Pleasing Customers (DO IT)

I’m not sure if it’s the economy or just bad luck, but my customer service experiences recently have been awful. Earlier this month I was battling with World of Warcraft customer service after a time zone mismatch ruined my fun. After several phone calls and over ten emails, the situation has been resolved—not fixed, resolved. They compensated me nicely, but ultimately they could not right the wrong. Overall, I am satisfied and will continue doing business with them. Unfortunately, it took far too long for me to be satisfied.

Now, a much more serious matter has come to light: Thailand, our a long-awaited December vacation destination, has experienced a wave of protests that shut down international airports. The non-violent protests forced Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat out of power and led to huge headaches for foreigners in (or trying to get to) Thailand. The climate is not right for foreign travelers; Japan Airlines even stopped flights and the US State Department recommended that Americans defer trips.

So what’s the problem? Vayama (a company I won’t even link because they have not earned it) will not refund our tickets despite the instability of the region and recent travel stoppages. They have done everything to frustrate me and waste my time without ever leaving me pleased. The first pass automated systems cannot answer my question, so I navigate confusing menus and deal with long waits before reaching a human. Finally, the human on the other end cannot help. A little good will goes a long way. Right now I do not plan to use Vayama again; the money they’ve made off me now pales in comparison to the potential earnings if they had made a good impression.

Sadly, I’ve encountered this workflow twice in a few weeks and it is all wrong. If you want to succeed in business, do the exact opposite of this. Customer service should have pleasing customers as a general goal. I understand this may cost more, but the funny thing about customers is that you want them and you won’t get that when your representatives run all customers off.

Two of my favorite bloggers, Seth Godin and Joel Spolsky, have commented on the simple act of pleasing customers and the big impact it has. See Joel’s take on customer service and Seth’s many posts, especially apologies and what they mean and the clearance culture.

My desperate plea to employers is really quite simple:

  • Empower entry level customer service representatives to solve problems—they are the ones making an impression
  • Give customer service representatives respect—they drive as many sales as the marketing department
  • Pay customer service representatives fairly—this may require hiring people of a worthy caliber
  • Offer customer service representatives a career path—again, you may have to be awake while hiring
  • Reduce the overhead in communications—reduce wait times, shorten telephone spiels, etc.
  • Go out of your way to thank and appreciate customers—your business does not exist without them!