Sunday, August 15, 2010

Give It To Me Now, Give It To Me Straight

In this post, I'm going to talk about service from the customer perspective, stepping out of my role as a service provider. Let me state for the record that when I say Customer Service, I am not talking only about a Customer Service "department," or the handling of complaints or returns or problems, although all of these are all parts of the Customer Service world. I'm talking about a philosophy of service that is relevant across the company, and which doesn't lose sight of the fact that a business will only continue to exist as long as it fulfills the needs and expectations of customers, whether those customers are end-users or other businesses. Great Customer Service is evident in every step of the customer's contact with the company. It's useful, I think, to do a quick review of what I consider to be the essential elements of excellent Customer Service from the customer's perspective:

  • Timeliness - Service transactions and information are delivered quickly and appropriately
  • Accessibility - Customers can easily get information or ask questions or report issues through any channel the company provides without "jumping through hoops."
  • Directness - The Customer should always feel that they are getting correct information, and not just a tidbit or statement the company chooses to provide to make them "cool off."
Now for the examples.

Not So Good: A company well known for their Customer Service recently sent us an electronic coupon worth $10. The email stated that it could be used on their website, printed and brought to a retail store, or simply shown at the checkout on a smart phone. Armed with iPhone and coupon, we visited one of their outlets. We brought our purchases to the checkout. The cashier had never heard of or seen the promotion. The cashier's supervisor had never heard of or seen the promotion. They did not know how to handle the electronic coupon, and wound up turning it down because of their distinction between a retail store and an outlet store. This goes to Directness. We now understand  their distinction between one of their big, full-price stores (nearest one is 4 hours away) and their outlets. It should have been clear on the coupon, and the program should have been known to their employees. [Note: This was the first less-than-stellar interaction I've had with the company in 40 years of doing business with them. They explained why they could not take the coupon, but made no attempt to take any responsibility for the interaction.]

Excellent: One of the sites I use to post on the Web suffered a Denial of Service attack last week, and was effectively down. The company scrambled to get out from under the attack. As soon as possible, they sent out one of the best Customer Service communications I've ever seen. In this email, they
  • Explained in plain language what happened, what they did to solve it and how they planned to prevent it from happening again (no excuses, just information)
  • Apologized sincerely, indicating that they understood that the site was down, and what that meant for subscribers
  • Applauded the technical team that had worked without rest to provide a solid, working solution
The information was Direct, Accessible, and Timely. It does not get much better than that.

Give it some thought.

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