Friday, January 06, 2012

Skip the Form Letters, They Are Missed Opportunities

Recently I wrote an article about how Whitman's candies lost me as a loyal customer due to misleading packaging. They put 12 pieces of candy in a box that could have held 30 pieces. The weight on the label was the only indication of the sneaky packaging. While I wrote the blog article, my wife send a complaint letter to Russell Stover who made the box.

Today, we received a response from Russell Stover. Unfortunately, they missed the opportunity to win us back. Instead of an acknowledgement of the problem we got a form letter explaining that the "box was filled by weight and not by volume," and how the "net weight must comply with all Federal and State regulations." I won't share the whole letter here out of respect for the confidentiality statement they appended. I'm sure such things are not legally enforceable, but I see no compelling need to go against their request.

How should a leader respond to such a customer complaint? Russell Stover was stuck between not wanting to admit wrongdoing and knowing that such packaging is misleading. Rather than defensively explaining how their customer didn't understand their correct actions, a leader can fall back on the truth, even if it isn't a confession of guilt. In this case perhaps, "We understand how you could have felt deceived by our packaging choice. We will convey your concerns to our management. We hope we can better serve you with our products in the future." These are all things that are true and affirming. We would have preferred, "We shouldn't have done that."

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Ill Will From Misleading Packaging

Every year when I was a kid I got a four-piece Whitman's sampler in my Christmas stocking. I've always had a warm place in my heart for Whitman's candies. So I was excited when a friend brought us this large box of Whitman Reserve chocolates. Tonight we opened it and excitement turned to disappointment and disgust. The 2½-inch box had a single 1-inch layer of chocolates in it. Instead of a second layer, it had a false bottom. My daughters said it was "cheap".

I've come to expect the typical packaging tricks. Each of the 12 pieces of chocolate was nestled in its own protective plastic form. The plastic separated each piece by about ¾ inch. That makes up 43% package spacing on the long side and 48% package spacing on the short side. Protecting the bottom of each piece of candy is a packaging buffer of ¼ inch, in addition to the 1-inch false bottom. It's a shame that these kinds of tricks don't surprise me any more.

I looked forward to that beautiful, big box of "Reserve" chocolates. From its size, I expected the box to have two to three dozen premium chocolates. Seeing my beloved Whitman's dream squashed by a meager single layer changed my opinion of the brand.

The box was labeled to contain 7oz., but I have no doubt that the package design is intended to make me believe it contains much more. But what customers like me will take away from this kind of packaging is that the brand I used to value is a brand that is trying to mislead me. That's not a brand I can trust.

It's a shame really; the chocolates were good. I can't be the only faithful customer they have lost with this poor decision. When making cost-saving decisions for your own company, look for ways that don't make your customers feel deceived.