The other day, we got an interesting pre-recorded message on our phone. It was from Clif Bar, notifying us of their voluntary recall of certain Luna Bars that potentially have peanut butter in them that came from the same processor responsible for the current salmonella outbreak.

The message said they called us because we were Costco members, and that we’d bought the affected products. A friend of ours got a similar call, also because his family are Costco members, too.

Here’s what I find most interesting. Just the week before, I’d bought a case of Clif Bars that fell into the recalled batch… from BJ’s.

Did I get a call from BJ’s? No.

Did I get a call from any other manufacturer about their possibly contaminated products? No.

Recalls are touchy things. They can make or break a company. Marketing professors use the 1982 Tylenol recall as a case study of how to manage a crisis and turn a potential customer service nightmare into a brand building triumph. It cost them over $100 million dollars to recall 31 million bottles of Tylenol, but in the long run it saved the brand, and possibly the company, Johnson & Johnson, for whom it represented 17% of net income.  The International Herald Tribune has a good article about it here.

I’ve had other things recalled — most recently, my daughter’s toys being recalled for lead contamination comes to mind. But I never received a call from the company — I had to find out about it myself online after hearing the news stories.

What Costco did is good customer service. And Costco and Clif Bar have raised the bar (no pun intended.)

In the rivalry between Costco and BJ’s to win my business, who do you think just gained the lead? Given similarities in pricing and selection, what else is there to help set these two big box wholesalers apart except service?

I can’t imagine there’s much of a difference in the way they track customer data. They both swipe my membership card before they ring up my orders. BJ’s must have known that I bought the contaminated bars.

So can someone please explain to me, not why Costco called, but why BJ’s didn’t?

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Comments
  1. Faithful Reade says:

    Here’s another kudo for Costco. We use their pharmacy service, which may or may not be a franchise; I don’t know. This week, medicine I use for maintenanceof a chronic condition suddenly became unavailable — at Costco and everywhere else. The pharmacists did everything possible to get me a substitute, from conferring with my doctor to checking with Medicare and my secondary ins saving me countless trips and phone calls.

  2. jlsimons says:

    Thanks for the comment, FR. Its funny… the last place one would expect superlative customer service would be from a giant, seemingly impersonal warehouse store. And yet here are two examples that defy expectations.

  3. Josef Katz says:

    Hold everything. Cliff Bars were recalled? What will I eat now?

    BTW- You are assuming of course BJs has your phone number. I am not a member and don’t know what data they keep on file.

    BJs probably doesn’t have a guy like you working in their marketing department or their CEO is worried that if they recall a product the consumers will think bad things about their brand or will cost BJs $$$. The executive team is probably walking around saying “sssh if we don’t say anything no one will find out”… They probably don’t remember the Tylenol case and are too worried about looking good to worry about acting good. Of course as you point out this backfires more often than not.

    As a side point – What are the odds they have someone on their team that will come by and leave a comment explaining their point of view?

    • jlsimons says:

      Thanks for the comment, Josef. I think BJ’s captures the same kind of information for their members as Costco, including phone numbers. We put the number on our application and they certainly find us in the mail when they want to send us coupons.

      As for the odds they’ll answer here, I remain hopeful. And if West Point could pick up the gauntlet and reply to a post, as well as someone from the NYC government connected to the Bronx Zoo, I have reason to hope. (Of course, I was rooting for Arizona in the Super Bowl, so what do I know?)

  4. Fred Flintstone says:

    This is regarding the 2010 recall of Tylenol due to the ‘mildew’ smell.

    Costco DID NOT call us about this. I kept going back to their website and failing to find any information about what to do.

    After a couple of weeks I called McNeil, and 3-4 weeks later received a $20 coupon for each bottle that we had to throw out (as directed by McNeil).

    Now I just tried to use the coupon at Costco and they refused to accept the coupon. Apparently we were supposed to take the recalled products back to Costco. But they never called, emailed, or snail-mailed us to tell us that.

    I’m very disappointed with how Costco handled this.

    • jlsimons says:

      Your experience certainly points to pretty inconsistent customer service. I wonder why Costco mishandled the Tylenol mildew recall the way they did. At the very least, I don’t understand why they didn’t accept the coupons. All I can think of, and I certainly hope this isn’t the answer, is that the salmonella was potentially life threatening but the mildewy Tylenol could only make you puke. Anyway, thanks for the comment, Fred.

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