Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Lost Art of Customer Service

(Originally posted on November 22, 2007)

Missing in Action

Maybe it's just me, but I really appreciate customer service. The term is an intangible in my mind, as it can take on many different forms. It's not a concrete checklist where I know someone accomplished their job to satisfy my experience in their establishment. It is, however, a feeling, and I know when I have been gypped out of a good experience.

Overall, Las Vegas rates about a 9 for good customer service - on and off the Strip. On the Strip, I think you expect it more because we're a tourist-driven economy. However, I don't spend that much time there, and I suppose most folks take it for granted.

Having been in sales and customer service for the last 23 years, I have been trained so many times by so many companies, that good customer service is part of my very being. My goal is to WOW you from start to finish, and I always check with my clients afterwards to see if I met that level of satisfaction.

Although I work very hard to create the best experience available, I know that not everyone thinks that way. That's okay, as it makes folks like me shine even brighter. I'm not trying to blow my horn, I'm just laying the foundation for my expectations of others.

We're all in Customer Service

Every person who has a job has a component of customer service, whether it's for internal or external customers. Some folks only deal with other people inside their company, not the general public. They still give customer service to those people. From their demeanor to how quickly they do their job.

The normal expectation of customer service is going into a store to buy something, but let me start with the unexpected - garbagemen. The guys who pick up my recycling had a conversation with my wife one morning. Nothing more than hello, nice weather, etc. She went into the house, and they brought up our recycling bins to the house after they were emptied. Now, every two weeks our bins are up at the house. That's customer service. They took an interaction, personalized it and have gone above and beyond our expectation (with no thought of getting a tip, etc.)

When I go into a Starbucks, I expect my experience to be at a certain standard, minimally. Starbucks has trained us well, as it's a cookie-cutter operation. It should include a hello, what would you like this morning, what's your name (to put on the cup), and how much the bill is. Am I right?

So imagine my surprise when my friend and I went into a Starbucks, not busy at that moment, we walk up to the register and the gal says, "Uh, yeah, I'll be right with you." She walks away, comes back a minute later and says "What can I get you?" My friend says "And good morning to you" (in a very sweet voice). Our gal totally ignores this clue, no response back, takes our order and we pay. It so happens we both ordered drip coffee, black. It doesn't get easier than that at Starbucks. She fills one cup first and you can hear the sploosh-sploosh of the bottom of the canister, and she hands me my drink. She then turns to my friend and says, "I'll make you a fresh cup, it'll just be a few minutes."

Huh? If she's getting a fresh cup, then what did you just pour me? If we have to wait for her cup, why shouldn't I get a fresh one, too? Needless to say, this Starbucks location is off my list, as this was not my first bad experience there. The good news is that there's Starbucks on the other 3 corners of that intersection, so I don't have to go far!

Reward superior service

I could go on with endless stories, both good and bad, with the service I have received. Where you go up to a counter and the person is so busy talking to a co-worker that they never acknowledge your existence through the entire purchase, for instance. (Home Depot.)

I almost always take the time to tell a manager about an exceptionally good or bad experience. Why? First, I don't want it to happen again to me or anyone else, if it was very bad. My goal isn't to get the person in trouble, it's a direct reflection on their training, and it's an opportunity to help them in the long run.

When I have a good experience (of which I have so many, it's ridiculous), I tell the person immediately what an excellent job they did, how they made me feel, and then I ask if there's a comment card or a manager I can speak to. I make calls all the time to managers, as this is positive reinforcement for this person's actions, and I think it is better than a monetary reward - although I tend to tip too generously, according to my wife).

Take the time

If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm writing this on Thanksgiving. While it's important to give thanks for what you have - your health, family, wealth and wisdom - I think it's also equally important to reach out and make your daily experience better with everyone you encounter.

I also think you get what you give. I always say hello to whoever is helping me. We have a little conversation, a laugh, and connect. We're all people - we want to be acknowledged and appreciated. It just takes a moment to be different. So the next time you have a good experience, tell that person. Watch their face light up. In fact, if you see them regularly, you'll never have a bad experience with them, and you might even make a friend.

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