Monday, July 11, 2011

What Ever Happened To Customer Service?

Maybe I am one of those picky consumers. Maybe I have a higher than normal perception of what customer service should be.  As much as I hated providing customer service in my old jobs it gave me a good understanding of what customer service should be.

Even when I knew that a certain skirt would not fit the buyer, I let her buy it. And I let her return it when she came back a few days later complaining that it was 'cut different' and didn't fit.  

Even when I knew that my employee had not in fact made any racial comments to one customer, I listened and handled his concern tactfully. I also discussed with that same employee what it was that he was upset about. Taught my employee to be careful how she phrased things.

Even when I've had things thrown at me, seen ornaments smashed on my counter and been called every name in the book, there is the part of me that just wants to repair the relationship and move on.  

At the lower levels, I was one of the first to pass a grumpy customer off to management and at the higher levels, I always supported my staff, yet handled the customer's concern in a way that was acceptable to them.  Yes, providing customer service means admitting you are wrong, even when you aren't, sometimes.  When I couldn't please a customer as a manager, I openly handed over the number for the next level of management.

It seems, from my recent experiences that this is just not the case any more. Escalating a concern is made difficult at best.  

Two examples?  McDonalds and U-Haul. 
I tried to contact the regional office for McDonalds after a store manager told me it was MY responsibility to check my order before leaving the drive through and also about the time when the manager on duty asked "Do you want it fast or do you want it right?"  I got nowhere with the store, so I followed up with the next level. I left a detailed message as requested and promptly got a call back from the SAME STORE MANAGER.  Who said the same thing. AGAIN.  Where is the next level of management?  They immediately redirect the calls back to the stores that received the complaint.  With no resolutions, I have become the ultimate pain in the ass customer at McD's. (Yeah, I know I have an ego problem. But they set the challenge out there).
I go inside EVERY time. I open EVERY burger and check EVERY drink while STILL standing at their counter.
Afterall, they did tell me it was my responsibility to make sure my order was right.

Then there is U-Haul. A moving nightmare. One problem after another. Yes, we got the job done, that was the only part that was easy. Picking up a trailer was a train wreck and then we were sent to a location for drop off that wasn't even open. The customer service rep on the phone says "well, do you want to drop the trailer off or not?"  Seriously?  Let me tell you exactly what I want to do with this trailer. I decided to look up their customer service forms online. Their telephone service reps were about 75% of my problems.  I was careful to choose the correct categories and state my issues clearly. Within 20 minutes of hitting "SEND" I received an auto reply message from U-Haul customer service.  It says "We're sorry to hear about your concerns, please complete the form at this link to ensure your issues get resolved quickly."

Did I fill out the wrong form? No. I filled out their form. Their contact/customer service form listed on their website. Not only did I waste time filling in the required information in the first form, but it doesn't even get read and I get redirected?  This was not the first Gong Show with them either. The last time, we let it go. But now this makes three entirely different cities that have caused us grief. It isn't just one bad store, so I felt it was time to move up the chain.

I do understand there are thousands of people who manipulate the systems. I get that there are thousands of people who will simply try everything to get something for nothing.  I did not ask either company for compensation. Just that they revisit their customer service steps and remember that without customers they have nothing. 
They depend on the lazy. They thrive on those who just want to get things over with. And they don't care to listen long enough to find out if there is actually a real problem. They redirect you and avoid you until you just simply give up the chase.  They get away with bad service and they do it over and over and over.

If you listen to the issue, you can tell when a customer is just making things up. You can tell by what they want. For U-Haul, we wanted them to flag their system so that no others traveling to Calgary would end up at a closed location when they try to drop off.  I will not go GET a credit card just because it's easier for them. If they don't even know when their own location is closed EVERY weekend, what might happen to my credit card information?!?!?  
At McDonalds, having to stand in line for 15 minutes in the store to get the attitude noted above. NOT COOL.  By then, the rest of my meal was cold too. They replaced 1 item. One.
Hello?  I'm standing in line with a closed bag and a receipt. 
Pull me to the side and get me the CORRECT order so I can get the H*LL OUT. 

I know that good customer service DOES exist. Occasionally I experience it.  And I am quick to be thankful and praise the staff or companies that are doing a good job.

Companies like Lego or Hasbro are tops on my list. Nintendo is pretty good too. I was searching for a replacement piece to a Lego set we had bought. A leg on a mini figure broke within the first day. They have places where you can look up the individual product numbers and buy single parts. I couldn't find the piece I needed in their list. So I just sent a general email describing what it was that I needed. You know what I got back? A personal email. It said that they were not sure which piece I meant, could I please clarify by looking up the number online. I replied that I had tried to find it but could not. I provided the set number and the mini figures name and described in as much detail as possible what broke.  This was followed up by another personal email, not an auto reply, that said basically "we're not sure what you mean exactly so we've sent what we think you mean. We hope this helps." I had the part in about 2 weeks. At no cost to me. And they sent the entire body of the mini-figure, even though it was only the leg that had broken. 

My kids were thrilled. Good Service Makes People Happy.

Hasbro makes Beyblades. Macboy went through a big phase with Beyblades. He still likes them even now.  He had started using his own money to build his collection. This made it even more heartbreaking when the bolts snapped.  So online I went, searching for a way to replace ONLY the face bolts instead of having to replace the whole thing. The facebolts are the one peice that holds the entire Beyblade together. Without it you can not use them. I could not find any easy way to just buy the single peices so I used the online form to ask Hasbro directly.  By that point we had a couple broken bolts.  

Hasbro sent my boys, within about 3 weeks, 4 full Beyblades. They were not brand new or anything, no special stickers or decoration, but a nice variety and so much more than my kids expected. We asked for just the bolts and got a great selection of additional pieces to customize the beyblades too.  Along with this package that brightened my kids spirits and my overall opinion of Hasbro Toys, was a sincerely worded letter of apology and a thanks to my kids for using their own money to buy from Hasbro.
I recommend Hasbro Toys to everyone and often.

A few weeks after this, when my boys were quietly playing with these toys, it struck me how simple the customer service process was, with both of these companies. So, you know what I did?  I emailed again. I picked the most general categories in their little email system and sent a message stating how wonderful I thought their service was and how much I appreciated their attention to our concerns.  I told them how I would recommend their brands based highly on the service I received. They didn't ask me a million questions about what happened, they just said "oh, that's terrible, let us help you."  My initial request was simply "Where can I buy these pieces?" And they sent them to me at no cost.

And again, from Hasbro, I received a personal letter. Thanking me for thanking them. For real. It was full of comments like "no one ever shares the good moments, but the complaints spread quickly. We appreciate that you took the time to provide positive feedback. Thank you for your purchase and interest in our brands."

I know some people 'work the system' all the time and that screws the rest of us. But ultimately, customer service means providing the benefit of the doubt and LISTENING to what the customer is telling you.  The first bit of advice I got when I was first promoted into management was "Learn how to shut up and just nod and smile. A customer who knows they have been listened to will be more cooperative and reasonable in finding a solution."  Also, a customer that is listened to will generally not start yelling. Or swearing or throwing stuff. (And if someone starts off that way, chances are YOU are NOT the problem. But you can help turn their day around if you provide good service.)
Serve my meal properly and without attitude? You'll like your tip. We'll smile, we'll laugh, we'll probably stay for dessert!  And I will recommend you, by NAME when possible. Including to your manager.
Treat me like I'm preventing you from taking your smoke break or chatting with your friends... I won't even eat there and you WON'T get a tip. Good customer service is hard to find these days.
If you don't have a sincere attitude to help people, don't get a job in customer service.  


  1. I agree that if a customer starts off with yelling and swearing, it's more likely THEY have a problem. Those are the most difficult people to deal with too (I have a small business and am the only employee, so I am my own customer service).

  2. I worked in customer service for the majority of my career and am the biggest customer service stickler on the planet. I have little tolerance for poor customer service, because I know it isn't that difficult to offer. But when I experience excellent customer service, I make sure to praise like crazy and let their manager know. Good customer service should definitely be strongly rewarded!

  3. Another side effect of bad service is the chance that it hurts your personal relationships. Your first date with someone? You remember the bad service, and maybe don't go out with them again. The latest U-Haul fiasco was part of a favor for my sister. She felt like crap for asking me to do this, because of the bad service. It's not her fault, it's the company. How about disappointing your kids? They get upset when they get the wrong food, when you are trying to be quick and give them a treat at lunch. Not to mention, your own personal mood after being treated poorly, you are very likely to transfer the bad mood through the rest of the day.
    Bad customer service hurts so many places, but some companies choose not to recognize their impact.

  4. I've heard it called "The Alberta Advantage". The Advantage is that you don't have to WANT a job to have a job here. So nobody really cares anymore. We went on a road trip to the US and were STUNNED by the service we saw EVERYWHERE we stopped. Gas stations, restaurants, hotels, name it. Down south they APPRECIATE their jobs.

  5. Don't even get me started on McDonald's. I don't know if you ever saw my rant about them ( but I haven't been back to a McD's since - which is killing me because I do love their food (yes I'm admitting it).

    I always point out when I get good service - and I will generally complain if it's bad. I worked in a grocery store for years, so I know how a customer should be treated. It irritates the crap out of me when the service is bad.

    Great post! I can see why the numbers are climbing on it!