Customer Service

Ok.  Let’s be clear.  Everybody screws up.  Even you.  Yes, even me!  It is what one does to make it right that is “customer service”; not what is printed on your list of corporate values.

The objective of every business should be to ensure that every client is satisfied.  Sure there are some customers who will never be happy, but in the words of Purdue Chicken “when the Customer is wrong, refer to Rule #1 (the Customer is always right!)”.  For every customer who takes advantage, there are 100 who will translate your commitment to them into loyalty.

When QIC makes a mistake, we try to make it up at least two-to-one.   If the client doesn’t believe that they got full value from a day of our services, we give them 2 additional days, or give them one and refund them one, as an example.   We do a customer survey after every client visit, and immediately address any concerns.  And, as you would expect, 99.999% are glowing reviews.  Hopefully this makes for 100% happy customers, but even I am not that naïve.

We believe that we get the highest return from a dollar spent on customer service.   Most of our business comes from customer referrals.  You can’t buy that kind of advertising.  (Or maybe you can, by investing in good customer service.)

And yet, in today’s marketplace, true commitment to customer satisfaction doesn’t seem commonplace.  As a cynic, I would say that the commitment is to the “spin” of customer satisfaction, not the actual achievement thereof.

It seems that with the systemization of customer service, the objective has become “make the customer go away as soon as possible and convince her that we are in the right”.  If you haven’t already, watch Outsourced  [].  I confess, QIC provides some of the tools that allow that level of analysis, monitoring, and scoring.  But don’t blame the tool – those same tools can be used to get to root cause, and drive improvement, treating the disease, and not just the symptoms.

When your customer takes the time to write you a letter, or telephones, or emails, that is a positive thing.  They are taking the time to help you – their business partner – to improve your product or service.  Seize the day and thank that customer.  Make them feel wanted and valued.  Often it costs almost nothing to do so.   (If it does, see my comments above about “Can’t buy that kind of advertising”.) But it is becoming commonplace to ignore customer correspondence.  The worst situation is when the customer doesn’t complain and gives you no opportunity to correct.  When they leave, you have no idea why; and can’t improve.

The most effective way to deal with customer problems is not to follow a flowcharted script; it is the time-proven “put yourself in the customer’s shoes” and follow the Golden Rule – treat her as you would want to be treated, or even better.  You cannot win a “not my fault” argument with a customer. Why would you want to – you might think you won a battle, but you will certainly be well on your way to losing a war – with a customer.

I wrote the President of my golf club expressing my (valid of course) reasons for not renewing my membership.  Instead of a response, I received an email from accounts payable telling me to sign a form allowing them to charge my credit card for anything that may show up late.  Kinda reinforced my decision to leave!  A month later the Club Pro called to personally express his concern and ask how they could have kept me – he listened, apologized, and told me what they had done and were doing to fix things.  Almost made me go back; but too little, too late.

In my experience, the typical first response to a customer complaint is a condescending “oh I am sure we are not wrong, you are just not smart enough to understand…” or words to that effect.  Try correcting a blatant error made by a bank!  In my experience, banks and credit card companies make many more mistakes than they used to.  But since they are made by computer, they can’t possibly be real mistakes.

My former cell provider gets so many complaints directed to the President that they named a customer service group: “the Office of the President” – that way the President himself doesn’t have to deal with pesky customers.  Complaints are often met with the “you just don’t understand” followed closely by “pay up or else”.  Specific questions are often ignored; it is almost impossible to get anything in writing – everything is by telephone [“if it ain’t in writing it never happened” my Pappy used to say.]  If they do eventually promise to fix a mistake (usually as a “courtesy” not because they screwed up, of course), it sometimes “falls through the cracks” and one has to start all over again.  There is nothing worse, from a customer’s perspective, than promising to fix something, and then not doing it.    On a per-incident basis, the money is usually so small, and the effort to resolve so long and intense, that customers can’t be bothered.  But they do vote with their wallets.  After 30 years, I finally changed.

But the pièce de résistance was the paving contractor who, after my driveway sunk 5 months later, told me the 2 year guarantee meant he had 2 years to fix it!

Even though QIC’s support often revolves around technical issues, many of which are too subtle even for seasoned IT professionals, we work hard to get a solution to every question.  Many of our support calls have root causes that are found in the infrastructure and supporting software configurations.  It is difficult not to laugh sometimes when something that has worked 24/7 for 10 years suddenly stops working – but the customer swears NOTHING has changed – not hardware, updates, operating systems, security profiles, network components … nothing.  It is also amazing how much havoc a network patch cord that has been subjected to stress can cause; how hard that is to track down; and how much harder it is to convince the user that such a simple solution solves such a seemingly complex problem.

But the reason for the support call is not the issue. The most important thing to remember is that the customer needs service and deserves our serious attention to the issue.

We answer every call immediately, because “your call <really> is important to us”.  Nothing percolates frustration like waiting in voice-mail-hell to get an answer to what the client perceives as a problem.  We may not have the answer immediately (although 88% of the time we do because the person responding actually knows the products), but we can at least start the analysis immediately.

QIC works every customer issue as if it were 100% our fault and our responsibility.  This is about getting the customer a solution – not fixing blame to a third party.  That is what we believe “customer service” means.

If more organizations saw the payback in sincere attention to the customer, as Sam Cooke says, “what a wonderful world that would be” (and how much more profitable to those service driven companies).