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First Comcast, Now Bath & Body Works – How Metrics Can Hurt Business

Did you hear of this story last week? If you’re on social media, or in the St. Louis area, it’s likely that you’ve read or heard about it:



This story went viral very quickly, and highlights some of Bath and Body Works’ operational procedures that landed them in some hot water with the special needs community.


To sum it up, a group of special needs students was participating in a project that entailed visiting stores to learn skills related to shopping, purchasing, and other life necessities. All was well until they visited the Bath & Body works store, at which time they were not allowed entry. Why? Because the manager assumed that they were not going to make a purchase, and explained that by entering without making a purchase, the store’s “numbers” would be off, so they could not enter.


The fact that it happened to a group of special needs students made this a much more emotional story, as it appeared that the manager was making assumptions that were very wrong to make – would the manager have stopped other teenagers in the same manner, assuming because they were teens that they wouldn’t make a purchase? Or what about a mom whose toddler or young child wandered into the store because they like smelling the different products? Would they have been asked to leave, since it may have been “clear” that they were there to browse, not shop?


Peeling away the details a bit, it struck me that this stemmed from a simple operational metric that must be vital to a manager’s success at this retailer – the number of customers who enter versus the number of purchases made. This is well known as a conversion counter or traffic sensor. It’s a pretty typical standard, but one that must be so heavily emphasized within this company that it causes situations like this happen.


I did some browsing online to see what the general buzz was, and found that Bath & Body works did do some quick damage control by addressing the issue on their Facebook page:


bbw fb


That was a positive move, yet one that brought to light the very issue that brought me to this article – employees, both current and former, flocked to the page to share their confirmation that the company relies so heavily on this metric, that they may be forgetting the “service” part of the experience:


bbw fb2



Of course, this is reflective of one manager at one of their retail locations, and may not be indicative of the retailer as a whole. However, this story was eerily reminiscent of the Comcast story that broke several months ago – when companies focus so much on one metric or training goal, the basics of customer service get lost by employees who, for whatever reason, take it to the extreme. In this case, the manager could have been facing poor numbers and was recently talked to by regional managers. Maybe the manager was close to a bonus (or being let go) and took things to the extreme. We’ll never know, but by relying on the success of the store based on this metric AND double teaming it with discrimination, it led to an ugly situation for the company.


A good lesson for businesses – metrics are important and useful to pinpoint strengths and challenges, and to ensure employees are meeting operational standards. However, they should never be presented as a “do or die” to the success of a location – it could end up hurting the company in the long run.


In Defense Of The Comcast Guy…


Last week the social world was buzzing with the news story that went viral. In case you hadn’t heard, a Comcast representative was recorded when assisting a customer to disconnect service. Suffice it to say, the conversation didn’t go very well, and the Comcast representative handled the call very poorly, insisting that the customer explain why they didn’t want to continue service, and to insist that they keep Comcast as their service provider.


While the situation was definitely handled in a poor manner, and Comcast had some damage control to do since the recording went viral, it gave me pause in the way companies train their staff who handle customer issues and resolution.


It reminded me a little of a telemarketing company I worked for one summer during college. We were calling with a variety of products, from credit cards to globes. Telemarketing is a tough industry, but what made it tougher was when the company insisted that we could not end a call until a customer said “no” three times. Three. And the calls were recorded and monitored, and representatives would get in trouble if this policy was not honored.


I fully understand probing for more information in an attempt to save the sale, I really do. But sometimes, it’s not warranted. A good customer service representative should know when to keep trying, and when to realize that there is no saving a sale, and have the ability to adjust their performance accordingly.


By pushing certain policies and procedures, offering little to no flexibility in certain situations, is setting up representatives to fail. I am not necessarily saying this is the case at Comcast – this certainly could be a situation where the employee was reprimanded for closing too many accounts, or didn’t follow procedure at all and never attempted to save the sale, thus putting his employment on the line, which resulted in him pushing too hard with this particular customer, setting off an unfortunate chain of events all the way around. However, cases like this serve as a good reminder to have strong policies in place, but realize that not everything is black and white in the world of customer service. By creating policies and empowering representatives to make decisions based on a specific circumstance, it is a win-win situation for all involved – employees won’t be pushed to the point of no return, and customers won’t feel like they have to fight to have their needs met, especially when stopping a service is concerned.


The good news? It looks like Comcast is admitting that perhaps their expectations need to be looked at, especially when dealing with customer retention. As recently quoted in an article written at the Consumerist:


“The agent on this call did a lot of what we trained him and paid him — and thousands of other Retention agents — to do,” continues Watson. “He tried to save a customer, and that’s important, but the act of saving a customer must always be handled with the utmost respect.

“This situation has caused us to reexamine how we do some things to make sure that each and every one of us — from leadership to the front line — understands the balance between selling and listening,” he admits. “When the company has moments like these, we use them as an opportunity to get better, and that’s what we’re going to do. We will review our training programs, we will refresh our manager on coaching for quality, and we will take a look at our incentives to ensure we are rewarding employees for the right behaviors. We can, and will, do better.”