n the road to total customer delight. Pursuing customer intimacy.
Partnering with the customer. Doing it with the customer. Putting the
customer at the center of everything you do.
No snickering, please; the customer these real, live corporate slogans allude to is you. Merely by virtue of the fact that you earn a living wage, and without even having to be a nice person, you are the alpha and the omega of today's global service economy. Highly educated people in consulting firms spend long hours discussing your Needs with the kind of feverish intensity once reserved for devotional prayer. Employees are fired by the dozen for the cardinal sin of not discovering these Needs, not attending to them, or badly executing on them.
What I want to encourage is playing this system a little. Companies know that a happy customer will tell an average of three friends about a good service experience, but unhappy customers will tell an average of ten. They've got it branded into their brains that it costs seven times more to acquire a new customer than to keep an existing one. The upshot? Whine loudly enough to the people in charge about your bruised Needs, and you'll be amazed at what they'll do to placate you.
To put it another way: there's simply no reason to put up with lousy service, faulty products, or inane rules in 1997. If the service, product, or rule detours you from the road to total customer delight, unscroll the hurt to the proper authorities. Put your post-secondary vocabulary to work. Bitch a little. Not only will it relieve stress and educate the service provider, you may end up getting free stuff.
If you don't think this is a new reality, bring yourself back to the late eighties for a moment (providing you can stomach it). I'm walking along Walnut Street in downtown Philadelphia on a beautiful June afternoon. I see a new coffee bar and immediately go inside. I say 'immediately' because this was 1988, when cappuccino was still an exotic, intriguing word outside Italian neighborhoods. In fact, waiters at Philadelphia restaurants had asked me on more than one occasion whether I wanted to go watch the cappuccino I'd just ordered being made.
Since I had a long afternoon ahead, I decided on a large iced coffee. I approached a woman named Wanda at the counter, who could not have looked less interested in serving me or my Needs. Our exchange went something like this:
Me: I'd like a large iced coffee with milk to go, please.As she walks back to the coffee machine, Wanda calls out: Is that to go?
Me: Yes.Wanda glares. It's over between us, that's clear. She dumps the black coffee and brings back the large regular with milk in a wax paper bag. I can already see that the inside of the bag has been splashed with coffee. I wonder, did she drop the cup into the takeout bag and then fill it? I pay the (for then) outrageous bill of $1.58. Wanda hands me my change silently.
I wait until she meets my eyes.
Me: Aren't you going to wish me a nice day?Wanda had a point there, not to mention a quick wit, but all the same try to imagine this scene taking place at one of your local Deathstarbucks today. Inconceivable, right? I can already see the freezerful of free coffee arriving from Seattle to salve my bruised Needs. In 1997 the average Deathstarbucks employee receives enough training to know that the customer's Needs come before their own requirements for oxygen. In 1988 the customer was quite likely wrong; today exceptional service is the cost of entry.
The marketing agency I work for has a thing about service. We've hand-delivered work to clients' homes, picked them up at the airport and found them hotels, babysat their children during meetings, and done eight rounds of revision when the contract only called for two. We smile through adversity. In 99 cases out of 100, the phone is picked up before the third ring. If any gray area exists around whose responsibility it is to make a call or set up an interview, we call it ours. We don't do it in a slavish way; we just believe you should have a great experience working with our company.
Needless to say, we're often disappointed as individual consumers after hours. Anyone who stays up around the clock at a press check for a bank envelope is going to be a bit picky about the freshness of the frisée in their salad the following evening. My boss, who customizes nearly everything I've seen him order in restaurants, keeps a file of his employees' best complaint letters through the years. Though none of us will admit it, it's a bit of an honor to make it to that file. Lord knows we try hard enough. A quick look into this file provides an excellent primer on three essential rules of the complaint letter. Names of individual employees and companies have been changed to disincentivize lawsuits.
* Rule One: Be specific.
Service Offense: Bad dining experience at hotel restaurant.
* Rule Two: When you bitch, request a reply.
Service Offense: $150 charge to switch cellular packages.
* Rule Three: When all else fails, try sarcasm.
Service Offenses: Being yelled at by copy store employee for claiming type was set crookedly.
Oscar Wilde once wrote, "In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it." Cognizant of all that has taken place in the 105 years since then--and particularly in the last ten--I would close by amending Mr. Wilde's words to read:
In the global service economy there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is not taking the time to bitch about it.
See you in the Customer Service line.
Copyright © 1997 Hugh Kennedy.