Good customer service

One of my favourite poems ‘How They Brought The Good News From Ghent to Aix’,  written in 1838 by Robert Browning, begins with the line “I sprang to the stirrup, and Joris, and he; I galloped, Dirck galloped, we galloped all three”. The fictitious incident telling of the news which alone could save Aix in Flanders from its fate came into my mind when I decided to put down a few thoughts on customer complaints.

Way back in Browning’s time all news; both good and bad took an age to reach the intended audience. Now, with no need to saddle up, the message travels at a lightening speed, by email, internet and the viral medium of the social media sites.

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon has said that if you make six customers unhappy, they might each tell 6 friends. If you make six customers unhappy who have access to the internet, they can each tell 6,000 friends globally. It makes sense that if the complainers had been offered support for the problem when it occurred it’s unlikely they would have felt the need to tell the world about how unsatisfied they are. Poor customer service is like a smoldering fire waiting to ignite and spread out of control if it’s not checked. Statistically it’s said that you only need two or three negative comments to change a consumer’s mind about your service or product.

Staff who may not be directly involved in selling still need to be aware of the value they can add when engaging with the customer. Exceptional service begins at the first touch point, often with a telephone call. If the initial response is offhand or brusque, the caller is likely to assume that this is an indication of the poor level of service throughout the company. Many years ago I had an office junior who when asked if anyone had called the office, replied. “No. Apart from a man”. When I asked for his name, her response was simply “Just a man”. I’d guess that not a lot of communication went on there then! It still pains me to recall it today, imagining that it may have potentially been our very best customer ever in the history of the business.

I try to make an effort to be polite and friendly to all callers. They may be attempting to sell me something today from a call centre in a faraway land, but tomorrow the same person may be a corporate CEO and a dream client. The last thing you want to read on Twitter or other social media sites is how poor a response someone has experienced when dealing with your company. If they’ve been unable to get through to you they may well find that complaining over the internet saves them from having to sit on hold waiting to speak to someone, or even worse, listening to an impersonal answer phone message. If that happens, you’ll not be pacifying just one dissatisfied customer, but potentially hundreds if not thousands who now have a negative view of your business. Get it right however, by creating a good experience at all levels and points of contact and the positive message will spread far and wide.

By the way, has anyone tried riding the 95 or so miles from Ghent to Aix at gallop speed on one horse with no rest breaks to deliver a message? Now that’s what I’d call good customer service.