It's becoming obvious to me - I'm an egomaniac. I guess the egomaniac is always the last to know. I discovered that I'm an egomaniac recently when I wanted to be treated as an individual. All I really wanted was to be served by companies that want my business as if I mattered. I want to be taken seriously and served individually.
If I want a one size fits all relationship, I'll buy a baseball cap with an adjustable strap. Most of the rest of my business and personal relationships, I'd like the personal touch.
Now I know that most customer service people have the worst job on the planet. They basically catch hell for all the corporate decisions that make no sense. And since we can't generally talk directly to the CEO, we call the customer support desk and chew someone out who had nothing to do with the problem we encountered. I'd like to see or hear about senior managers from any firm who regularly sit in and listen to their help desks. I doubt very much that many companies understand the impact the changes they implement have on their customers, and I know most senior managers are rarely aware of the anger or disappointment in the customer community until the sales start dropping off.
Why do some firms (like Nordstrom's) have such excellent customer service while other firms - like my telecommunications companies - have such horrible service? I think it starts with the emphasis from the top. If the CEO and the senior management indicates to the people who work for the company that customer service is a high priority, then we may get better service. If the CEO and senior management hire people based on their ability to provide customer service and compensate them accordingly, we'll get better customer service. Think about my example - Nordstrom's versus the telephone companies. Nordstroms, for those of you who don't know, is a retailer founded on the idea that broad selection and excellent customer service is most important. I probably go to Nordstroms three or four times a year, rarely spending more than $200 at a time. They have to win my business each time over other retailers. They win my business because they have a great selection and excellent customer service. Their folks know the products that they carry.
Now consider my telecommunication providers - wireline and wireless. I'm on a regular monthly bill for them, regardless of the service they provide. They never call me to find out if I am happy or unhappy with my telecommunications services and they are less than helpful when I call them. I provide a recurring, predictable revenue stream for both of these firms, and am in the top 10% of customers for my wireless firm, yet getting anyone to treat me as if I mattered is darn near impossible. I'm concerned that the Nordstroms model of excellent customer service is fading away, and we'll be left with this one size fits all customer disservice model that the telecommunication giants have forced us to accept.
The one that really gets me, however, is the banking industry. My bank regularly sends me fliers letting me know they "appreciate" my business. They constantly offer me home equity loans - without me even having to ask! But when I wanted to buy a new car recently, they simply suggested I should go to the dealer instead. Rather than make it convenient for me to have all my financial obligations with one bank, they were uninterested in negotiating for my car loan. The irony of it is, the dealer obtained a loan at the interest rate I wanted - from my bank. If I am so important to the bank, why won't they work with me in the way I want to work - rather than in some method the bank believes is important? Why are banks the only institution on the planet that believes the working day starts at 9:30 and ends at 4 and that no one works on Saturday?
Enough of my rant - here's how to get better at customer service. Ask the customer what's important to them in the relationship. Ask what your firm, your business function or you yourself can do better. Tell them the things that your firm can do. Acknowledge their requests and find a way to pass them along to someone who can consider them and decide how to pursue them. Invite your manager and your manager's manager in to interact with customers live and on customer support. Don't ever let any of your employees utter the words "The computer won't let me do that".
We customers are not evil, violent or unreasonable. In fact you can win our loyalty fairly easily. Just act like you want us as customers and listen and respond where appropriate to our requests.