Wade is a good friend and colleague. Even though he lives in San Diego and I live in Seattle, we talk regularly to consult each other on topics of interest to us. These topics range from the best pesto recipes to, yes, customer feedback programs. I visited Wade last week to help him celebrate his 50th birthday (Is it bad that I tell him that he doesn't look a day over 49?). As I watched him age before my eyes, Wade shared a personal experience about Costco and customer feedback.
Wade loves Costco. It provides great value to him (good selection, great prices). Other people love Costco, too. Independent research has shown that Costco is, in fact, ranked at the top of retail stores for their customer service (See Temkin Group) and customer satisfaction (see American Customer Satisfaction Index).
Costco was trying out a new product, Pop Chips, for a few weeks. Over the course of the promotional period, Wade purchased the barbecue flavored on each of his visits and soon became hooked on them. The promotion ended and so did the supply of Pop Chips.
Wade devised a plan to use Costco's in-store customer comment cards to his advantage. Over the next 8 weeks, Wade completed 20+ in-store comment cards regarding the lack of Pop Chips. In case Costco kept track of similar comments, Wade changed his hand writing each time he left a comment; he submitted comments in cursive or print, using all caps or lowercase letters, and using neat or sloppy handwriting, basically doing anything he could do to make himself appear like multiple customers. He left comments in both English and Spanish. He even got his daughter to complete a few surveys, too. Some comments he remembers leaving were:
- Where are the pop chips?
- Yo quero pop chips.
- Why did you stop carrying pop chips? C'mon man!
- Pop chips por favor!
- Please carry pop chips.
- Donde esta pop chips?
- Bring back bbq pop chips.
- Por que no tienen pop chips?
- Why don't you carry pop chips anymore? Please bring them back.
After a few weeks, Costco brought back Pop Chips. While I am fully aware that there are several factors that impact store inventory (supplier relationship, contract negotiations), I want to believe that Wade's multiple customer feedback submissions were responsible for the return of Pop Chips. Wade did, too. He was experiencing some cognitive dissonance about what he did. While happy about the return of Pop Chips, he was uncomfortable that he gave Costco poor data about the demand for Pop Chips. To reduce his dissonance, he purchased 20 bags of Pop Chips over a 3 week period. His kitchen overflowing with bags of Pop Chips, he had to store the excess in his bedroom closet.
As soon as the chips returned to the shelves, they were gone. Apparently, Wade could not maintain the purchasing habits of the families he impersonated at the level required for Costco to keep the product on hand. Perhaps objective sales data of the product likely drove the ultimate decision to stop selling Pop Chips.
I learned a couple of things from this story:
- Customer feedback programs work (his feedback got him what he wanted, albeit temporarily).
- Customer feedback data needs to be supported/verified with objective sales data.
Wade learned a couple of things, too:
- Costco listens to their customers.
- He should have purchased more Pop Chips.