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How to Fail in Public Relations – Lesson One: Alienate Your Customers

I was so happy when the bubble in Beanie Babies burst years ago. I had cousins who literally had plastic tubs of the critters with hard plastic tag protectors. Now as the father of two young children, a more expensive and more frustrating craze has taken ahold in our household: Webkinz. They are cute stuffed animals just like Beanie Babies but their tags include a code that allows children to own a virtual version of their toy at the “Webkinz World” website. My daughter really likes the virtual world. As a result, she wants more codes, which means more toys.

Recently, my wife bought Webkinz lip gloss for our daughter (for the coveted Webkinz code). Heck, $6 seemed cheaper than a $12 stuffed animal. Well, the folded paper in the lip gloss had smudged the code. After a few attempts at entering the code online, you are banned from trying again.

My wife emailed Webkinz, thinking they would simply ask for details of the purchase and provide a new code. This is what she received:

    Hello,

    Thank you for your question. You asked us about problems with your Feature Code.

    In order to further assist you with your problem, we will need you to send the code to us for further investigation. We will also need you to send a brief letter indicating your username, name of the account holder and return address. Please find the mailing address below.

    U.S.A.
    Ganz
    Attn: Trading Card Product Replacement
    #043
    60 Industrial Parkway
    Cheektowaga NY 14227-9903

    Canada or International
    Ganz
    Attn: Trading Card Product Replacement
    One Pearce Rd.
    Woodbridge, Ont.
    L4L 3T2

    If you are inquiring about the feature code that comes with the red Webkinz Cares tag, please note you will be able to adopt this feature code as of June 1, 2008.

    Thank you,

    Webkinz Customer Support.

My wife attempted to explain again that what she needs is just a new code. Webkinz didn’t budge. You have to go through a lot of trouble to get that code reissued.

My wife summed it up well in her final response to the company:

    This is utterly ridiculous, that I should have to go to all this hassle — a written letter — for a silly code that does not work from an overpriced Webkinz lip gloss. I believe the reason it does not work is that the code paper was tiny and was folded and the bottoms of the numbers have faded somewhat. So I can’t be sure if some letters are Fs or Es and other letters could be Os, zeroes, or even Q. Since there are 3 E/F possibilities alone, trying all the combinations of what this silly code could be has exhausted my patience. Not to mention that the Webkinz site kicks me off after a few tries and bans me from trying for 24 hours. This is a Webkinz code, not the password for the ATM or Fort Knox. I would never have paid $6 for a kid’s lip gloss if not for my daughter wanting that code so badly and then to get home and find we cannot enter it. I find your site frustrating and ridiculous and designed only to get small girls to spend ridiculous amounts of money on junk. I relish the day when she grows out of this Webkinz phase … oh how I cannot wait …


This wasn’t our first run in with Webkinz. My daughter has an orphaned raccoon in a separate account from the rest of her animals. Six-year-old kids do things like that. Webkinz has no way of consolidating these accounts nor addressing simple consumer requests for correcting or reissuing codes. For now, the company appears to be doing well. Most of my daughter’s friends have Webkinz pets, but like Beanie Babies, Hannah Montana, and all things Disney, these things cycle in and out of favor. If you don’t believe how you treat your customers will impact that cycle, look at the fortunes of large phone companies as they lose their grip on a population switching to wireless phone plans. Every family has at least one company that has burned a bridge. In my family, that list includes Mr. Coffee, Dell (rebate issue), and Ford.

In fact, online customer satisfaction is slipping in general. ForeSee recently published results showing an overall 2.7 percent decline in customer satisfaction from the previous year. Netflix, Amazon, QVC.com, and DrsFosterSmith.com earned top marks in the survey. The bottom four performers in the survey were: UrbanOutfitters.com, Etronics.com, MarketAmerica.com and efollett.com.

This article is written by Mickie Kennedy, founder of eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.

One Response

  1. Ward Turner says:

    Apparently, the canned email replies are working well for Webkinz. They are cheap, and customers keep coming back for more.

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