Customer service the right way

Bad customer service stories are everywhere. They are so prevalent that a quick search revealed over two million hits. So what is customer service the right way? And is it possible that we get so run down by receiving bad service that it spills into our own performance?

Bad customer service stories are everywhere. They are so prevalent that a quick search revealed over two million hits. So what is customer service "the right way"? And is it possible that we get so run down by receiving bad service that it spills into our own performance?


Last week I shared a story about the SO's Mom and her frustration with her DSL provider. Some of you had your own ISP nightmares and shared them. Seems like poor customer service is everywhere you look these days.

I got curious and did a Google search on "customer service stories." I got 2,230,000 returns. The first was to a site called "Customer Disservice." Hmm. Related searches led to bad customer service stories, customer service horror stories, funny customer service stories, and Nordstrom customer service stories. I sensed a trend. So I took a quick look at the related searches and discovered page after page of negative customer service stories. The only search that had anything positive was the Nordstrom customer service page — that is because Nordstrom's customer service policy is legendary.

That got me to thinking. It seems that we are so accustomed to poor service that we almost don't even notice it anymore. Why is that? Don't we deserve to be treated well when we are the customer? Shouldn't we be trying to provide a positive customer experience to our customers?

The SO has been waiting for a call from his financial planner — waiting anxiously because he wants to redistribute his retirement account. Financial planner boy can't be bothered to call or e-mail him, even though SO has been clear that he is anxious about this. I suggested to the SO that he e-mail the guy and let him know that this is not acceptable and that financial planner boy needs to consider his priorities, one of which is keeping his customer (the SO) happy. SO says no, he'll let it go for another day or two before he pings again. Yippee. We pay financial planner boy to manage that retirement account. When SO is anxious about that account, guess who deals with that? Me. I'm not getting paid nearly as well as financial planner boy!

But there it is. We don't like it when we receive poor customer service, but we expect it to the point that we refuse to do anything about it. And I think that shows in the customer service we provide to others. If not today, certainly soon.

Many of us provide support to internal customers. The worst they can do when we don't provide good support is complain to our boss. It's not like they can take their business elsewhere. But if the little bit extra that I can give them makes their day a bit easier, I am happy to do that. I think, at the core, we all are.

Let me tell you a little story about the way customer service SHOULD, but rarely DOES, work.

Guy brings his new car back to the dealer and complains that unless he buys vanilla ice cream, the car won't start. The mechanic is understandably puzzled by this and decides that he will go with the customer to buy ice cream. The guy goes to the ice cream place and turns off the engine. He buys vanilla ice cream and restarts the car. Everything is fine. The mechanic has him turn off the engine and suggests that the man go buy a different flavor of ice cream. The man returns to the car with a different flavor and the car won't start. The mechanic has noticed that when the man bought the vanilla ice cream he was back to the car quickly. When he bought the different flavor, the task took longer. The mechanic then discovered that there was a vapor lock that occurred in the longer time span that would resolve itself over a much longer period. When they got the car started again, they went back to the dealership and the mechanic was able to fix the problem.

Simply by choosing to put the customer first and really try to understand the problem, the mechanic was able to trace the issue and fix the problem easily. Treating the customer well meant that the mechanic was better able to do his job.

I know that when you are the recipient of bad customer service there is a temptation to pass along your poor experience. I don't think that it is intentional. I think that we get worn down so badly that we may not even know we are doing it.

Make a decision to call yourself out when you are providing service that is at a lesser level than you want to give. Even if all you can do about it is take a minute and explain your situation to your customer. "No, I can't get it fixed today because I need to send out for a part. I can get you a spare hooked up so that you can do your work and get to your e-mail, though." "I understand that your e-mail is down. The whole company is down right now. Let me get your extension so that I can call you when the system is back up." That little extra effort will go much farther than you can imagine.

I know that the people who provide hands-on user support love what they do. Most support people I have known really make an effort to give the best service they can. So tell me about how you make customer service a priority in your job.

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