The end of one year and start of the next is often heralded by “best of” lists. These roundups perform quality checks that can be ever-so-useful timesavers. What book should you read next? Well, just check the handy dandy list of the “Best Books of 2011” and start there.

These lists can also sponsor avoidance. ABC News’ “Top Ten Business Blunders from 2011” is certainly not where you want to see your company’s name. Given the scale of these gaffes, this quality check may not even be needed. Most people could pull from memory the companies with “worst of” moments last year.

Here’s hoping those companies use this opportunity to take stock, rebrand if necessary and turn 2012 into their best year yet. But it wasn’t all bad; look no further than Morton’s Steakhouse and Amazon, two companies that made headlines for superior customer service in 2011.

Lessons from Netflix and GoDaddy

It’s a brand new year, so let’s view this glass as half-full. Two of the companies that suffered the biggest blunders of 2012 have provided valuable teaching moments for customer service professionals.

The Netflix story.


The company’s most popular combo plan—one DVD at a time by mail plus online streaming—cost $10 per month. To offset its own rising costs, Netflix increased the price of this plan to $16. Customers rebelled (loudly) against the 60% increase. Netflix lost a million more customers than anticipated, and its stock plummeted.

The Lessons. Forbes published an article in December 2011 on lessons learned from Netflix. Their top lessons:

  • Know your customers.

    This is critical for setting acceptable price points and gauging customer reaction to change.

  • Don’t make things worse.

    Businesses often only get one chance to correct a mistake, so make it count.

  • When and how you communicate matters.

    Soliciting customer input on important decisions builds support for new ideas and cushions the impact when the change goes into effect.

  • Customers have a megaphone ...

    and they aren’t afraid to use it. Social media is a ready outlet for customers to express their displeasure. In 2011, many businesses learned the lesson of valuing and responding to this feedback: listen up, or else.

The GoDaddy story.


The web hosting company threw its support behind the divisive Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), prompting thousands of customers (including Help Scout) to abort ship and join a competitor. GoDaddy has since reversed its position on SOPA, but customers remain incensed, even participating in a “Dump GoDaddy Day” on Dec. 29, 2011.

The Lessons. A Harvard Business Review blog by Scott Kominers and Paul Kominers captured the teachables from GoDaddy in the recent article “Lessons from the GoDaddy Customer Revolt.” Their top lessons include:

  • Know the revolt risk factors.

    Anyone using GoDaddy is certainly tech-savvy enough to shout their discontentment via social media … and coordinate a revolt. Also, if you have close market competitors it’s low-risk for customers to leave you to join them.

  • Recognize potential sparks.

    What has past experience shown you about the type of actions that frustrate your customers?

  • Put out fires quickly and comprehensively.

    What are you doing to right this wrong? Whatever it is, do it quick before the revolt gets more costly and difficult to reign in.

There are clear parallels between the lessons from Netflix and GoDaddy, so take heed of this short but critical list of what not to do in 2012. Where to start? Know your customers. This is the overarching lesson that could have prevented, or at least greatly lessened, the fallout from both companies’ mistakes.

Shine on, Morton’s and Amazon

The Morton’s Story.

Morton's Steakhouse

This story set the bar for a “wow” moment for customer service in 2011. Peter Shankman retells his experience in “The Greatest Customer Service Story Ever Told, Starring Morton’s Steakhouse.”

Last August, Shankman faced an extra-long day of business travel (roundtrip from Newark to Miami). He is a self-described “steak lover” and a regular at Morton’s. So as he awaited the final leg of his journey, hungry and dreaming of a steak dinner, he jokingly tweeted:

“Hey @Mortons - can you meet me at newark airport with a porterhouse when I land in two hours? K, thanks. :).”

Oh yes, they did: Shankman was greeted at Newark airport by a tuxedo-clad Morton’s employee carrying a bag that contained a 24 oz. Porterhouse steak, one order of Colossal Shrimp, a side of potatoes, Morton's signature bread, two napkins, and silverware—all free of charge. Shankman’s next tweet:

“Oh. My. God. I don't believe it. @mortons showed up at EWR WITH A PORTERHOUSE! #OMFG!”

The Lessons.

  • Tune in to what your customers are saying on social media . . .

    and make the most of this feedback. All companies are capable of having a “Morton’s Moment.”

  • Everyone really does want to hear a GREAT customer service story.

    Morton’s got covered by CBS News, The Huffington Post, and dozens of other news outlets. This story became marketing gold. A great read on this topic: “Why Customer Service is the New Marketing” by Forbes.

The Amazon Story.


Amazon had a standout moment in 2011, too, as recounted in this Consumerist article. It didn’t gain the publicity the Morton’s event did, but that could be because its just one of hundreds of stories that pop up about Amazon’s amazing feats in customer service.

Time and again, Amazon makes “top 10” rankings for customer service. The company just took the top spot for the second year running in the annual Temkin Loyalty Ratings report on customer satisfaction, and also made it in MSN Money’s 2011 Customer Hall of Fame.

The real story here is the company’s consistently great customer service record. If strong and steady wins the race, then put your money on Amazon.

The Lessons. Amazon keeps teaching us the same lessons year after year, because they WORK. Here are a few of the company’s best practices:

  • Be willing to deal personally with complaints or problems.

    Amazon’s track record continues to inspire confidence that any customer problem will be taken care of, and in a timely manner, to boot.

  • Keep in touch.

    Customers like to know what’s going on with their order, so give progress updates at appropriate intervals.

  • Ease of use is all-important.

    A smooth and easy shopping experience and no-questions-asked return policy keeps customers coming back for more.

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Gregory Ciotti

About the author: Gregory Ciotti is on the marketing team at Help Scout, the invisible help desk software. Learn how Help Scout takes the headache out of email support.