Tuesday, September 18, 2012

How Customer Service Directly Impacts Brand Influence in the Cardboard Community Part 3: Musings on Topps and How Giveaways Do Not Make Up for Customer Service Gaffes And How Inconsistent Social Media Tone Irks Customers

My dealings with the Topps Company are best described as a rollercoaster.  One day they (through their twitter account @toppscards) seem to value my thoughts and opinions.  The next, they give me the whole "have a good day sir" routine.  This post will be more train of thought than chronological, so bear with me.

No one wants to be told to "have a good day sir", especially via text.  In a brick and mortar retail environment, it usually comes off as either A) the employee is trying to be rude and civil and the same time or B) hasn't been properly trained.  Sir isn't a word that should be used in this context in today's day and age.  It's from a lexicon in the past.  When the Topps account tells me to "have a good day sir" as their way of saying "we aren't going to talk to you about this topic any more because we don't have a response that will put us in a good light" it bothers me.  And it should bother you too.  It comes off as snotty and pretentious.  If you want to stop the conversation something along the lines of "While we value your opinion, we are unable to discuss this matter further" is far less rude.  ALWAYS tell the customer that his opinion matters.  But not just say it, mean it.  In today's social media age, everyone has the power to get their voices out.  A company should value each and every one of those voices, since these are the people who purchase your products, and they tend to purchase it more than others.  I took a very informal poll at one of my local card shops.  Twice as many people who were purchasing multiple boxes were on twitter and following the major card companies than not.  When they say, for example, that a product shouldn't have hits that are numbered over 699 or so, don't number the higher hits.  They look better without the number if it's so high.

Back to the everyone has a voice point.  I'd like to take this opportunity to plug a quick Twitter campaign I started.  As Topps said last week, they are looking to us for advice on who to include in next year's Allen and Ginter set.  The person who I thought would be interested is an actor by the name of Charley Koontz (@charley_koontz).  For those of you who don't know Charley, he's a really nice guy who is most famous for playing the best minor character on the greatest show on television, Community.  His character is called Fat Neil.  I tweeted at both Topps and Charley that it would be great to get Charley into this upcoming set, and Charley has been very supportive so far.  I created #FatNeilCard, so for those of you interested in helping get this awesome guy into Allen and Ginter 2013, please make sure to use that hashtag directed towards both Topps and Charley.

Finally, I'm going to talk about the whole rollercoaster experience, both with the @toppscards account and with customer support (via phone, email, and @toppssupport).  My first experience involved me trying to get a box of Allen and Ginter for free.  I asked that if I started going by Allen Ginter if I could get a free box.  They told me to get a tattoo and we would talk.  So, being the clever (or some might say, rulebreaker) that I am, I drew the Allen & Ginter logo on my leg, a temporary tattoo.  I figured my sense of humor and ingenuity would have scored me a box.  Nope.  Topps wouldn't even talk.  I pushed further.  Nothing.  I figured that would be the end of that.  I found out the next day, upon checking my mentions, that some random person who will remain nameless (this isn't about him and I'm not going to be the one to call out individuals) mentioned me twice.  To sum up the tweets, one stated that I should slit my wrists in a manner that would kill me and he'd consider giving me a box.  The other is that I don't have any friends, my family hates me, and I should die.  Strange that I should mention this, but it's all relevant to the Topps Twitter Experience.  Wouldn't you know it, a few days later this guy ends up being randomly chosen as one of the winners of a box of something.  So, being the offended upstanding citizen that I am, tweeted at Topps about what this guy said asking if they could choose again, because I feel someone like that doesn't deserve to be a winner of anything ever.  After some prying I was told something along the lines that topps doesn't play god, doesn't choose who is good or bad, and of course "have a good day sir."  After this, I decided to track down the email of a Topps executive, because surely someone higher up the corporate ladder would surely 1. agree with me that this guy shouldn't have won 2. apologized at the tone of the twitter account and 3. had the authority to send me something to make up for the fact that this guy who wants me dead won.  Greedy?  Maybe, but I wanted to at least get the point across to upper management that this type of behavior shouldn't be tolerated.  I tracked down the email to Doug Kruep, VP & GM of the sports and entertainment division.  To sum up multiple emails he said, I'm sorry you feel this way, the giveaways are random, and I can't give you anything to help rectify your Topps experience.  What bothers me is that I know the Topps twitter does have the discretion to give out extra stuff because I've been told by the account that prizes aren't giveaways.  Giveaways are random, but prizes are something they can give out when they feel needed.  I ended up getting one of these prizes eventually.  More on that later.

Directly relating to the customer support side, my brother had an issue.  Over the summer he started doing case breaks.  He broke 2 cases of Tier 1 at the cost of approximately $150, which is more than the price of a box of the product.  He got skunked both times and decided to voice his displeasure at Topps, not expecting them to do anything, just wanting them to know that the teams should be more random.  Edit: My brother had to wait over two weeks to hear a response from Topps despite being told that he would hear back within two business days.  This is why he believes he was offered something, to make up for them taking forever to even address the issue, not because of the issue itself.  To his surprise, Vincent at Topps support told him that they agree and to help fix his experience (why Doug didn't want to fix my experience, I'll never know) they would send him a free box of Tier 1.  Awesome!  My brother knew the risks of getting skunked, but at least now he would have just overpaid for a box from his end.  A few days go by and nothing arrives so my brother contacts them again.  He is told that they are out of Tier 1 but to make up for it, they would send him a box of Gypsy Queen and a box of Allen & Ginter.  Even better!  More cards, more hits.  Then over a week passes and still nothing in the mail.  My brother goes to check his support ticket and it's gone.  He calls again and finally is told that there was something already shipped (which we both believe to be a lie since it only takes 3 days by regular mail to get to our house from Topps HQ) but to make up for the fact that it hasn't arrived, they would send something else.  A few days later three packs of Gypsy Queen, three packs of Allen & Ginter and a few extra random cards including a gold refractor auto of a B level prospect arrived.  He ended up getting a Matt Moore auto in one of the packs which was nice, but far from the value of getting two whole boxes of medium end product or one box of high end.  Now I'm sure some of you are saying that we shouldn't complain since we got something for free.  We aren't complaining about getting anything for free.  I believe that once a company says they will help a customer in a specific way, they should be obligated to help that customer in that specific way.  So once my brother was told Tier 1, well he deserves that Tier 1.  If Tier 1 was unavailable, then he should get something of equal or greater value, like the two previously mentioned boxes. It shouldn't take three tries to end up getting a lesser value.  It makes the customer feel like the company doesn't care and is just giving him something so hopefully he'll stop calling.  As a company in a nonessential industry such as sports cards, you should never EVER make the customer feel like the company doesn't care about him.  During this time, I also had some skunky football breaks.  I didn't ask for anything, just wanted them to know the same thing.  Make sure that teams are represented more equally.  I was shipped a couple of Jets cards from the base football set from this year which I already had at least one of each.  Again, I am not complaining.  I am just stating the facts.

Now you can't have a rollercoaster without peaks, because so far I've been talking about the valleys.  The past few weeks have been much better with Topps.  They have been responding to my tweets positively more recently, even if it's criticism.  They have also been nicer to people in general it seems.  Maybe there are different people running it now, or maybe they were taught better social media etiquette.  Whatever the reason, they're trending upwards.  Last week, my brother tweeted at them that it would be cool to do a total points contest for the Monday Night Football games like they did for Sunday.  They said that if he (and I mean just him) could correctly guess the total score within two points, he would win a prize.  My brother being as awesome as he is, and knows that I never got anything of value (either from a personal collection standpoint or a sell to someone standpoint) told them that if he won to send me the prize.  He guessed 92.  The total from both games ended up being 93.  Topps knew that I believed Jets hits to be nonexistent, since I've never opened one from their product, so they sent me a Joe McKnight triple relic from Triple Threads 2010 (which will look nice in my personal collection) and a Stephen Hill 1984 style auto from this year's base football set.  The odd thing about this Stephen Hill is that the 1984 ones are only numbered out of 100. This one lacks a stamp for where the number is supposed to go.  My guess is that they send these (and possibly stamp them) to collectors who end up opening up a badly damaged one.  While this card is great for my personal collection, I also listed it on Ebay for the incredibly high price of $1000 or best offer.  While I don't really want to sell it, I'm finishing off my final semester of college and could really use any significant sum of money.  I have no idea if this card is even worth $100 because I don't know how often these unstamped numbered cards make it into circulation, but I like to remain optimistic that this is the only one of Stephen Hill, and possibly one of five total unstamped cards from the entire set.  Also I'd like to remain optimistic that there's some Jets fan out there with some money to burn that wants to help a college kid out.

The final part I wanted to address is the one thing I've yet to mention from the title of this post.  I believe that every single company should have a consistent brand tone, or at least for each marketing campaign.  Being consistent is professional and your customers have a reasonable expectation of what to expect.  As you can tell by both this post and any interaction you may have had with the Topps twitter, the style and tone can change on a daily basis.  My guess is that there are a few people who run it, depending on who has free time.    Recently, the account even tweeted that there isn't a full time time person running it, which is why it's hard to respond to everything.  For a company as large and with as many followers as Topps, I feel that this is an area that should be fixed.  For the (relatively) small price of one person's salary, you would gain a consistent tone which can respond to more people.  This makes customers feel more important and therefore more likely to purchase more product.  I know that I base my purchasing decisions not only on the product, but the company behind the product.  I would buy more from a company that made me feel important and maintains a consistent image than one that provides me with cycles of both love and hate.  I'd bet you would make at least 125% of that person's salary back in a year.  In fact, I know a guy who would be interested in a position like this.  He currently is an intern at a social media marketing firm, has his own blog, and is currently running a twitter campaign to get one of his favorite characters onto a trading card.  I could hook you up with him if you're interested.

This concludes my three part series on customer service of the big three card manufacturers.  I hope that not only my readers found my stories informative, but the companies as well.  I'm not sure what I should blog about next, so if you have any ideas feel free to leave them in the comments.  I believe you need to have your own Google account and there's some form of captcha to prove that you're human, so if you're on a mobile browser there might be some trouble.  Until next time, you can always reach me @ajs213.    


  1. Wrote a song about it like to hear it here goes! http://youtu.be/xKG07305CBs

  2. Gtrat blog and I enjoy reading your thoughts. Glad I finally figured out how to comment