After dozens of encounters with customer service reps representing every industry from healthcare to banks to utility companies to auto dealers, I have come to the sad conclusion that with few exceptions, customer service exists only in the past tense. The typical customer service rep today can only look in their little company handbook and quote policy. But they are not empowered to think outside the box.
Whatever happened to the philosophy that the customer is always right? Now I realize that many consumers are unreasonable and their expectations are off-the-charts ridiculous. However, I truly believe that this represents a small percentage of typical consumers. Most people merely want quality products and good service after the sale. Period.
Back a few years ago when I worked as a General Manger in the retail automotive business, I learned many things about customer service. One concept in particular stuck with me. If a customer has to debate and argue to get what he or she wants, and through this negotiation the company agrees to make things right, from the customer’s point-of-view the company did nothing to help him or her. It was only through the customer’s insistence that the problem was resolved. Consequently, even though the company agreed to fix the problem and took a hit in the cash register, they got no credit for it in the customer’s eyes.
So, my philosophy as a General Manager was simple. When a customer complained about something and I felt that ultimately I’d cave in and agree to help him or her, I did it immediately, without debate and without making the customer convince me that they were entitled to this consideration. When a business agrees to resolve an issue right up front, with no argument and no double-talk, the customer wins and the business gets a good report card.
A recent experience pretty much blew holes in my theory about customer service being a lost art—at least in one instance. My wife went to New York to visit family, particularly, her 87 year old grandmother. She was gone for 12 days and toward the end of her visit, I sensed that she needed a pick-me-up. So, being the wonderful husband that I am, I sent her flowers and an “I Love You” balloon through 1-800-FLOWERS. I had never used this service before and thought their flowers were a little pricey. Not wanting to call every florist in New York City, I toughed it out and paid their outrageous price.
I was pleased when my wife called and told me she loved the flowers and that they delivered them exactly when they said they would.
Two days later, half of the beautiful flowers were either dead or droopy. I went to the 1-800-FLOWER’S website and told them what happened and expressed my dissatisfaction. Several hours later, I got an e-mail from them apologizing and offering to send another bouquet of flowers—free of charge. In addition, they agreed to send me a $20.00 gift card I could use toward a future purchase. Boy, was I impressed.
I wrote back and asked if they could send the flowers to San Diego rather than NYC because my wife was returning the next day. They immediately responded and cheerfully agreed to redirect the flowers to San Diego. Ultimately, someone crossed signals because they sent flowers to both NYC and San Diego.
Here’s the bottom line: guess who’s getting my business the next time I send flowers? Do you think I would consider another florist even at half the price? So, 1-800-FLOWERS probably lost money on my transaction. But in the long run they not only made me a customer for life, but I’m telling everyone I know how terrific they are. Why don’t other companies understand this concept?