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Monday, May 24, 2010

INDIFFERENCE IN CUSTOMER SERVICE

Customer Service is generally regarded as the "front-line" for any business. It is their responsibility to service the customer, answer questions, expedite problems and keep the customer happy, thereby encouraging repeat business. It is intended to make money, not lose it. At least, in theory, that is what it is supposed to be.

Not long ago we decided to switch banks, which is no small decision for any company to make. We had grown weary of how our old bank was "nickel and diming" us to death on frivolous charges. Even though we would call to complain, they were slow to correct problems. Such incidents occurred so frequently we decided to take our business elsewhere, but before doing so we gave the bank one last chance by telling them if these trivial matters didn't cease we would be forced to withdraw our account from their bank, to which the customer service rep said indifferently, "Okay." We then exited stage right and opened a new account in another bank which we have been pleased with so far.

A few months after we moved, a manager from the old bank called to say he noticed we had moved our account and what they could do to get our business back. We politely told him it was too late, but he should look into getting some new customer service reps.

A similar incident happened with our garbage collection service. Their rates slowly rose to a point where we started to look for another less expensive service. We called our current service and talked to a customer service rep to ask what they could do about lowering their rates. She wouldn't budge. We said we then had no alternative but to go with another service, to which she said "Okay" and hung up. Again, about a month after we canceled the service, a manager called to ask why we had left them. We explained the problem and the response from his customer service rep.

I have a friend who is a sales manager for a large distributor of industrial supplies. He primarily hustles around the area meeting new customers and checking on existing ones. After a customer is established, they can call in orders, large or small, to the main office who should promptly process and ship accordingly. One day, late on a Friday afternoon, a customer called in a small order for a box of tape. Since it was late in the day on the last day of the work week, the customer service rep figured the order could wait until Monday morning. He thought wrong. The box of tape, as innocuous as it seemed, was actually very much needed by the customer. When he didn't get it in time, he became very upset and the company lost the customer forever. This did not sit well with my friend who had to discipline the customer service rep for the snafu.

Customers do not like to be taken for granted. They want to be assured their best interests are being maintained by their vendors. From this perspective, "Okay" is not okay. The only excuse for indifference in customer service is when the customer is becoming more trouble than he is worth. Even then, he may affect sales simply from a reference point of view. This also means maintaining the status quo will not suffice. Regardless of the policies and procedures in place, customer service reps need to go beyond the call of duty to keep the customer happy. It is what we used to call "hustle." In other words, they cannot afford to go on automatic, but rather think and take charge of the situation.

Let me give you an example, a few years ago I was flying on American Airlines from Tampa to Seattle, with a connection in Dallas. This was an important business call as I had a sales presentation to make. Understandably, I became upset when the Tampa flight left unexpectedly late. As I arrived in Dallas, I realized I was going to miss my connecting flight. Consequently, I was instructed to get in line to talk to a customer service agent, a line which moved painfully slow and my temper began to rise noticeably. So much so, an older agent read the rage in my face and asked me to step out of line and over to the counter where she was working. Before I could give her a piece of my mind, she raised her hand calmly and said, "Stop. I will take care of you." I explained my problem and, to her credit, she had me rerouted and solved my problem. I found it remarkable how she was able to read me and defused the situation. She did it professionally and, frankly, with a lot of class. So much so, she turned a hostile customer into a happy one. I think her maturity and experience had a lot to do with it, but "Okay" was not okay with her, nor was the status quo. The process didn't solve the problem, it was her personality and socialization skills that saved the day.

Keep the Faith!

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Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim's columns, see:
http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.