Putting the Customer Back into Customer Service

Happy birthday to my oldest! He’s a handsome, good soul, and the source of his mother’s pride.

It never fails. When you can least deal with it, something is going to need to be dealt with. That goes for work and now mattress delivery.

I paid for it – the delivery. I scheduled it. I waited. No mattress. Since the delivery was to be between 5 -9 pm, I decided that it wasn’t coming when 9:15 rolled around. So I opted to call the store in the morning.

No need. They called me. I can’t even begin to explain the amount of confusion the man on the phone was experiencing. He had a mattress set in his office with my name on it, yet he had a delivery confirmation from his delivery company saying my husband signed for it. And here I was saying it had never arrived.

Apparently this guy isn’t very good at triage because he couldn’t see that the facts were what he should have been paying attention to. Clearly, the mattress wasn’t delivered (it was sitting in front of him). Clearly, the customer is wondering where the hell it is. Clearly, the delivery people screwed up. End of story, right? Oh, ye of too much faith….

He actually asked me why I hadn’t called the store to ask where it was. Um, because you’re not open yet (he called at 9:20- they open at 10). And because the chances of getting someone at that service desk at 9:30 pm is nearly impossible. So he decided he had to call the delivery company and talk to them.

Two hours later, we get a call back. The delivery company is still insisting it was delivered, but by now the store personnel aren’t buying that story. They rescheduled delivery for last night. And they gave us direct extension numbers so we could easily check with the store to make sure it’s been picked up for delivery. It arrived yesterday at five, one full day after it was promised.

I tell you all this not to bore you, but to point out how a little customer service can go a long way. The gent at the store was cordial – confused, but cordial. And when we got the call back, it was obvious they were rooting for us, not for their delivery company. Since I’m writing an article about outsourced services at the moment (how ironic), it stands out to me just how quickly things can deteriorate for customers when the companies they buy from don’t/can’t manage their suppliers.

As writers, we’re lucky. We have a shorter line going from us to our customers. However, we can still screw it up if we’re not paying attention. Here’s how to please your customers and show you care:

Put customers first. Always. If you’ve ever had to stand in line and be ignored while sales clerks carry on conversations with coworkers or you lodge a complaint and they try telling you how it’s your fault, you know that even a smidgen of concern from a business can go a long way. Conduct your business dealings with one thought – how it will impact your customer and how you can make and keep them happy.

Don’t promise if you can’t deliver. The mistake this company made was promising same-day delivery. Here I sit two days later… If you think there’s a chance you’ll miss that deadline, say so as soon as you can.

Answer them. Don’t avoid problems by letting them go to voice mail. Call them back, reply to their emails, and let them know they matter.

Fix it. Even the best situations come with issues. Instead of wasting time defending yourself or trying to affix blame to someone or something, apologize. Then fix it.

Do unto others. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. If you were the one with the concern or upset, how would you like it to be handled?

How do you make customers happy? When was the last time you had a bad customer experience? When was the last time you had a good one?

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  • Kimberly Ben February 1, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    Oh what a pain, Lori. Bad customer service also involves losing huge chunks of time you can't get back.

    My bad customer service experience: Dealing with the local cable provider (who shall remain nameless)insisting that I verbally agreed to a 3 year contract. When I insist they play the tapes so the we can hear me agreeing to such foolishness, they are conveniently unable to so so. This is an ongoing nightmare.

    My good customer service experience: I was recently forced to get a new phone and number and new phone, so I upgraded to something so complicated I could kick myself for choosing it. However, yesterday I called my wireless provider and spoke to a very pleasant, helpful representative who took my trembling hand and walked me through the basic features with the patience of a saint. She even sent me links to a couple of demonstration videos for good measure.

    Your customer service tips are spot on as usual. I especially agree with the 4th one – when I encounter a problem, I don't want anyone wasting my time with excuses, passing blame, etc. None of that matters to me in the least. I just want the problem acknowledged and some genuine attempt to provide a solution. Is that so hard?

  • Cathy Miller February 1, 2012 at 3:15 pm

    Kimberly – I love that you shared both good & bad> Nice to know there are some good ones. Sometimes it feels like they are a rare breed.

    In my corporate days, one of my assignments was managing onsite audits of customer service units. I was often accused of being too tough. Perhaps I was. But, I really think customer service is not rocket science. Apologize when you screw up and treat others how you would like to be treated. Respect one another.

  • Kimberly Ben February 1, 2012 at 3:26 pm

    Cathy, I completely agree – customer service is not rocket science. When people are treated well and with respect, they are much more likely to continue doing business with you.

  • Paula February 1, 2012 at 5:51 pm

    I had a bad-turned-good customer service experience this week. It's long. Feel free to scroll through it: The trash collectors skipped my recyclables, and didn't come back the next day for them as promised. More than half the refuse I set out each week is in the recycling bin, so I asked if I could get a small refund – maybe $1 – since I shouldn't have to pay for service I didn't receive. They're contracted by the city, so they gave me a number to call.

    That's when it got bad. The woman from the city was beyond snippy. She barked "We don't give credits!" (um, they can and do on occasion). She flat out lied by saying they provide recycling services as a free courtesy. I was polite, but when she realized I wasn't backing down she directed me to a guy who heads up an entirely different department. Can you say run-around? Had that women even pretended to care (or feign politeness) I would have dropped it, but I left a voicemail for that guy anyway.

    My bill was due today, so Monday I tried calling in again. Four tries and each time I hit the voicemail option for Billing, the line went dead. So I e-mailed. First try didn't go through because an e-mail address (copied directly from their website) was invalid. Tried again with just one address and it went through.

    Tuesday morning I head back from the actual guy who handles the billing for the city (not the guy she referred me to). He saved the day. He knows customer service. He apologized both for the initial problem and for the woman's rudeness (right off the bat he knew which employee she was). He'd also checked with the person who handles their phone system and learned they'd been having issues with the voicemail and were working on it. He gave me two direct numbers in case I have further issues with the trash collection.

    He explained the situation from the city's POV – the company they contract with suddenly stopped collecting anything in alleys – without informing the city or residents. While they've been overwhelmed with complaints, he said that's no excuse for that woman's behavior.

    That's what good customer service is – it's not solving every problem, it's letting customers know you care about their situation and will either try to resolve it or explain the reasons behind it.

  • Anne Wayman February 1, 2012 at 8:04 pm

    Hey Lori, I had breakfast with my oldest today – another good soul.

    I'm sorry about your mattress experience…

    I've had some CS problems… super nice people who promise but don't deliver. Now the client is dragging his feed about changing providers… out of my hands.

    While I don't believe the customer, me or a client, is always right, they/we always deserve good, respectful and truthful service. Your points are wll taken.

  • Tony Ratcliffe February 2, 2012 at 12:01 pm

    My last poor experience was with a software company we all use to some extent, so bad I was about to remove anything related to them. However, through a comment on Twitter, that was turned around quickly by someone who truly seemed to care. The new purchase was saved.

    When I have good experiences, they stand out. I tend to talk about them, and I will call or write to let someone know. The last was probably two excellent servers at a dinner theatre on New Years' Eve.

    I do want to make one point. When an organization receives positive feedback about staff, sound enthusiastic when taking it, and be sure to convey it to the staff member. It makes everyone feel good.

  • Lori February 2, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    Kim, it seems the cable providers are the worst offenders. And it's great when a service person actually gives service, isn't it?

    Good credo to live by, Cathy. What astounds me is how much customer service lines have deteriorated in quality over the years. Why? Aren't they there to solve problems, not create stress?

    Paula, good for you for hanging in there, and good for that man for helping. Recycling IS part of what we pay – I agree. You're right – even if you can't solve it, you can be courteous about it.

    Anne, oddly the mattress issue wasn't the worst I've ever had – far from it – just the most recent. It was solved fairly easily, amen. I reacted strongly because I'm used to being treated poorly, I guess.

    Tony, good seeing you here. 🙂 Funny how those comments can sometimes get the companies to really respond. I had that happen here. Microsoft showed up when I was ranting. They didn't fix it, but they listened. Made a difference.

    Great point on the enthusiasm. Feedback is easier to give when the person receiving it is engaged.