Crisis management pro Jonathan Bernstein takes a low blow from Nutrisystem foods, fights back
I made a grand pronouncement on Facebook, earlier this month, that I was starting the Nutrisystem program with the goal of shedding 20 pounds. My original order had been placed by phone, and for the first couple of days I followed plan direction to the letter and found the food remarkably adequate in taste, which was OK with me, I didn’t expect more. It’s when customer experience falls below expectations set by the company that problems start. And oy, did they start! It’s funny in hindsight…no, maybe that’s not a good word to use right here…anyhow, read the following thread of email which ensued between me and personnel at Nutrisystem.
[May 17 email from Me to Nutrisystem Dietary Services]
I am a new customer who was supposed to be on the sixth day of his Nutrisystem plan, but I have had to revert to eating easily digestible foods today until the extreme gasiness I’ve been experiencing subsides.
I did some online research and discovered, to my dismay, that this condition is so common for Nutrisystem customers that it’s even been given a name – Nutritoots. But having my sleep and daytime activities interrupted by gasiness hasn’t been as funny as that name. And the same research revealed the primary culprit to be the Maltitol and related sugar alcohols you use in your snacks and some other products – and I already know that I can tolerate only a very small amount of Maltitol. Why the HECK don’t you use a non-gas-producing sweetener like Splenda or Sevia?
I can tell you that, in my case, roughage is not the issue – I am very used to large quantities of roughage.
What distresses me most is that, despite how common this condition is, I wasn’t informed of this possibility when I first enrolled and placed my first food order – both on the phone with one of your sales reps. I could have avoided the great discomfort altogether.
As I am a widely published author, I wa already planning to write about my Nutrisystem experience – it makes it a tax deduction amongst other benefits. This is NOT a good start to the story.
Please review the foods you will find listed in my first order and advise. The email address you have on record is (redacted), and the phone number is (redacted).
[Email from Dietary Services]
If you wish to avoid maltitol or other sugar alcohols, you can edit your order to remove them from your menu.
If you wish to exchange foods or need help editing you order please call our customer service at 1-800-585-5483
[May 18, my email reply]
Gee, Stephanie, thank you for your sympathy regarding the physical discomfort I endured unnecesarily.
How about kicking this one upstairs to the head of customer service?
[May 18 - Receiving no further assistance from Ms. Nelson, I take a different tack, researching the name and contact information for Nutrisystems' designated contact for media and bloggers, Meredith Bandy, and sending her the following email]
Meredith, I’m bypassing customer service because (a) you have a PR problem centered in customer service and (b) I figured you’d “get it” better, clearly, than Stephanie Johnson did.
I’m a fairly well known crisis management consultant who is extremely active online – two blogs, a full slate of social media accounts, lots of activity there. Klout score = 63. And I’m also a brand-new Nutrisystem customer who was not warned of a very common and unpleasant side-effect of a number of Nutrisystem meals.
Please read the email below, in reverse chronological order, of course. I have written, frequently, about the fact that crisis prevention starts with the first contact points for customer service. If those individuals are trained to express compassion for someone’s difficulties, and empowered to implement a quick solution, then you end up with positive PR. If they do what Ms. Johnson did, you get an irate customer.
I would like a “for the record” comment from Nutrisystem about how and why I ended up on the short end of this arrangement, and what the company can do to make amends.
President, Bernstein Crisis Management
Author, Keeping the Wolves at Bay & Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management
[May 20, received this reply from Meredith Bandy]
Thank you Jonathan for reaching out to me and I am sorry for the situation you are in.
Please know that I am in the process of looking into this further with the heads of our contact center and will be sure to reach back out to you as soon as we can with an update and resolution.
We value you as part of our Nutrisystem family and appreciate your patience and understanding.
Thank you again.
All the best,
Public Relations Manager
[I sent a polite thank you and, later that day, heard back from the head of dietary services]
I am sorry to read about your unpleasant experience with flatulence after consuming some of the Nutrisystem foods, as well as the lack of customer service in response to your email. The email response came across as uncaring, but please know that Nutrisystem does care about its customers and strives to make their weight loss experience a pleasant one.
While our foods are generally agreeable with most customers, once we are aware of a known sensitivity to an ingredient including sugar alcohols, we certainly make every effort to provide additional information on menu options that should be limited or avoided to assist in editing the order. More specifically, we want to make sure that you get the foods that agree with you. I’ll be happy to work with you to customize your next shipment based on your likes and dislikes as well as any intolerances. You may want to try a few more of the foods before editing your next shipment, but when you are ready, just like me know.
As for the items that you received that contain sugar alcohols, please let me know what you would like to replace them. I will have these items shipped out right away. We will also add a $25 coupon applicable to your next shipment for your inconvenience.
We appreciate your business and thank you for selecting Nutrisystem as your partner in achieving your weight loss goal. Please let me know if I can assist you in any way.
Mary Gregg, R.D.
Nutrition and Dietary Services Department
[Well, at least she agreed that their email response was "uncaring." But, since they STILL hadn't explained why customers aren't informed, before their first order, that there are KNOWN and COMMON side effects from eating Nutrisystem meals, nor why I'd never even been asked if I had food allergies, I informed Mary Gregg that I wanted to cancel my plan. In her apologetic reply, assuring me I could return the product at no cost to me, she made a statement which reflects the company's apparent belief that a customer's well-being with regard to consuming Nutrisystem meals is, apparently, entirely up to the customer!]
We depend on our customers to make us aware of any allergies or intolerances that they have, and once we are aware of a known sensitivity, including sugar alcohols, we certainly make every effort to provide additional information on menu options that should be limited or avoided to assist in editing the order.
[A final author's note: The good news is that I've been able to continue dieting on my own, now down six pounds. And at least I got a good blog post/case history out of this experience. And when I took the large quantity of Nutrisystems meals to my local private postal service, the clerk there said, "Oh, we see this stuff getting shipped back very regularly!"]
[OK, I lied, that wasn't my final note. I *fully* expect readers to have kinds of smart-assed...ummm....humorous comments on this. They are welcomed!!]
Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc. and author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management (McGraw-Hill).