This past Sunday, The Haggler, David Segal (“Halving the Portion, but Not the Price.” New York Times, June 23, 2013) wrote about how companies protect their profits by reducing package volume while charging the same amount. In other words, 8 ounces of chocolate that were $2.89 are now 4 ounces, but the price is almost the same. Segal wrote Kraft (Baker’s Chocolate division) and other companies to find out what’s going on with these pricing games.

The response? Customer service provided defensive, corporate-speak answers—answers that, as David Segal put it, never, “played it straight.” Basically, in this day and age when there is so much striving to be authentic, their answers lacked authenticity. Most tone-deaf of all, two companies didn’t even provide the courtesy of a response.

And this is not just a one-time flop; in the world of customer service auditing, we see a lot of bogus answers. For example, all too often, customer service will say “sorry for the inconvenience,” when it was not “an inconvenience” at all but rather a costly mistake or a huge disappointment.

While Segal did a great job of exposing the problem, he didn’t explain why customer service fails to “play it straight.” In an era of savvy customers with immediate access to their own social media soapbox, why do companies resist having genuine dialogue with their customers?

We see two major root causes. Addressing both would improve customer service.

  1. Hiding behind legal: Customer service issues are often sent to internal legal counsel for review. And, of course, the legal team should weigh in, but lawyers should not be the face of anyone’s company.
  2. Wishing for a bygone era: Sure, back in the day, customers didn’t have access to what was going on with companies and they didn’t have a way to talk back publicly. But that was a decade ago, and this is now. Now, customers are chatting it up big time and companies need to join the conversation—and define it, or, they risk needless backlash.

Executives: let’s get real. You can vastly improve your customer service by using plain English and talking to customers in an authentic way. Embrace the customer. Stay present and BTW, here’s how David Segal’s inquiry about pricing could have been handled:

Hi David, thanks for asking a good question.

At the Baker’s Chocolate division of Kraft, we’ve been battling rising fuel costs, increasing insurance rates, and an overall less certain economy. By adjusting the package volume to 4 oz., which is more in line with the quantities our recipes call for, we are hoping to prevent waste while keeping prices stable for customers (who have their own economic pressures to deal with). We think this is a win-win for us and our customers, but if there is a better way, we’ll definitely look into it.

I hope I have answered your question about pricing, but if other questions come to mind, please write back.  At Baker’s Chocolate, we love everything about chocolate: cooking with it, eating it, even discussing its pricing, basically, we’re all ears!

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