How hard can it be to give good customer service? I don’t think that’s an unreasonable question. So, why do some people and organisations fail so badly? And, why do we keep letting them get away with things? There’s the famous viral video of United Breaks Guitars that has had 17m views on YouTube. And, United Airlines put their foot firmly in their mouth again recently dragging a doctor off a flight who failed to ‘volunteer’ to make way for staff to take his seat. Yet, will passengers stop flying United altogether? Probably not. And, despite the fact that their share price dropped sharply in the wake of the awful incident, fast forward a few months and the price was higher than previously.
Check out our blog on the True Cost of Lapsed Customers
It’s not hard to get the basics right
My own experience a few weeks ago serves to show that it isn’t just United Airlines that fail customers. Easyjet canceled my flight from Edinburgh to Luton on a Friday evening and couldn’t get me on another Luton flight until the following Monday or Tuesday. So, they put me on a flight to Stansted whereupon I need to get a taxi to Luton to collect my car. I was advised to claim for the expenses and compensation. Simply put, EasyJet refused both claims. For the flight, they advised that it was due to weather. However, the crew and Captain both advised that it was down to staff sickness. For the expenses, they claimed that their ground crew had organised meals and transportation. Neither of these things was remotely true. First, I received no voucher for a meal and secondly, unless they personally know Herts Cars, they most certainly did not call and book my £75 taxi. What’s more, as things stand, it’s more than two weeks since they last responded to my emails! (UPDATE: Finally, after 6 weeks and inumerable calls, EasyJet agreed to pay for my taxi and meal)
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Customer service is about people, not systems
Of course, airlines are alone in letting customers down. I was recently running training for a client and drove to a new venue on a large business estate that I’d never been to before in Cambridge. At the barrier, I pressed ‘call’ and the attendant answered. I asked for the Business Centre and he asked me to drive round to the other barrier for ‘visitors’. I, therefore, had to back up (necessitating two other cars to do likewise) and drive across 5 metres to the other barrier where he told me in no uncertain terms that, in future, I needed to use ‘this barrier’ as the other entrance (to the exact same area) is for office residents. I told him I’d never visited before and he pointed out that there was a sign that I should have seen. The term jobs-worth springs to mind. I was listening to my music and contemplating my day when I saw two equivalent barriers. He could have advised in the first instance that the other barrier was the right one in future but he could simply have raised the barrier for me which was at his discretion.
Check out our blog on Turning Lapsed Customers into a Profitable Revenue Stream
Is the problem individuals or organisations?
We all must have experienced countless other examples. You have to wonder whether it’s about people or organisations or both. For me, it starts with having the right people in the right roles. From there, it comes down to empowerment. At the same location, the super chap who provided the catering was an absolute delight. Nothing was too much trouble. I learned that he works 6 days per week and does evening work to supplement his income. Yet, a smile was always on his face throughout my two days at the venue.
The fact is that some people have a ‘can do’, customer-focused, solution-oriented attitude and some don’t. Is it psychology? Is it environment? Is it background, education, experience or training? I believe it comes down to what’s inside the individual. Of course, we’re shaped by all manner of experiences both personal and corporate. Having the right management in place to encourage good practice is a start. But, that means nothing without individuals with the right attitude.
When I was young, I supplemented my income by working At Freeman Hardy Willis shoe shop on a Saturday serving people with smelly feet and smelly attitudes. I worked at a bakery early Sunday mornings too. I gained my hard work ethic from my parents who worked hard all their lives. I carried this through to my corporate life. Before voicemail and call patching, when I started work, if a phone was ringing, I’d be the first to pick it up. I didn’t wait for others. Everyone is busy but someone has to take action or customers suffer.
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Attitude first and empowerment second
If an organisation truly values its customers, it has to recruit staff by attitude first. Positive and supportive employees significantly contribute to sales and retention. A smile drives customer recommendations. And, in a world of social media, customers share good and bad service rapidly with their networks.
You can train skills but the right attitude is paramount. Empathy and the ability to build rapport are essential components of good service. Effective communication and swift decision-making can mean the difference between success and failure and higher or lower profits. We’ve all heard about ‘going the extra mile’ but what does that mean in your job and for your customers? For a start, it certainly doesn’t mean coming across as robotic and intransigent. It doesn’t mean ignoring customers and telling lies.
I’m not saying that we don’t all have bad days that make us less likely to be upbeat and less likely to want to help others. Of course we do. But, the propensity to serve and provide solutions not obstacles defines a good employee, good customer service and a good organisation with which customers will want to engage and from which they will want to purchase time and time again. EasyJet and United Airlines take note!
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