out to its customers about its database being hacked, without disrupting the market broadly.

  • A customer needs to pre-pay an invoice.

  • A client is concerned about an unfair attack on social media that needs to be nipped in the bud.

  • The media buyer departs the firm, leaving the advertiser short-handed during a busy season.

With staff cutbacks, do you have a way to address immediate and out-of-the-norm requests? One option is to designate a “hot-line” internal person to whom these requests are funneled. The hot-line person assesses the client need and determines the best way to address it.  He or she has latitude and even a budget to take action.  

Many of these immediate problems can be addressed with a phone call to the right person within or outside the news-media firm. The hot-line person is essentially a concierge with a great Rolodex (or address book or network of friends). The media company can help by making a referral to a service provider, not necessarily performing the service itself.

The point person also can decide that the request will not get special treatment, so the sales team can be honest in responding to the customer.  

So, whatever happened with the hair salon?

In the end, I gave up waiting. I did my own research, used Google Translate, and found a wonderful salon. They greeted me warmly and offered me coffee, tea, imported water, and wine. They were ready for me at the appointed time.

I have become a “passively satisfied” customer of my regular salon (that is a 7 or 8 on the NPS scale) and a vulnerable high-revenue client.

Maybe my “away from home” salon can recommend a new one back in Chicago.