Customer Experience Drives Business Performance
Customer service issues in the hospitality industry often receive a great deal of attention, while other service industries typically receive little. The quality of customer service is no less important, however, to the multitude of other service occupations. Hotels, restaurants, and airlines are susceptible to high-profile customer service failures, but the average person has many more interactions with other businesses that are unlikely to garner media attention. Small, local businesses, for example, rarely enter the national spotlight; however, the customer experience they provide is equally critical to their survival as is it to their famous-name counterparts.
I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou
Poor customer service can leave patrons feeling unvalued, disrespected, cheated, or duped. Customers that experience these feelings are unlikely to return; if they do, it is typically as a last resort, with great skepticism and distrust of the service provider. Exceptional customer service, on the other hand, can turn customers into unpaid promotional ambassadors that return frequently and bring others with them. Key factors in providing exceptional customer service include:
The examples below are true stories of customer service failures. Each is followed by an alternative scenario with the potential to turn the negative experience into a win-win situation for the customer and provider.
When a malfunction returned after the initial service call, the appliance repair company was contacted with a request to revisit the problem. The technician’s rude and disrespectful behavior, in response to this request, included accusing the customer of lying about the appliance’s malfunction. The company refused to make any attempt to resolve the issue; even a paid service call was out of the question!
Alternative: “I’m sorry to hear that you’re still having trouble with your appliance. When would be a good time to take another look at it?” There is no acceptance or denial of responsibility expressed at this point; only a desire to solve the customer’s problem. If the problem was unrelated to the first service, the repairman could explain the situation to the customer, who then has the option to complete or forego the additional repair. In this case, the recurrence of the malfunction was determined to be caused by a single connection that was not secured at the conclusion of the initial repair, corrected in a matter of seconds. A modicum of humility – inspecting the repair and taking responsibility for the oversight – could have salvaged the relationship and led to future business. Instead, a gross display of arrogance caused the permanent loss of future direct and referral business.
A mobile repair service was contracted to repair a stone chip in an automotive windshield. The five-hour appointment window required the customer to take the day off work. Though a five hour window provides significant compensation for the company’s inability to plan its work, it was insufficient for the appointment to be kept. Rescheduling required the customer to miss a second day of work. When the stone chip repair was completed, it was not “invisible” as the company claimed.
Alternative: Experience should have been applied to estimating repair times, allowing more accurate scheduling. Appointment windows could be shrunk, while ensuring that all appointments are kept. Quality claims should be less absolute, disclosing to customers the conditions necessary to achieve an “invisible” repair, and any conditions that may prevent it.
The greater the investment, the higher the expectations that a service provider will be thorough and conscientious; a central air conditioning replacement is a large investment. This reality seemed to make no impression on one installation and repair company. Had it not been for the questions asked by a reasonably well-informed customer, there would have been little, if any, discussion of the options available for such a system. Instead, a “cookie-cutter” approach would have been used to “specify” the same system installed in dozens of other homes, despite the varying needs among them. Installation of the new system was treated as a “remove and replace” type operation; no mention was made of the significant modification of the home that was required before the installation crew began the work!
Alternative: Discuss all options available and the advantages and implications of each, ensuring that the customer receives the best possible (dare I say, optimal) solution, is comfortable with the process, and satisfied with the result.
A knowledgeable customer can facilitate the achievement of excellent customer service by providing detailed information that shortcuts the investigation and troubleshooting process required before many types of services can be initiated. In this example, a customer requested that the Service Manager (interesting title, no?) of an automotive dealership assist with an issue after repeated visits failed to yield resolution. Experienced in automotive repair and maintenance, the customer offered his assessment for consideration. This diagnosis was rejected immediately, without investigation or justification. When an alternative explanation was requested, none could be offered. The customer then asked what steps would be taken next to determine the cause of the problem. No specifics could be offered, only assurances that it would be “checked out.” Should one conclude from this that it had not been “checked out” during previous visits? Evidence suggests that this was the case.
Alternative: Provide the customer with an action plan. Instead of being dismissive, incorporate the input provided in the plan. Living with a problem on a daily basis often provides insight that a cursory inspection cannot; assumptions should not be made regarding a customer’s expertise or ability to properly diagnose a problem. Follow through on the action plan and keep the customer informed of progress. Exhibiting an inability, or refusal, to develop and articulate a logical approach to a problem will undermine confidence in the provider's ability to solve the problem under any circumstances or in any timeframe.
A local business was contracted for a light residential construction job of limited scope and short duration.The work took much longer to complete than agreed and was fraught with issues – quality of materials and workmanship, product not matching agreement, behavior of employees, and property damage. Though the work fell far short of expectations, the contractor declared the job well-done and invoiced the customer. In response, the customer communicated several issues, seeking resolution. The contractor’s only response, after some delay, was to “explain” that what was provided was what the customer really wanted (though it had been discussed and clarified several times), to blame the crew for all other issues, and reiterate his satisfaction with the result. Despite agreeing to the specifications, “supervising” the job, and owning the company, he took no responsibility for the poor performance or the customer’s dissatisfaction.
Alternative: The contractor should have immediately accepted responsibility for all issues related to the job. The “buck” always stops with the business owner! Due to the nature of some construction jobs, it may not have been feasible to bring all aspects into compliance with the original agreement. This does not, however, excuse the contractor from making an effort to resolve the situation to the customer’s satisfaction by negotiating a compromise. Contractors that shirk their responsibilities are more likely to elicit lawsuits than referrals.
Service providers are also customers. Review your own experiences and how you felt about them at the conclusion of the transaction. Were you provided an experience you should replicate for your own customers? Are your customers subjected to treatment that you, as a customer, find objectionable? Through the ages, the golden rule has provided sage advice; it could form an appropriate basis for your customer experience development.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” - The Golden Rule
If you’d like help evaluating and improving the customer experience your business offers, feel free to reach out to me. You can be Undercover Boss, and I'll be Covert Ops... Consultant.
[See also: "Basics of Great Customer Service."]
Jody W. Phelps, MSc, PMP®, MBA
JayWink Solutions, LLC
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