Sunday, September 27, 2009

Customer Service Week: What Makes Great Service?

From time to time, we are struck by the quality of service we experience at a particular store, restaurant, or from the support folks associated with a Web site or company. As we approach Customer Service Week, which starts on October 5 this year, let's examine the particular things that make us say, "That was great service."

By great service, I mean the kind of service that makes us change our mind about a purchase or item; it's the kind that not only makes us feel good, but makes us want to tell people about the business, to spread the word, to become an advocate for that business. Anyone in marketing will tell you that this is the most valuable kind of advertising—and they can't get it from an agency.

  • Personal - No one will feel that they have received great service if they do not feel that they were treated like a real person, rather than the recipient of some scripted interaction. On the other hand, making a fleeting, great, personal connection on a customer service (CS) call or at a point of sale can change a day, a week, a whole attitude.
  • Empathetic - If you are calling about a problem, you expect the person on the other end of the phone or Web form to have at least a rudimentary grasp of the source of your frustration or complaint or question. The most exasperating customer service interactions are those in which the representative has no clue why you might have an issue.
  • Available - When you call for customer service, you'd like some attention now. Navigating complicated phone trees and waiting on hold are always mentioned as annoyances. Typing "I hate phone trees" into Google generates about 845,000 returns. "I hate waiting on hold" gets about 2,000,000.
  • Empowered - The last thing you want to hear from any customer service rep any time anywhere is "I can't do anything for you, but thanks for calling." A company generates detractors when it does not have either clear policies about what CS reps can, should, and must do to try to satisfy customers, or a clear escalation path.
  • Professional - We expect a trained, knowledgeable person who can give us the answer to our question, or who can point us to someone who can. Many reps forget about this part, or were not introduced to the concept when they were introduced to the company.
  • Dependable - If you tell me you are going to email me a helpful link, email me the link, and make sure it's helpful and relevant.
What do you think are the elements that made you change your mind about a business or purchase? What makes customer service great for you? Please comment - I'd love to hear what you have to say.

Give it some thought.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Starting Something New Over Again

September has special meanings for those of us who spent lots of years going to school, and who enjoyed it. I loved getting ready for a new round of classes and teachers, buying new books (except for the money!), and meeting new classmates with whom and from whom to learn. Another year, the next level, new challenges, new opportunities.

Then there's that autumn thing: Crunchy leaves under your feet, the emotions of watching a year die and knowing that the winter is coming on.

Well, I'm not going to school this year, but even now things change in September. Vacation times are over, and rounds of meetings are starting up again. There are new people to meet, and new challenges to face. All of this September anticipation brings me to ask you some questions:

  • What are you learning right now, in your life?
  • What are you reading?
  • What are you writing?
  • What are you doing to meet new people and new challenges?
  • What are you doing to make yourself better?
  • What are you doing to make the world better?
Please use the comment feature of this blog to let me know what you are doing and reading. I'm always finding out about new books and sites from others, and I love to learn about new things. Here's a quick list of blogs I'm following, and I also share from Google Reader.

Reach up and grasp something higher than you have before. Learn, do, change. Make this September the beginning of a new semester of your life.

Give it some thought.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Would You Believe...

We need a new washer and dryer. We have simply been in denial about it for a while now. The dogs on the agitator in the washer are shot so that it really doesn't wash as well, and the dryer takes much longer to get things dry than it should. That's OK. The current set was bought 5 or 6 years ago, used, from an ad in the company bulletin. They are not as efficient as new ones, and we'd like to do what we can to make the earth a little happier.

We found a really good deal on a set at one of the local appliance stores. Energy-saver rated, low water usage, off means really off, and so on. Special "while supplies last" pricing, and an additional "percent off" if I put it on my store credit card. (It's always paid off in full.) We looked at alternatives, talked about some of the things we'd seen on the Internet, compared notes and decided to go ahead.

Just as we were making up our minds, the salesperson (who happened to be female in this case) said, "There's an extra 10% off if you are..." and she listed a bunch of things which I am not—police officer, EMT, firefighter, etc. I said, no that's OK, I'm not any of those. She said, "Oh--we'll just say you are anyway--they don't require any proof or anything."

I don't think the salesperson realized what was going through my mind right then:
  1. If you'll lie to the company about my eligibility for a discount, what have you lied to me about?
  2. If everyone gets the extra 10% off, there is no courtesy or honor to the first responders the promotion is supposed to support
From that moment on, the sale was in grave jeopardy. Either that washer and dryer would stand on their own merits, or the deal would fail. Frankly, my first impulse was to run far, far away, but it really was a good deal on its own. We took them, but I would not let her apply the 10% discount at the register. She looked at me like she'd seen a ghost, but I was able to walk out of the store with some integrity—a word with which she seemed not to be familiar.

Maybe in some way the salesperson thought I only cared about the price. She obviously hadn't read my blog about The Sign in the Shoe Store. Price is not everything.

I certainly did not get a good customer service feeling from this purchase. I hope my product judgement proves better than the sales person's judgement of me.

Give it some thought.

Afterword: The delivery of the new washer and dryer was scheduled for Friday. The old dryer stopped working Thursday evening. Sometimes the timing is just right.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Consistency Counts

My friend Buzz is a DIY (do-it-yourself) kind of guy. He used to work as a professional in the construction trades, so when he walks into a store to buy some PEX tubing for his house, he knows exactly what, and how much, he needs. He's straightforward and about as honest as you can find, so I know this story happened just as he says.

We have two "big box" supply stores in the area. I won't mention names, but I'll call one Blue and one Orange. You get the picture.

Buzz called Blue to ask if they had the PEX tubing he needed—3 rolls, to be exact. Nope, none to be found in the store, and that was that. And so, since he had to travel into town anyway, he figured he'd just stop at Orange and get what he needed. What he got instead was a small lesson in what inconsistent customer service looks like.

He checked the Plumbing Supply section of the store and found an empty space where the tubing should be. But they carried it, no doubt, because there was a shelf tag for it. There was no one in the section, so he headed to the front of the store to find an employee. He did that, and (having previously having received an education in big box shopping) asked, "Can you help me with something in Plumbing?"

"No," came the answer, "but he can." The employee indicated a colleague who was talking with another employee near the Tools aisle. Buzz walked on over. And he waited, and waited for Mr. Plumbing to acknowledge him. Now here I have to say that Buzz is not easy to overlook: Think Grizzly Adams. The two employees were just passing the time in a chat that was not related to work. And neither seemed to notice Buzz.

After a minute or two, Buzz spoke up and asked if Mr. Plumbing could help him. "Sure," came the answer. So Buzz asked if they had any more PEX tubing.

OK, then, Buzz asked, "Can you tell me when you might have some coming in?"
"Not really. It just comes in."
"Well, can you order it?"
"No, it just comes in."

Buzz calmly walked away, feeling more than a little put out. The next day, he called the store to see if there was some way he could get what he needed. He got through the initial wait for someone from Plumbing to get to the phone, and then asked about the 3 rolls of PEX tubing.

"Hang on just a minute," the person said, "and I'll check to see if we have any squirreled away." A moment later, the person was back on the phone. "No, I'm afraid not. Would you like me to call up to Bangor and see of they have some there? I can have it sent down for you."

This was more like it, Buzz thought. "Yes, please check for me." With another minute on hold, Buzz found out that Bangor had 56 rolls of the tubing.

"Can I have that sent down here for you?"
"I'm planning a trip up there anyway," Buzz said, "so I'll just pick it up when I go."

In a nutshell:
  • Blue had no tubing, and did not offer to get it
  • Orange Employee #1 did not offer to assist Buzz, but just pointed him at Employee #2
  • Employee #2 was engaged in a personal chat with another employee, and Buzz was forced to interrupt
  • Employee #2 did not offer to assist Buzz in any way
  • Orange Employee #3 (on the phone) checked stock, and then checked another store for stock, and offered to get the tubing sent to the store
We've all had similar experiences in one store or another. The only surprise in this story is that Orange Employee #2 and Orange Employee #3 work for the same company.

What is your plan to increase the consistency of your customer service? What do you expect from employees, and how to you measure whether or not they are delivering to those expectations?

Give it some thought.