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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Customer Service and the Big "Ding!"

(This is from my Improvised Musings E-Zine. Sign up for it now and get the MP3: "How to Think Quick" Free!!)

Here's a story my buddy Mike told me about some awful customer service he got after the vendor encountered a "Ding"...

Mike launched a new business composing game music (and cleverly and appropriately named his company Game Music Inc.) In preparation for a large game developer's conference, Mike got some business cards printed up, and used a local shop to do this. He was leaving for the conference on Tuesday, and was told that he would have them the prior Friday or Monday at the latest (yeah, I know. We've all heard that before).

As you might have already guessed, he went in on Friday and the cards were not ready. He went in on Monday, and the cards were *still* not ready. The print shop said, "no problem, we'll ship them to you overnight."

Mike heads off for the conference, and unfortunately spends the first two days without cards. Mike, being an excellent improviser, still makes the most of it, but still, business cards are one of those things that you really want to have at a conference.

Mike gets back in town and gets the invoice from the print shop. Much to his chagrin, the invoice is much higher than he was quoted.

He calls the shop and a lady explains to him that there are two reasons for the extra costs:

  1. Some of the extra cost was for the overnight shipping.
  2. The woman said the first sample of his card wasn't super high quality, so she bumped up the quality. This used to be the same price, but there was a change and now it costs more. A *lot* more. So that's why it was $150 instead of $75.

Does that sound as stupid to you as it does to me?!?!?

They are charging him for overnight shipping. Shipping that was required because they didn't deliver on time!

Then they upgraded his order WITHOUT ASKING HIM and expected him to pay for it!!

When Mike pushed back on this she said that this quaility cards would usually cost $175, so he was getting a great deal for $150. (You can not make this stuff up). Mike even offered to "split the difference" and pay $125, to which the woman got annoyed and said "That's not splitting the difference."

Mike is a little too non-confratational at times, so he said "fine, whatever." But upon further reflection he decidely, rightly so, that this was wrong. So he called back and asked to speak to the owner. The owner wasn't there so Mike spoke to someone else about how he felt taken advantage of.

A few minutes later, he receives a call from the first lady who launches into a passive aggressive diatribe about how he won't be charged because it's their fault, and even though she'll have to write the check herself for the difference, he won't have to pay, and blah blah blah. He's a really nice guy, and she is making him feel like he did something wrong!

The errors here are so obvious as to make it almost unnecessary to break down, but let's take look anyway:

1) Failure to Deliver On Your Promise

The company said they would have the cards by Friday, or Monday at the lastest, and they didn't. Strike 1! (or, Ding 1!)

Question: How frequently do you not deliver on your promise (personally or professionally)?

2) Not Taking Responsibility For Their Mistakes

Ding happened twice here: 1) when they missed the deadline, and 2) when the unasked for upgrade costed a lot more. Here's the thing: customers understand that Ding Happens. They don't like it, but they understand it. What they want though, is a company that will take responsibility and fix the issue in a fast and respectful way.

This company did not take responsibility for their error. They tried to pass on the costs to Mike not once but twice! Talk about taking a bad situation and making it worse! A simple apology followed by a "this was our error, and of course we won't charge you for it," would have smoothed things over. It also may have gotten Mike to go back and refer them business. What do you think the chances are that either of those things are going to happen now?

Question: When Ding Happens, do you pass the buck on to others (or worse, onto the customer) or do you take responsibility, fix it, and move on?

3) Making the Customer Feel Bad For THEIR Mistake

Many people, when they do something wrong, get criticized, or get reprimanded (as may have happened between phone calls in this situation) respond by getting angry and defensive. This is the last thing you want to do, and one of the worst traits you can have in a person who is going to be interacting with customers!

People who respond this way tend not to have mastered the art of taking responsibility for their mistakes, nor do they understand the key improv principles of "having fun," "Be willing to fail," "focus on the big picture," and "say yes and." (wow, that's four of the five main things I teach in one example!)

Don't be this person, and don't let this person near customers in your organization - or train them quick!

Question: Do you get passive aggressive with customers? Do people in your organization? One bad experience can easily sink what could have been a great long term relationship.

The truly sad thing here is that for a small print shop like this, with the economy in the shape it's in, and with so much good-quality low-price competiton from online print service like VistaPrint, the only thing this business can differentiate themselves on is their service. Their one and only competitive advantage and they blew it big time.

Make sure your customer service is in place to handle the big and small Dings that may occur - or else your business may be in trouble too.

1 comment:

Beverly Kurtin said...

When I worked for the largest software maker in the world I ALWAYS remembered that the customer paid me, not a really nice billionaire in Washington. THE CUSTOMER PAYS ME AND I always ended my phone calls (I was a support engineer) with "Bob, what else can I help you with today?" When the customer told me the he or she didn't want to take up any more of my time I said, "Hey, the only reason I woke up and drove to work today was because YOU were going to call me; that's why I picked up the phone...so what's your question?"

My idiot mangler (misspelling deliberate) couldn't understand why people sent letters lauding me; they deserved the very best support I could give them and didn't make them feel like idiots (Bob, I wasn't born screaming control, alt, delete, you're not a dummy, you just haven't learned what I have, but that's my job, to show you how to do your job better, okay?"

I've had more than my share of lousy service and when I got a chance to help some folks realize that not all computer support people were jerks.

I'd love to start a service to start teaching people how to be the best they can be in serving the public proudly and wonderfully.