Sunday, October 4, 2009

Customer Service Week: Celebrating Your Best

Who picks up the phone when someone calls your company with a question or a problem? After your customer has navigated what is sometimes a long Winding Path through a phone tree or waited on hold—or both—who handles a confused, sometimes angry customer? Your Customer Service people do.

Customer Service Week is meant as a time to honor and celebrate the people who do this difficult and sometimes personally rewarding job. Like a lot of well-intended celebrations, however, it has become focused more on celebrations in Customer Service rather than celebrations of Customer Service both as a department or team, and as a concept.

Dear C-level Execs:

When was the last time you had a question about your own products? Did you call your Customer Service line (or use your IT Service Desk)? I'll bet that you did not, but rather used some internal channels to get your answer. Why not call the same lines your customers do? I'll wager that you thought it would take too long, and might not get you the help you needed. What does that say about your company's customer focus? It says that you are out of focus, and that—once you've collected their money—your customers become second-class citizens. Would you deliver that message up front? "We'll take your money for our product and then deliver as little help as we can without losing measurable market share." What's wrong with that? Everything.

Dear Customer Service Reps and IT Support Staff:

Take this week to celebrate yourselves. Make nice when the CEO/COO/CIO stops by to eat your cake and tell you how valued you are. There are those of us who truly value your work and think the world of your daily struggle to get it right. Most often, you do get it right. Sometimes very right. You save the customer's day, and you save the company's bacon. Good for you! You have every right to this week of funny hats and pizza, or however it is that you choose to say, "Hey! We're good at what we do!"

Dear Customers:

Yes, the phone trees are frustrating. Yes, that music on hold is not exactly what you want to be listening to. But soon you will be connected to a person (and we all do want to be connected to a person rather than a bot, don't we?) who will help you. They will sort out your bill, or ask you to reboot, or direct you to some information, or just stay on the line with you until your particular service storm has passed, your issue resolved or on the way to resolution. When you are impatient and angry with a product, remember that the person on the phone with you really wants to help, They really do!

From a purely personal perspective, I'd like to thank the Customer Service people at two companies in particular for their consistently high standards and work: L.L. Bean* and American Express. Your companies really understand the Customer Service concept.

What can your company do to improve the level and ease of Customer Service?

Give it some thought.

*Note the quote from Leon Leonwood Bean at the top of the linked page. This company was founded on impeccable service and continues to offer it.

Note: I have no financial or personal connection to either L.L. Bean or American Express other than being a long-time customer of both.

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