Smithson: Whatever happened to customer service?
I had a superb experience as a customer at a Vancouver car dealership this past weekend.
Reflecting back, it occurred to me that this has been a rare occurrence for me lately. Customer service is, of course, the window through which customers view a business.
Not surprisingly, poor service is one of the chief complaints of customers.
It comes in all shapes and sizes and can sour a relationship to the point where the customer quietly moves on to obtain goods or services elsewhere.
Studies have reported that half of all shoppers report multiple customer service problems during any given shopping trip.
In my own experience, there are three versions of poor customer service which are particularly likely to jeopardize the relationship.
The first involves the employee blaming the customer for whatever the issue happens to be.
To be sure, there are occasions when the customer is at fault, but a tendency to leap to the conclusion that the customer has done something wrong can be particularly aggravating.
I recall getting on an aircraft in Victoria a few years ago, having earlier checked in and received my ticket.
As I boarded, I showed my ticket to the flight attendant.
She frowned and told me there was no seat for me (it seems that two tickets had been issued with the same seat number).
That was irritating in and of itself but it’s what happened next that really left a bad taste.
She started to say, “The problem is that you (dot, dot, dot).”
Quickly sensing where this was going, I interjected to inform that I had done nothing other than walk up to her company’s check-in counter and receive a ticket.
It was their job, not mine, to ensure that the ticket had a valid seat number (with no other body sitting in it!).
It’s amazing how these unpleasant encounters stick firmly in the memory of the consumer.
I can’t recall why I was in Victoria on that occasion or anything else about my trip, but I clearly recall the exchange with the flight attendant.
My second beef involves the employee, rather than taking responsibility for a problem, simply handing the customer off to someone else.
It happens to me all the time in department stores in particular. I also had a recent experience to that effect here in Kelowna.
We had been having ongoing problems getting an expensive job completed properly in our home.
I was working slowly through the process of attempting to get the problem fixed.
Just getting in contact with the company’s representatives by telephone was a challenge.
When I finally reached a representative of the business to explain one particular portion of the problem, the response I got was, “Oh, that’s for Jack to take care of.”
Rather than assuring me he would promptly track down Jack to have him take care of the issue, he left it in my hands to locate the other employee and achieve the desired resolution.
What that told me was that this employee considered his own time to be more valuable than mine.
That is also a definite customer service flaw, in my view.
The third thing that I experience time and time again is employees who simply don’t take their customers’ issues seriously. In the face of unsatisfied customers, they take a blasé approach and brush off client concerns.
It’s one thing to calmly assure your customers that their issue is not critical and can be addressed. It is another thing to demonstrate total apathy about the problem.
I had an experience with a bike shop last year which comes to mind.
I had bought new tires for my mountain bike from this shop and, each of the first three times I rode the bike (on-road only), I ended up with a flat tire.
I had owned this bike for 10 years and had never previously experienced a flat. So, three consecutive blowouts seemed to me to be testing the limits of pure chance.
I took the wheel back to the bike shop to be repaired and, each time, my frustration grew.
The reaction I got amounted to, “These things happen.”
That didn’t make me feel any better—to the contrary, it just made me more upset. The way for companies to overcome these issues is through training and indoctrination of employees.
I am confident that basics of customer service can be trained, and that even the most socially inept person can be taught how to deal respectfully and productively with the clients of the business.
The indoctrination element relates to making the employees feel a part of the company’s culture as it relates to customer service.
It’s about teaching employees that every contact they have with a client contributes to the totality of how the company is viewed by the general public.
Many customers will stick with a company which has only average products if only they are treated well and provided with effective service.
The entire fast-food business, for example, has survived on the strength of the premise that fair-to-middling food can be sold to people who value service and speed.
The ones which have been highly successful have demonstrated an understanding that repetitive training and indoctrination are the keys to consistently good customer service.
That can result in employees who demonstrate great customer service by saying things like, “Sir, we’ll address that right away and I’m going to personally ensure it’s done to your satisfaction.”
Back to the car dealership in Vancouver, these folks clearly understand these concepts.
They went out of their way to solve every issue which arose, each person I had contact with took complete responsibility for ensuring my satisfaction, and I was never left to fend for myself.
Added together, those elements made for a memorable experience which will ensure that I take my business back there in the future. As for those other companies, they shouldn’t expect to see me again anytime soon.
Robert Smithson is a labour and employment lawyer, and operates Smithson Employment Law in Kelowna. This subject matter is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.