There’s nothing like a move to compel you to squish engagement with all of the scores of different types of services and contractors that are involved with relocation within the confines of a few weeks. From realtors to settlement companies to moving companies, appliance and furniture retailers, utility companies, plumbers, and septic-system engineers (which we’ve learned must not be confused with plumber).
And then you have the technology, which I will separate from utilities because of our unique reliance on them for our business, and also because the level of poor service that envelopes and defines the major cell-phone carriers, Internet providers, and satellite television providers apparently is infinite.
So, I feel I have a preponderance of relevant, recent experiences to assess the current state of customer service.
To put a positive spin on it, let me say that I believe that the concept of customer service is so lost in today’s world that there is a genuine, massive opportunity out there for businesses that are willing to provide even just mediocre service. Take that two steps further and provide great service and the opportunities must be that much more substantial.
In an age that allows you to use Yelp and various other vehicles to rate your service and where every conversation is recorded “to ensure quality service,” the degree to which poor customer service dominates the landscape is simply crazy. In an era when Amazon is one click away and anything you buy is there tomorrow, it simply makes no sense that most companies are not just providing regular-old bad service, but that really, really, really bad service has become the de facto standard.
I am, however, determined to be positive.
So, drawing upon the scores of nightmares I have endured over the past month, let me take the cathartic path to turn my frown upside down and offer advice from a positive viewpoint to the personnel at Verizon, AT&T, a certain settlement company in Northern Virginia, a certain roofing company in Northern Virginia, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Bassett Furniture, and Home Depot (and mentioning Home Depot is appropriate because removing my frown might require the use of power tools at this point).
- Know what you’re talking about. For instance, if someone approaches you with a credit card and an expectation that you know the intricacies of transferring a smart phone and a phone number from a different carrier to yours, that’s basic stuff. You should know what problems might surface during the process. In short, if you don’t know the answer, don’t pretend that you do.
- Listen (completely). Holy cow, if nothing else, do this. Do not tune the customer out half-way or three-quarters of the way through the conversation and begin typing away because the most important parts of what he or she is going to say are often at the end.
- Own your mistakes. And here, I’m not talking about the pre-programmed script on the screen for “dealing with irate customer” that says, “That must be so disappointing for you.” When the satellite installer goes to the wrong house, when the iPhone 7 can’t be transferred from one carrier to another, and when the insurance company doesn’t get the paperwork to replace the roof, these were YOUR mistakes. The longer you spend pointing the finger at someone else, the more incensed, and correspondingly more difficult, the customer becomes.
- When the customer is really, really angry, it’s time to move Heaven and Earth to fix the problem. It should never come to this, but, when it does, giving the Catch-22 answer that landed the customer where he/she is standing won’t work. And, just so we’re clear, when a customer is in such a state, asking him to crack open his brand new iPhone 7 to find an “IEMI number” is not going to calm him down.
- Maintain the positive attitude. We see the Dale Carnegie training at work in the first several seconds of our exchange, but as we move to problem-solving mode, the degree to which you maintain the smile and general attitude that you wish to help, not harm, the situation is (much) more important.
- Listen (Part II: the “verify version”). I will never get annoyed again with someone who asks me to verify an address, phone number, or other types of details. Having a satellite provider show up at your old house rather than your new house TWICE will have that effect on you.
- Care. I know you get beat on all day. I know it is demoralizing and physically draining. Find a way to laugh it off. Grab a stress ball and squeeze it tight. Stand up and run circles around your desk. But, please, show me that you genuinely care. Or, if you can’t care, if you really can’t, please pass me to someone who can.
I have to relate a story that relates to the aforementioned roofer. During the home inspection when we were selling our house, we learned that we had sustained hail damage during a May storm and needed to replace our roof. No big deal, the insurance company would cover most of the costs. By the way, of all the companies I mentioned, please note that Central Insurance Company is not mentioned; its service was great. The roofer? Well, I won’t get into the full details, but suffice it to say that the roofer, whom our realtor recommended until he told us he didn’t, violated all seven of the above pieces of advice and more.
So, it’s moving day, which just so happens to have been August 21st, the day of the eclipse, which would leave the nation – not Virginia, where we were, but parts – in total darkness for up to a minute and a half. The roofer shows up at our house at around 9am. Our moving truck is in the driveway (J&K Movers, also great service by the way). But with men lugging mattresses and heavy furniture into the truck, the roofer, first of all, asks if the moving van needs to be in the driveway. When he gets a shocked expression from me and a definitive “no,” he informs me that it will delay their work and the roof might not get done that day. Keep in mind, he’d told me he would be done with the work more than a week earlier. At this point, though, nothing surprised me with this guy.
Then, he informed me that there was something else that would cause a delay. “What is that?” I asked. “The eclipse,” he said. “It’s going to be pitch black for two hours and it’s not safe to be on a roof in the dark.” I had no words. I just turned and walked away.
Let me finish on a positive note. The other day I bought a treadmill from Dick’s Sporting Goods. Notwithstanding the fact that the pickup of the treadmill at Dick’s falls into the nightmare category, I am headed home with my new treadmill with something resembling a smile on my face. I arrived home and realized that the weight of my new colossal beast and the general laws of physics would conspire to keep the treadmill out of my basement. As I headed into town to get a cell signal to scream at AT&T and Verizon (for matters unrelated to the treadmill), I walked into a small, local hardware store to seek something with wheels to move the treadmill.
The gentleman behind the desk said they didn’t have anything in the store that fit the bill, but suggested I could borrow his dolly. I was about to buy exactly nothing and this guy was letting me take his own dolly; he just asked for my name and phone number. That’s it. As I said, it’s a small store, so it won’t have everything I need, but anything they do have that I would have purchased at Home Depot? That’s where I’ll be headed.