Infrequent Influxes of Inspiration

Customer Service?

city snowscape

A distraught man in his twenties walks in with a shiny white laptop under his arms. It's a slow day, and there's no-one else in the shop. It's just the man, my colleague, occupied with something, and myself. "The harddrive's bust. I read up on this on the Internet, and it seems like many other people have also experienced this," the man says, politely, matter-of-factly with a hint of suppressed anxiety.

It's a sunny winter day. It must be, because people are passing the storefront windows with their thick jackets and hats. The driveways are also slushy of dirty snow. We're back at my first real job: A brightly lit computer store. The bright-colored banners hang off the wall. There's rows of white computers, invitingly glowing their screens on display tables. They scream their desire to be test driven.

"I know, I know," he continues. "The warranty has expired a few months ago, and I heard that this isn't covered by the manufacturer's warranty. But lots of people have encountered this very same issue... The drive is bust!"

The man shows his shining white laptop, along with his receipt. I had recently heard about this wide-spread fault the man was talking about. I also knew that the manufacturer is very strict when it comes to out-of-warranty services - until they say it's a typical error, it's not a typical error. And it doesn't matter how many customers come in and complain about it.

Feeling the customer's frustration, as if my own, I look him straight in the eyes, and hear disembodiedly the following words roll out of my mouth: "Look, I'm on your side here. I know this must suck for you, big time, so I'll do my best, ask around a bit, and see what I can do. There must be a way to get your hard drive fixed. This just won't jive."

What?! How could I have said that? I'm just the guy behind the counter. It's not like I really have the powers or authorization to promise such things!

Let's fast forward a bit here; I take the laptop in for service, it's in service for a while, and luckily (for both him and me) the guy gets the hard drive replaced for free.

MacBook 07-06-2006 15-19-28

A few days pass, and an email from a supervisor drops into my company inbox. It's adressed to the company's mailing list, spanning several stores in two large cities. The email contains a link to a certain small blog post. The author writes in his post about how his hard drive had failed. How he took it into service with low hopes, how the unnamed clerk immediately took his side in the cause, how he got his out-of-warranty laptop amazingly serviced for free. How happy he was that, despite a hard drive crash, he was treated what he considered fairly. The customer was pleased, I am extatic and the store got sincere positive publicity.

The email continues: "I'm very glad that we have such a satisfied customer. Whoever this clerk was did a good job this time. However, please don't take the customer's side too eagerly in the future."

...and thus my euphoric buzz instantly vanishes.

Lessons Learned

In hindsight, sure, I might've promised too much, in sympathy. I got a bit startled afterwards about the fact that the hard drive swap wasn't a done-deal in the beginning. Nevertheless, I now know, for certain, that I happened to do the very right thing. I know this for a fact, since I was on that day a customer service person.

I served the customer the best way I knew and could. The customer was listened to and taken seriously. His worries were soothed, and his worries were shifted off his mind, into the repair queue. By happenstance, the company got a satisfied customer. He was so satisfied, in fact, wanted to share his experiences with the public. The chances that that person came back another time, exchanging money for goods, went up considerably (but I don't remember anymore if he ever came back). My main goal was to try making that one person happy, any means necessary. What some might call "the company's best interests", e.g. saving immediate expenses, didn't cross my mind at that time. This must be one of my proudest moments in my life.

Thumbs up

Not making an absolutely best effort trying to satisfy your customer, is catastrophic for any company trying to trade anything with anyone. I've seen a certain large retail store chain slowly go bankrupt. Not because they didn't have the inventory (they did) or because the prices weren't low enough (you couldn't find it cheaper), but because their customer service was abysmal. The dislike was well known and widespred. Everyone discouraged choosing that store. So the money voted on the more expensive, better serving, stores instead.

Every once in a while, a customer will come raging in. But they're not barking at the clerk. They're trying to say something important, and someone should be there listening. They're barking at the situation, at the company. Never at the clerk. That's the clerks situation to do the best to remember that it's never personal, really listen what's the matter, and try to fix it. At times I forgot this, and I now regret this greatly. Wish I would have handled each of those cases differently. Because I failed to serve the customer properly. Everyone lost, each and every time.

So, which are you doing? Are you serving your customers, or are you serving your company?

Words: 969

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