A pair of recent customer service experiences (one very good, one not so good) inspired this post. (If you’re in a hurry, my POV is at the end.) If you stick around, I’ve included some juicy case studies.
These experiences made me wonder – what is the essence of good customer service? Do those famous over-the-top examples make good financial sense?
I’m no customer service professor, and this subject has been covered countless times, but I do have my opinion (and this is my blog /bully pulpit) – but customer satisfaction does not seem directly related to dollar value.
Customer Service has always been a point of distinction for those making The Customer Is Always Right truly a focus of their strategy
- Nordstrom, LL Bean and others have long been traditional standard-bearers for ‘no questions asked’ service
- However, abuse has caused even highly-regarded companies to adjust their policies
Social Media has amplified the impact of customer service, both good and bad
- Missteps are more visible and make companies vulnerable to public shaming or boycotts, or minimally distraction, regardless of a complaint’s merits
For a great set of examples of service gone bad, check out this article. If you want to focus on one, I personally found the Amy’s Bakery example (#2) delicious to read.:
- Good deeds are similarly great opportunities for spreading positive stories – circulated via social media, they often create value much greater than paid advertising.
- Here are a few great examples. Check out the Netflix live chat example (#3) on the Helpscout link – – very fun.
Two recent personal experiences shaped my opinions of companies.
- My carry-on bag’s handle failed after hundreds of trips. The brand is High Sierra. I contacted them online and explained my issue, with photos (as they requested). My goal was to find a repair shop. I had mentioned that I ideally would like a fix by the weekend as I was traveling on Monday morning. It was Thursday.
- On Saturday morning I received, by FedEx, a large box containing a replacement handle, with a few extra zipper pulls thrown in (which came in handy). A few minutes and I had the handle replaced and was good to go. At zero cost. Fantastic!
- The brand is High Sierra. High Sierra. High Sierra. They are now owned by Samsonite. Kudos to Samsonite for allowing this business unit to take care of customers in a highly personal and attentive way. High Sierra.
- I have 2 other bags from High Sierra and you can bet that they get right of first refusal on the fourth.
- A recent Avis rental came with no washer fluid, which I bought later for $3.84. In returning the car I requested that this amount be taken off my bill. In similar situations with other companies the response was usually immediately taking one of my rental days off the bill and getting me on my way.
- In the case of Avis, it eventually required the attention of 4 Avis people. The agent receiving cars didn’t have authority; the front desk clerk didn’t have authority; the manager had authority but couldn’t make a system input; finally the 4th employee was able to input the solution. Total time for a $4 issue? 20 minutes.
- And the solution? A $10 voucher, which means they didn’t actually refund anything.
- Worse, this delay caused me to miss an opportunity for an earlier flight.
So, what is the secret to customer service?
BE CUSTOMER CENTRIC. Simple as that.
- Let the customer know they have been heard – this alone is more important than any dollar amount of a solution.
- Treat the customer like a human. Stay off the scripts if possible. You don’t have to pretend to be Captain Kirk (see Netflix example above) but a personal touch is incredibly effective.
(By the way, insider tip: as a customer, treating any customer service person or clerk or waiter or sales person etc like a human being almost always yields positive experiences).
- Demonstrate that the customer is priority #1, company is priority #2. Avis was clearly all about Avis.
- Delays in response exacerbate frustration. Speedy response shows that you are listening and can nip negative feelings in the bud.
- Going above and beyond has significant upsides – you want to be on the ‘best customer service’ blog post, not the ‘disaster stories’. And a few well-placed good deeds can get a ton of mileage (see links above).
I would have been satisfied with a recommendation for a good repair shop for my bag, and High Sierra (High Sierra. High Sierra.) went above and beyond, to my delight. As a result, they have the opportunity for word-of-mouth recommendations from unexpected places, including people like me. (High Sierra!)
And Avis? They worked to win a little battle, and lost a round in the war. They will get less consideration from me next time around. Try Harder? Good idea.
Dave, as you know, Avis jettisoned the “We Try Harder” mantra a year or two ago. Maybe executive and brand management knew they couldn’t live up that aspiration any more.
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Great post. For $3.84 Avis could have addressed your concerns and kept you as a loyal customer. It is astonishing the front-line team didn’t have the authority to spend that notable amount. Or that someone at Avis didn’t just say, “Here is a $4…thank you so much for being a customer!”