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Monday, May 14, 2012

Customer Service at its Best and Worst

Have you ever had an extremely positive customer service experience? How about a totally terrible one?   I’ve had one of each lately and the contrast actually proved to be a good case study in leadership.   Both experiences were a result of a situation gone bad, but the way in which the bad situations were handled was completely different.

The positive experience came from the Apple Store in purchasing a new laptop and transitioning my files from my old PC laptop to the new MacBook Air.   I left both laptops to transition the files, but when I picked it up and they began to walk me through checking to make sure everything was there, it was obvious several things were wrong.  Here are the things they did that demonstrated positive customer service:

1.     Stephen introduced himself from the get-go (before we even know something was wrong) and asked me my name (he remembered it too).
2.     They have a process to check to make sure everything is there.  They don’t want to send a customer home only to find out they need to bring their computers back because something is not right.
3.     When I began to freak out that none of my emails transferred over, he reassured me it could be fixed.
4.     He stayed after the closing of the store to try to get all the files transferred.  When it was obvious that it was going to take a while, he checked my computer in said he could have it ready before Noon the next day.
5.     He called at 10:00 am the next morning and said the transfer was successful and I could come pick it up (2 hours before he guaranteed it).
6.     He recognized me when I walked in the door and even though he wasn’t assigned to cover data transfers that day, he got my computer and checked to make everything was how I needed it.
7.     He couldn’t transfer any financial data in my Quickbooks (which is understandable) but he walked me through how to do it step-by-step.

And now the bad experience.  It came from an appliance store.  My husband and I bought new kitchen appliances because our oven died.  We paid for the new set on March 5th.   It’s mid-May and we still don’t have all our appliances.   We are obviously beyond upset about this, but here are some things they did to illustrate poor customer service.

1.     We were told our appliances would be in in a week when we ordered them.   Here were are 2 months later…
2.     They told us they would call when the appliances were in to schedule a delivery time.   Two weeks after we paid for it, we had not heard from them.  So we had to call them.    This was the first of about ten calls to check on our appliances when they told us they would call us every time.    They have not called us once to update us on the status of the purchase.
3.     We have been lied to at least five times about when our appliances will be in and/or when something that is in will be delivered
4.     We talk to different people each time and get a different story each time.

 The Leadership Lesson

So what is the leadership lesson in all of this?  I think there are several.   I actually learned a few from Stephen’s (at the Apple Store) manager, Mark, when I sought him out to brag on Stephen.

1.     Under promise and over deliver.  Don’t tell someone you can have something done by a certain date or time when you are unsure if you can.  People want you to be honest with them and they don’t want to hear excuses when you aren’t.
2.     Train people on customer service and put processes in place that help front-line staff deliver positive experiences to customers instead of prohibit them.   For example, Apple allows their front-line sales and service people to make most decisions on their own when it comes to meeting customer needs and they are trained on how to best make those decisions.
3.     Consistency in customer service is important.   This could mean assigning particular customers to particular employees to follow the case from beginning to end, or it could mean having a thorough process in place to record and communicate customer cases to all staff members that may deal with a particular customer.
4.     Selection processes should check for behavioral based customer service orientation.   They don’t put the techies with no people skills up front to help customers at the Apple Store, they are in the back fixing computers and transferring data.
5.     That said, those that are customer service oriented do still have to know the product and know it well.   Stephen was a techie, he could answer any computer question I had, but he was also customer service oriented.

All in all customer service is a people thing, but is also a process thing.   You have to have the tools in place to support positive customer service and you have to hire and support people who value positive customer service.

What examples of positive or negative customer service do you have and what leadership lesson(s) do you see in those examples? 

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