It’s all about service

December 20, 2010

I follow a terrific consumer advocate/travel blogger, Chris Elliott {and you should, too,}.

His consumer newsletter and website are rife with issues that would never have been referred to him if the airline / hotel/ rental car agency {fill-in-the-blank} had employed good customer service principles.

Just after reading his column the other day, I had a call from the company from which I bought window coverings. We’re displeased with part of the order and began seeking resolution the day we got them. It is four days later and I only got a call this morning because my designer “expedited” it. By calling a supervisor.

The “design assistant” read from what seemed to be a prepared script meant to simply put my issue “on hold” and was unhappy and almost hostile when I asked what exactly she meant by “working to resolve.” I thought it a reasonable question, since they hadn’t asked what resolution I sought.

Years ago I was looking for a car. I went to three dealerships, alone, with only a checkbook, because I was prepared to buy a car for my saved-up cash. That day. Maybe it was because I was a lone female, but I was ignored by all three dealers. When I left the showroom of the San Jose dealer I called the sales manager from the car to tell him exactly how he’d lost a sale. He practically begged me to return.

I then called a dealer in Florida, where I’d be the next week {Ferman Motors in Palm Harbor}. The floor sales guy set up an appointment for me to come in that Saturday and even better, said: “We’ll find you the car you want, Carol.” I bought the car that day. And sent a letter expressing my appreciation to the dealer.

My cousin works in a retail customer service position. He had to work late again the other day, holidays and all, but said that he didn’t mind, because “I love it when I can make a customer happy.”

Wow. What a rare attitude today and a shining example of what being in business is all about. Customer service is an art, but it’s also a skill that can be learned. My cousin ought to teach it. Everywhere.

President Clinton won the election on the simple concept, “It’s the economy, stupid!”

Well, here’s what I say to companies that provide products and services to consumers: “It’s customer service, stupid!”

A good customer service attitude, like my cousin’s, is what makes a pleasant buying experience and a loyal customer.


Companies that get my repeat business do so because of customer service. Netflix. Apple. Southwest Airlines. And, believe it or not, Starbucks. Among others.

Sometimes, we’re forced to do business with companies that disrespect us. Most big airlines, for example. Sour-faced flight attendants, snotty gate agents — they’re routine. If we have to fly, we probably have to fly with the biggies and put up with bad attitudes.

Believe me, we do that business grudgingly and only because we have to. The minute a better alternative comes up you can bet we’ll take it. Southwest has built a successful business on that very principle.

How about websites that hide the customer service phone number? Like AT&T or Verizon? Or those frustrating automated phone trees meant to keep customers from talking to a live person? Have you, too, been reduced to screaming “HELP!”into the receiver?

Customer service is long gone, interred with other artifacts of the past. The Edsel. Spats. Corded telephones. Black and white TVs. 8-track tapes.

Social anthropologists will probably look back at our culture and note the high water mark of an era in which businesses actually cared about customers.

You don’t have to look very hard to see it now.

2 comments on “It’s all about service
  1. Cyn says:

    You are absolutely right. I used to be the Operations Manager at a tennis/health club. I trained my front desk, housekeeping and playroom staff in customer service and was constantly surprised that it did not come naturally to some of my staff. It’s not that difficult!! Little things like thinking of something that pleases you or makes you smile BEFORE you answer the phone–your customer will respond to the smile in your voice.

  2. Cyn, you said it well. I know it can be hard to deal with difficult customers, but a neutral customer can go either way. Great customer service makes great customers. Bad customer service makes bad customers.

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