There are still millions of companies that fail to understand a basic premise about their own environment – customer service matters. These companies occupy a space in which they no longer have control over their brand. They can still buy ads, media coverage, and politicians, but the people -customers- are empowered with tools never before seen in the history of commerce.
It is easy to spot a company that still relies on disappointing sales tactics such as incentive deadlines, playing on a sense of fear, or blatant lies. Internally, the sales staff is constantly under pressure to meet a high quota or log their every interaction for managerial oversight. They prioritize landing the next sale over earning the next 10 sales. I recently had two experiences in the same Friday that reinforced the basic principles behind the necessity of good customer service.
The first involved Sears. My wife scheduled a repair for our refrigerator and while making the appointment, she was solicited to receive a free estimate on the same day on any home repair. We had been considering new windows and there was “no obligation” so she booked the estimator simultaneously. Near the end of the estimation process, she called my office to share the price and other details. I work close to home and decided to talk to the guy in person. I came home and Steve (the estimator) immediately began telling me about all of the pricing and rebate incentives if I purchased windows today. I explained that I wouldn’t be making such an important investment in my home after a brief conversation and no other estimates or research on the subject.
“Okay man. I understand. Thank you for your time.”
He was packed and out the front door in under 60 seconds. Literally. No effort to answer my remaining questions, no information about alternative window options, scheduling, warranties…nothing. I didn’t buy so he didn’t care.
It may go without saying that while it took him less than 60 seconds to leave my house, it also took me less than 60 seconds to decide against using Sears for this project.
I have the pleasure of connecting with Ted Rubin, Chief Social Marketing Officer at Collective Bias, on various social media and I posed this encounter to him. He is a champion of educating companies on the benefits of truly great customer service and how to position themselves for healthier business by investing in a Return on Relationship™. In his words,
“The Sears salesperson had an amazing opportunity staring him in the face. If nothing else you would have most probably shared with others the way he added value to the process.”
And right he is!
Customers today are equipped to dramatically impact a company with a comment on Facebook, screen capture of a Twitter feed, or an experience shared on Yelp. This shortsighted salesman was ready to pressure my wife with incentives and deadlines but unprepared to build a relationship with a customer. If he had done things the right way and not stormed off like a child, he may have earned a customer in the near future. Now he has no chance of doing that.
Once I got back in my car and headed back to work, the second bad customer service experience began. I got a call from someone at my office that a person was there to see me. We didn’t have a meeting scheduled but if he was willing to wait 15 minutes for me to return, I could give him a few minutes to meet. It was my sales rep from a company called Search Options, whom I had spoken with earlier in the year and explained that I couldn’t move forward with them because I was under contract with my current vendor and happy with the relationship. But he dropped by anyway to tell me that one of his corporate officers was flying into the area next week and he would love to setup a meeting with me so I could learn more about their services and hopefully capture our business immediately. I again explained that I am already contracted with another vendor and it doesn’t come up for review until the end of the year. He actually said, “I remember you mentioned that but if you meet with him I think you’ll like what you hear.”
Clearly he had no respect for my current relationship but wanted me to start one with him. I started picturing a mistress who wanted me to cheat on my wife but then stay loyal to the mistress.
Again, I presented the situation to Ted Rubin and got his opinion:
“[He] could have set himself up as first in line when your other contract was coming to a close simply by leveraging the visit by his corporate officer as a relationship building tool, rather than a sales opportunity. Let you know the time and effort they were willing to put in, even while being aware that it would be 6-8 months before you could seriously consider.”
Similar to the Sears instance, instead of being disrespectful and pressuring for a quick sale today, the salesman could have laid a strong foundation and “set himself up as first in line”.
As companies navigate the still-new waters of social media, they need to realize that the way they treat people in their stores is the way they will be portrayed online. It is impossible to cover it up, gloss over it, or pretend it didn’t happen. A chorus of negative feedback will expose your behavior as it truly is. And never forget that people are three times more likely to complain than they are to praise. This is how brands get hijacked by empowered customers and -for good or bad- it is usually accurate.
My thanks to Ted Rubin for giving his insight. Please share your good or bad customer service experience that impacted your decisions with a comment below.