Good company, bad vibes

The hole in the dike. The Achilles' heel. Or the personal favourite of the Knight family: the chink in the armour. Call it what you will, it's costly - to be an otherwise excellent company with one glaring deficiency.
What do you think about your airline when they whisk you in living-room comfort anywhere in the world in a matter of hours? Then what happens to your opinion when they fail to get your baggage onto the same flight?
How is it that so many companies succeed with flying colours when it comes to the really hard stuff, yet crash and burn when it comes to proficiencies that aren't exactly rocket science?

The hole in the dike. The Achilles’ heel. Or the personal favourite of the Knight family: the chink in the armour. Call it what you will, it’s costly – to be an otherwise excellent company with one glaring deficiency.

What do you think about your airline when they whisk you in living-room comfort anywhere in the world in a matter of hours? Then what happens to your opinion when they fail to get your baggage onto the same flight?

How is it that so many companies succeed with flying colours when it comes to the really hard stuff, yet crash and burn when it comes to proficiencies that aren’t exactly rocket science?

Take National Geographic. As soon as it arrives at my house, all other reading is put aside. As I turn each page I marvel at the quality of the photography and text. I even marvel at the direct mail packages, which are a study in DM excellence. In these areas and others, this is one world-class organization. But who’s on deck in its circulation department?

I’ve been receiving NG as a Christmas gift for the past decade. Every year my gift-giver receives a renewal notice, which she promptly completes and returns to ensure that my subscription continues. On the Big Day each year, Santa Joan presents me with NG’s confirmation that the good thing is going to keep coming. Then I start getting notices from NG warning me that I’m going to become periodically deprived if I don’t pick up the subscription myself. Excuse me! Two months ago you told me I’m on board again.

How can people succeed in arranging explorations from the depths of the Carlsbad Caverns to the heights of the Himalayas, put out a preeminent publication each month, create DM packages that surpass anything in the mailbox, yet fail to handle something as simple as a subscription renewal?

Then there’s Kleenex, such a leader in the field of facial tissues that its product name is often used as a generic term. They’ve developed a way to produce wipes that are soft and, at the same time, strong and even figured out how to fold them perfectly and arrange them so they pop out of the box one at a time. Kleenex’s accomplishments in production and marketing are nothing to sneeze at. So who suffered the cerebral cramp in creating www.kleenex.com?

The first page is a map of the world on a Kleenex. Cute. You’re told to ‘Please click to select a country of your choice. Please note that if a country is unavailable, then a Web site does not currently exist.’ Unfortunately, that pitiful copy is the least of the problems with this site. As you roll over the world, you don’t get to visit ‘the country of your choice’ as promised; they only give you two choices: USA and Europe. One of those two choices isn’t even a country! (Maybe Kleenex should subscribe to National Geographic.)

I clicked on USA, expecting a warm Kimberly Clark welcome. Instead, I was confronted with a pop-up that told me, ‘You have chosen to visit the US Kleenex site. Say YES and it will become your home page…’ Talk about presumptuous! You’ve only just met their site and they want you to walk down the aisle with them.

My reaction? As they used to say on Welcome Back, Kotter, ‘Up your nose with a garden hose.’ But for the sake of the readers of this column, I soldiered on and told them NO I don’t want you to be my new home page, and hit SUBMIT in order to continue.

Next up? A billboard of a kid playing football (when you visit the site in March?) and an unending stream of icons crawling along the bottom of the page, the means to finding out more about History, Tear Jerkers, Colds & Flu, etc. I clicked on an icon just to get a respite from the obnoxious icon crawl but it didn’t do any good; it’s on every page you visit.

Suggestion to the Web master of Kleenex.com: feature a link to Aspirin’s Web site because spending much time with yours is going to cause major headaches in your visitors.

So what should you do when you’re a stellar organization with a product or service that is par excellence, customer relations that are impeccable, and pricing that is brimming with value? Check with your customers for their opinion. Mail or e-mail them a questionnaire with a reward for responding. But don’t just present them with the old rate-us-in-these-areas-on-a-scale-from-1-to-5 survey.

Go for the gusto. Find out where the hole in your dike is, your Achilles’ heel, the chink in your corporate armour. Ask your customers the most insightful question you can: ‘What bugs you most about us?’

Bob Knight of Knight & Associates does more than read National Geographic and visit Web sites that bring tears to his eyes. He also writes copy for agencies, manages direct mail and e-campaigns for a variety of companies, and prepares custom critiques of marketers’ materials. For more info, contact him at b_knight@telus.net.