By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
Growing up, I remember a radio commercial with the tag line, “Service sold it.” Even as a young kid I was able to grasp the concept that providing quality service was a great way to close more sales and gain new business.
Over the years, I have heard this mantra repeated, again and again, either verbatim or conceptually, by various local, national, and international companies. Yet I now give this platitude only passing consideration. This phrase has a hollow ring; it seems a disingenuous assurance, holding an empty promise. What was once good business turned into good ad copy and now gets lost in the clutter of promotions that we no longer believe.
In fact, the louder a business trumpets this claim, the less credence I give it and the more I assume their quality is lousy and their ad campaign’s only goal is to convince us of the contrary. To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, “He who can, does. He who cannot, talks about it.” It seems that no one provides quality service any more.
Years ago I placed a series of calls to my computer vendor. They offered a quality package at a good price, provided fast shipment, and facilitated ordering. Yet the quality of their service was rotten. Two prior interactions with their customer service staff resulted in one failure and one partial success. Requiring a dozen or so phone calls over the span of weeks, ultimately resulted in a satisfactory outcome.
But it required great patience and persistence, long hold times, being transferred to the wrong departments and back again, and talking with English speaking reps who could not effectively communicate in a language I comprehended. One humorous example was a representative who said, “Excuse please the silence while I hold you.” To accomplish my objective, I had to escalate my call, invoke their “100% Satisfaction Guarantee,” and insisted that they accept the return of my entire order—not just the computer in question. As you might suspect, I deem it was a waste of money to buy their extended customer support plan.
Next I attempted to resolve an ongoing problem with my caller ID. The feature that sold me on the product was the promise that, working in conjunction with call waiting, it would display the number of a second caller while I continued talking to the first. Unfortunately, it never worked. I called repair and reported the problem. The rep gave me the time and date of the repair. It was not. I reported it again. No change.
I pulled out the multi-page manual and found a small-print footnote, which said that the feature I desired needed to be installed separately. Thinking I was on to something, I called and ordered it. Again, the promised due date came and went. I called again, only to learn the desired feature was not available in my area. Four “service” people decided to take the easy way out, pushing me through their system or hoping I would give up, rather than simply check to see if the feature was available.
On to cable TV. With the escalating costs of cable, it eventually became less costly to switch to satellite. I had hundreds of channels and still didn’t have anything to watch! The installation and support of the satellite system was excellent (more on that later), but the simple act of canceling my cable service took months. With each passing month a new bill would arrive, announcing an escalating monthly balance. I would call the cable company; they would assure me our service was indeed cancelled and they had no idea why we kept being billed. This went on for over six months. I seriously doubt any company can be that incompetent, so my cynical nature speculates they were intentionally doing this to pad their receivables.
Years ago when I installed DSL, the big challenge came in disconnecting my now unneeded dialup line. Because of a previous service debacle, my Internet line had become the billed number and my listed number became secondary. The representative, fortunately a knowledgeable one, apologized that the only solution was to cancel the entire bill and then reinstall my main line. This would only be a billing function and my phone service would not be interrupted.
However, there would be side effects. First, I would need to call their DSL division to make sure my DSL wasn’t cancelled and to update my billing arrangement. Apparently, this was common, because the DSL representative immediately understood the problem and knew just what to do. Then I would need to call my long distance carrier to make sure that when my service was “reinstalled” I would be put on my same rate plan and not their higher default plan. I had to make a third call for my white page listing. Surprisingly, each call had its desired effect. But imagine the turmoil that would have ensued had the first representative not fully informed me of all the ramifications and exactly what I needed to do. Exceptional customer service, however, would never have put me in the position to make those calls in the first place and even good customer service would have done so for me. Quality service didn’t sell it, being the only game in town did.
We all know someone who left one company because of poor quality and then subsequently left the new company for the same reason. Eventually, they try—and then reject—all available alternatives. They then have to return to a previously unsatisfactory company. Their new goal is simply to pick the least bad provider.
Does anyone provide quality service anymore? Fortunately, yes. In previous columns, I mentioned my mechanic and optometrist, both stellar success stories. In concert with this, it is noteworthy to mention that the authorized agent for my satellite television is a local company. Is being local then, the key for my satisfaction? Not entirely. My local credit union, bank, and doctor have all caused me repeated consternation. Besides, there are also good service examples that are not local.
To publish my magazines – Connections Magazine and AnswerStat – the sales, graphic design, and editing are all handled by extremely competent individuals who are not local, yet provide an exceptional level of service. The common thread here is that they are all small organizations. So then, is company size the key? No, there are many other small organizations that have demonstrated the ability to disappoint.
Although being local and being small are two elements that allow the potential to provide quality service, they are not requirements. The real key is the personal touch. With each unfavorable example I gave, I dealt with a department, not an individual – not really. The representative had no accountability to me and no stake in the outcome. With subsequent calls, I would talk to a different person. To them I was not a customer; I had no real value. I was just another phone call – a problem – one to get rid of in the shortest time, so they could go on to the next call, and eventually punch out for the day.
However, with each positive example I cited, it was a specific person who made the difference. This was someone who genuinely cared and had a real interest in the outcome, someone who was willing to make me his or her priority and do what was required.
Every company claims they offer quality service, but is this a reality or a fantasy? Is a one-on-one personal relationship provided to clients? Can you honestly say, believe, and prove that your company provides quality service? If not, what changes do you need to make?