I don’t know about anyone else, but I have been struggling with finding great customer service lately. Sometimes I wonder if it’s a contributor (or effect) of our current economic climate. At times, I feel like companies just don’t care anymore or have simply given up. You would think it would be quite the opposite. If companies are striving to overcome the last couple years of a slow economy, I’d say the time has come to step up the service and make an impression. Now more than ever, consumers are craving service and personal touches, and employees are seeking positive work cultures. Excellent customer service contributes to both.
Indeed, some companies get it and have consistently done so for many years. Our family has had great customer service experiences with Southwest Airlines, Costco, 1-800-CONTACTS, and Kohl’s Department Store. The latter really stands out in our area of the country. When you constantly hear people talking around the office or in social circles about their positive experiences with Kohl’s return policy or customer discounts, you know the company has found the right formula. Unfortunately, these companies are more the exception than the rule.
Inconsistency is one issue. I find with our phone company that sometimes I will call and the person barely understands, or cares about, my issue, robotic to the point where I want to call back and make sure the company understood my issue. Other times, though, I call and the representative is energetic and engaging and has a solution before I even need to make the request. In the particular example of the phone company, it seems much better when I call in the evening. Maybe someone can enlighten me as to why that is the case. Sometimes I think I pressed just the right order on the automated phone menu to get the well-trained department.
What I find worse than the inconsistency, though, is the inability to engage the customer at all when a problem is evident. Call it “no eye contact” combined with a “tail between the legs”. My wife and I have experienced this lately with the purchase of large ticket items, namely high-end appliances. The sale, of course, is never the problem. It’s the experience afterwards that separates the best from the rest. Both of the appliances we bought had repair issues right away (bad luck on our end, I guess). In each case, we needed immediate assistance because, after all, we are running a business.
Instead of action from the sales person, we got the “we’re here for you” speech. And after a week of headaches and failed patches to the problems, the clichéd sales speak doesn’t go far. It forces the consumer to become angry and demanding. The customer shouldn’t demand the solution. Instead, a great service culture offers the solution before asked. In our case, we had to push for replacement appliances to the point that the relationship soured and we will not be returning customers.
I think my wife and I are good, kind people, but we do have high expectations of ourselves and others when it comes to service. Most people understand mistakes happen, but if you engage the customer and acknowledge his or her concern, you open the possibility to actually strengthening the relationship when you come to an agreement on a solution. At The Livingston Inn, we work extremely hard in every interaction with a guest to provide them with a highly personalized service experience. When we do so, our guests open up with their expectations all the more. We then discover more about how we can further enhance their experience at our B&B and their visit toMadison.
It might seem uncomplicated for a husband and wife team to deliver great customer service compared to a Fortune 500 company, but I think it is easily attainable for an organization of any size. It does start with great leadership and excellent communication. It may require starting small, identifying key service points that deliver the biggest bang for the buck. But we don’t identify the great service-oriented companies like Costco just because of the humorous stories. We do so because they are also successful enterprises.
With that in mind, I want to end this post with a note of encouragement, emphasizing the positive to move forward. I invite you to share any of your excellent customer service experiences with me. It would be nice to know more about who is doing a great job, and then together we keep pushing out these stories through blogs and other social media. If we keep creating impressions of what excellent customer service can look like, everyone can be inspired and discover a way to bring success to their companies, their employees, and their community.