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Ahh, customer service… the concept seems so easy, doesn’t it? Treat your customers well, and they will remain your loyal customers. If it’s so easy, then why do we see so many examples of it not being executed?
I have two personal stories from this week, both (in my opinion) with different reasons for their failure to win me over as a customer.
The first began when I saw an extra charge on my credit card from a company I do business with monthly (the largest newspaper in a major market). Besides the regular monthly charge, there was an additional charge for the same amount, then yet another charge for $100. What were these charges for? I had no idea. I went to their website to find a contact number for their billing dept. Click, click, click, I tried page after page to find the number, to no avail. But I could find all kinds of numbers if I wanted to advertise! I finally gave up and called the main number listed.
A young woman answered, “Can I help you?” “Why, yes! I am trying to reach your accounts receivable department please.” Hmm” she says, as if I have just asked a question she does not quite understand. “I don’t seem to have a number for them” she states after a moment. “Well then, can you just transfer me?” I ask. Apparently that wasn’t included in her training either, and she informs me that she cannot. She then asks if there is anything else she can help me with. (Anything else? Hello???) I inform her that actually, I haven’t been helped at all yet, and what can she advise that I do to get the needed help. I kid you not; her advice was “Well, you could call back the number you dialed to get me.”
When things like this happen, I just shake my head in disbelief. This company has been around forever, how can there be this level of dysfunction? I believe they missed the mark in two areas. The first, not having contact numbers for their departments on their website (or buried so far as to be difficult to find). They had numerous numbers in which I could buy, but nothing else. Studies show it is easier, and less costly, to keep a current customer than to win a new one.
Do you spend more time trying to find new customers, while taking for granted the customers you already have?
The second reason was incomplete or poor training. While it may be impossible to train staff for every single eventuality, they certainly should have the basics down. Employees at all levels should also know exactly who to go to when they do not have the information or answer.
The next story is regarding an auto dealership. I have always take my car to the dealer I purchased from for servicing. However, this time I recalled receiving a coupon from another dealership, offering an oil change for $9.95. Although I’d been happy with the service at the original dealership, I like a good deal as much as the next guy! I also needed some additional servicing, the stripping around the windshield had come loose and needed replacing. I called and booked my appointment.
Upon checking in, I was told the estimate for an oil change was $50. I said “Oh, wait a minute, I have one of your coupons for $9.95, let me go get it, it is on the dashboard!” I turned around, and my car was gone. The woman helping me said “They already took it.” However she wrote on the estimate “Coupon on dashboard” as well as “Customer waiting.”
Three hours later, my car is back, I am however informed that it will need to come back for the windshield issue, as they need to order parts. Even though I was not thrilled with a three hour wait for an oil change or the prospect of having to repeat the whole process in two weeks, I had not yet been lost as a new customer.
Ah but wait – here I am at the cash register, being presented with a bill for $49.53. I say “I have a coupon, I informed the person when I checked in.” I get the coupon and present it to the cashier, who stares intently at it for a few moments, then calls the woman who checked me in. She stares intently at it for some time as well. She then proclaims “This expired a month ago, Our coupons are only good for one month.” Where does it say that on this 4 page coupon/advertisement? Well, apparently it wasn’t visible on mine because the mailing label had covered it.
She turns and walks away and the cashier hands me a charge slip to sign for almost $50. I almost signed. I came here expecting a $10 oil change and I am not leaving with a $50 one. I hadn’t agreed to that, and if I knew that’s what it would cost I would have turned around and left. The manager was called (apparently it wasn’t in the cashier’s power to honor the coupon). The manager came out and listened to my story. Then he said “The coupon has to be brought in, not left on the dashboard.” I explained that I had gone to get it, however they had taken the car away already, and that if I knew it was a $50 oil change I would not have stayed. He stared at me for a few moments, then said “I’ll change it for you this once, but that’s it, never again.” I thought “No kidding, you’ll never have the chance at my business again.” I promptly cancelled the schedule service and re-booked it back at my original dealership. (Where, by the way, their regular charge from an oil change is somewhere around $30).
To me this story isn’t whether to coupon or not, it is about intent vs. process and procedures. The reason (intent) the dealership sent the coupons in the first place - and at considerable cost I might add - was to bring in new business. It worked, here I was, a new customer who had never been there and wouldn’t have been otherwise. And now, I was customer lost forever. Why? Process and procedure. They use short expiration dates, and hold to them hard. It is certainly within their right, but why? At what cost? What if they had said to me “Oh my, that coupon has expired, but obviously you couldn’t see that! Of course we’ll honor it and are so glad you gave us the opportunity to win your business; we look forward to having you back with us for your next scheduled appointment!” The outcome would have been completely different!
Sometimes we get lost in the details: in systems, standards, processes, procedures. While these are necessary, we still have to remember the intent of them in the first place, and sometimes we need to operate from the intent, rather than the letter of the law, so to speak.
Once again, do these companies know they’ve lost my business? Do they care?
More importantly: Do YOU know who you’ve lost and why?
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