Insulting Customers Is Not a Strategy

by Jeannie Walters

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Seems obvious, right?

Stupid Head Insult EmbroideredInsult your customers and you probably won’t be in business for long. (Unless it’s your shtick, like at Ed Debevic’s in Chicago.) Most of us, however, can’t really get away with it.

Recently the battle between TurboTax and H&R Block got ugly. TurboTax came out swinging this tax season, with commercials that poked fun at how many H&R Block tax preparers were seasonal workers. A plumber mentioned to a homeowner how he had done his taxes at “the tax store.” A moonlighting retail salesperson did the same. The ads generated a lot of buzz for both companies, along with an unsuccessful lawsuit by H&R Block, but they also highlighted some deep-seated classist viewpoints our society still has.

Taxes are one of those things that are universal. Two things are certain, right? Death and taxes. It doesn’t matter if you are a plumber or a teacher or Mark Zuckerberg – you will have to prepare your taxes this year.

H&R Block did not waste time or mince words. A statement from CEO Bill Cobb was a direct response to these ads. Not only did he stand up for his tax professionals in  no uncertain terms, which he did, but he stood up for his customers who might be retail workers or plumbers.

“At H&R Block, we believe in our people. And you can meet some of these exceptional people for yourselves at #IAMHRBLOCK on Twitter.”

And then the zinger at the end that spoke loud and clear about how they felt about their customers.

“P. S. And for all the plumbers, retail sales clerks and other hardworking Americans, please know we would be honored to serve you.”

While the Twitter hashtag has had somewhat of a backlash as H&R Block customers used it to report their grievances, the way this CEO stood up immediately for his people and his customers is a great example for any leader.

Just as execs can sometimes be too far away to understand the reality of their customers’ daily lives, so can ad agencies. These TurboTax ads didn’t serve their customers. They did poke fun at professions that are just as respectable as any other.

Showing your customers love means understanding who they are. Millions of Americans not only have occupations such as these, but they also hold down two jobs. Making fun of them is just showing how out of touch you are.

This feud between the tax giants is far from over, but it’s a great lesson in both what not to do and how to respond.

Photo credit: triesquid via Creative Commons license

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Jeannie Walters

Jeannie Walters is the CEO/Founder of Experience Investigators, a global Customer Experience consulting firm. She has 20 years of experience helping companies improve loyalty and retention, employee engagement, and overall customer experience. Jeannie is a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP,) a charter member of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA,) a Professional Member of the National Speakers Association, LinkedIn Learning instructor, TEDx speaker, and President-Elect of the National Speakers Association Illinois chapter. Learn more here.

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