Thursday, January 7, 2010

Customer Care

I’ve been noticing how customer service has dropped off quite a bit.  I don’t know if it’s because I’m older now and notice these things more, or if the quality of customer service has actually declined in recent years.  And I’m speaking mostly of retail transactions, whether they be restaurants, clothes stores, or huge businesses such as Target.

What I notice is that people, and especially younger people, are trained to do a job such as showing you some inventory, or working the cash register, or re-stocking; whatever.  But they are not trained to really try to help the customer.  They are generally all too quick to go through the rote mechanics they have been taught to get your dollars in the register, and you out of the store. 

And this attitude works fine for the employees because they don’t have to expand themselves to search their store, or search their minds, for a way to help you.  It also works fine for the stores, because like any well oiled fast food joint, the idea is to get efficient purchasing volume.

One exception for sure is In and Out Burger.  What??? Yes!!!  In and Out Burger has consistently good service.  They call you Sir or Ma’am, and their focus is entirely on you.  And it’s easy to say that the workers' roles are simple; it doesn’t leave open a lot of possible tasks they might have to do for you. 

But the company’s training of their employees really does make a difference.  Look at how many people go to In and Out Burger.  It’s always busy there, and there’s a better than 98% chance that you’ll be treated really well there.  I wish all of the other retailers would take a lesson from this burger business.

A friend of mine has noticed the lack of customer service on the telephone as well.  He said that in recent years, there is no eagerness for telephone service people to really try to help you out.  I concur.  You often have to go through a whole automated menu and maze of sub-menus only in the end to speak with someone who is hasty and wants nothing more than to be done with your call.  And you most likely won't end the call getting what you wanted.

An exception in telephone customer service is a company called, “A La Mode.”  They provide websites for businesses, especially real estate agents.  My real estate site is built using their easy to use software.  When you call for customer service, the people at this company answer your call quickly (I only had to wait a long time once in all of the times I’ve phoned them), and they bend over backwards to help you with whatever problem you have.  This is well after you’ve paid for their service.  So they are to be applauded.  They are in stark contrast to most of the other telephone customer service experiences to be had out there.

My buddy’s father, when he was upset with his mistreatment by any entity such as a business, would proclaim, “I’m writing a letter.”  My friend told me this twenty years ago about his father, and it always stuck with me.  It’s a great way to:  1) get your frustration out in an organized and non-incarcerated way, and 2) to possibly make an impact on whatever entity was upsetting you.  I adopted it and have never stopped writing letters since then. 

My girlfriend, if we are not treated properly in some situation, now has an automatic reflex of asking me, “Are you going to write a letter when you get home tonight?”  The answer is always, “yes” from me or course.  And I've gotten really fast at it I must say.

I have added a twist to my friend’s wise father’s practice;  I find the name and address of the company’s corporate headquarters on the internet, and I address my letter to their Customer Relations division, meanwhile, “CC”ing the letter to the general manager of the local venue where I had the trouble.  I include the rude customer service person’s name, the time it happened, and a receipt if I completed a transaction with this person.

So in the end, two copies of the same letter go out; one to the corporation and one to the location where I was displeased.  This provides a checks and balances so that each knows the other got a copy.  I often get free coupons in the mail as a result of my letters.

But that is not the primary purpose of my writing.  The reason I write is that I truly hope that a business will consider retraining their customer service people as to how to interact better with customers, and I point out that the customer service person who acted poorly is the main contact between the company and their customers.  This, I believe, is the most important point of it all.  And it’s what most young people, or poorly trained people, really don’t see in the end; that they are representing the whole brand name behind them.

So get on board.  Next time you are not happy with service you are paying for, or are attempting to pay for, “Write a letter!”