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Customer Disservice...With a Smile!

May 09, 2011
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There's a lot of talk about the importance of providing quality customer service and superior customer experiences to improve customer loyalty and sales and, as you know if you've visited this blog before, these topics are a primary elements of my Pinnacle Performance training seminars and consulting practices.

But, on the flip side, there's relatively little dialogue about the aspects that turn customers off, harm customer relationships, and can ultimately have customers not only leave your business for a competitor, but do so while complaining about your business to everyone they come into contact with.

Allow me to provide you a very personal experience. Less than a week ago now I returned home from a week of family vacation in sunny San Diego. I didn’t know (or expect) it going in, but left with plenty of examples of what not to do when providing proper customer service. First, please know I am removing the name of the place we stayed at because this is not intended to slam them directly but rather learn from their mistakes and ensure you’re not doing the same at your tire/auto service business.

The first thing you should know is this was not a bargain basement motor lodge. It is a high-end, “luxury resort” that advertises “first class” vacation experiences. Sounds wonderful, let’s go!

Traveling with another family, we required two separate rooms. Using a special American Express promotion I was able to secure a desirable “free room upgrade,” a favorable savings of $50 dollars per night over paying for the rooms without the American Express card. On the online reservation return receipt I noticed that room upgrades are “based on availability” so I promptly called the hotel for clarification and was told to call back a week before traveling out and they could reserve the room upgrades at that time.

Enter Patsy. Patsy and I had a wonderful conversation and she was most helpful saying that my room upgrades were “all set” and would be waiting for us when we got there.

So we got there and, lo and behold, found that was only half true. Seems only one room was available, the other was not. Not particularly good news and not what we were expecting, I explained my previous “all set” call with Patsy. The reply from the front desk? “Patsy is in reservations, she doesn’t upgrade rooms.”

Let me see if I have this straight… Patsy is in reservations and she doesn’t manage reservations? You would think the person most empowered to manage reservations would be the person whose job is to interact with customers on their reservations line, right? Evidently, wrong. So much for being “all set.”
Lesson #1: Be Accountable. A big part of delivering great customer service is assuming responsibility and standing behind your commitments. Saying it is not the important part. Doing it is. Tire and auto service professionals already have their work cut out for them to gain customers’ trust. Broken commitments are a warning sign of mistrust that can seriously jeopardize the health of the relationship.

You will never see this type of “it’s not her job” finger pointing at the elite customer service establishments. They focus on making it right for the external customer, not on who made it wrong internally.

Now in the room, we realize there’s no silverware, glasses, plates or any other kitchen utensils in our kitchen. So we called the front desk. Remarkably, the first thing they told us is “many guests bring these household items with them.” We traveled across the country from Boston to San Diego with two kids and four suitcases. Did they actually expect us to pack our kitchen items as well?
Lesson # 2: Never make your customer feel like they did something wrong. When a customer feels like they’re being accused of wrongdoing, they typically get defensive, annoyed and uncomfortable. Obviously, these are not the best emotions for positive customer relations. Never make the issue the issue, focus instead on what you can do to help the customer. Done right, the front desk staff should have replied with something like, “I’m sorry to hear that, we should have asked you upon reservation if you would like us to supply the kitchen with these items, I’ll see that this gets taken care of right away.”

In any event, after that call nothing happened so a few hours later we called again. Each time the staff member on the other end of the line was polite, helpful sounding and ensured us it would be taken care of in short order. But nothing happened. So the next morning while staring at our dry cereal we decided to physically go to the front desk. Once again, the smiling staff member entered the information into “the system” and ensured us that the utensils would be sent over right away.

A few hours later when nothing happened I made the “last call,” the call that makes it clear that we are beyond displeased, have no faith in anything that is spoken to us, and asked what manager I should speak with when nothing happens after this call too. That’s all it took to get some kitchen utensils at this “luxury resort.”

Lesson # 3: It’s not what you say, it’s what you do. The old adage is true: actions do speak louder than words. Many people think providing great customer service is being friendly, polite and smiling a lot. That’s essential, but it’s only part of the total equation. You can smile all day but if you don’t fulfill your commitments and meet your customer expectations then the net effect is greatly diminished, customers ultimately view the gestures as insincere, and you’ll end up with an unhappy customer.

Unfortunately, we experienced at least a couple more incidents of customer disservice that week. Clearly, there is a detrimental disconnect between what staff members are demonstrating/saying (behaviors) and what they’re doing (actions/execution) at this vacation resort. True world-class customer service can only come from a unity between the two.

In closing, always remember this famous Ben Franklin quote, “Well done is better than well said.”