Wednesday, July 12, 2006

It's not about always getting it right - it's about fixing it when you don't

Whether we like it or not, most of us are involved in customer service of one sort or another. In my current job the old adage "the customer is always right" is somewhat blurred, because part of my job is to help the customer find an answer that will work or help the customer to see why what he thinks he wants won't work. I enjoy being on this side of the service equation. Cheesy as it may sound, I enjoy the notion of adding value, of being of use, of providing something that makes the user say, "Cool!".

It is on the other side of the equation where I have less enjoyable experiences. I confess that I am probably one of the worst customers on the planet. This is partly because I have a chip on my shoulder and partly because I worked as a customer service consultant/trainer for several years.

I'm pretty fierce when I don't the level of service I feel I should, simply because I am the customer, because I'm spending my hard-earned money with a provider. This is unfortunate in the UK, where levels of customer service are dire. I have been sworn at, told to f*** back to whatever country it is that I come from, asked who the heck I think I am. All of these are inexcusable. I don't expect perfection - we're all human, we're all going to get it wrong from time to time. What I do expect is that when someone blows it, they have a mechanism in place both to make it right and to compensate me to keep me sweet. I am genuinely not interested in hearing that a witch-hunt was conducted and the person at fault has been burnt at the stake. What I want is a solution and a peace offering.

Recently, our broadband connection at home went down. We made several calls to the provider, waiting up to 49 minutes on at least one occasion (we have a timer on the phone) for someone to take the call. We were advised that the fault would be recorded and escalated to an engineer. Promises were given and broken regarding time frames. I pointed out that, when my phone line goes down, BT gives me 1 month's free line rental for every day without service, and asked if similar compensation was on offer. Apparently not, because broadband is not a guaranteed service. I can't understand how it is legal to continue to charge someone for a service you are not providing... especially since the fault must have been at their end (in spite of their repeated assertions that our router must be damaged). I know this because they were - eventually - able to fix re-establish the connection without coming to the house at all. Hmm.

I had similar problems last week with a hire car that turned out not to have a valid road tax disk. Several calls yielded vast quantities of verbal shrugging, leaving me to suggest solutions which were agreed to but not delivered. Was the next hire free of charge or a better model of car to make up for it? Quite the contrary - it was smaller and had no air conditioning.

This is more Kathy Sierra's turf than mine, and has little to do with learning per se. Nevertheless, none of us is excused and I am adamant that when (not if) you blow it, you have to make up for it so completely that you take the user by surprise and keep them at the koolaid point. So when I have to explain to my client why what he wants isn't going to work, I have to suggest an alternative that works even better. And then, just as an added bonus, I could include a little something extra that he didn't expect. And when something I deliver doesn't work as it should, I have to fix it - preferably before I'm asked.

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