Sunday, May 11, 2014

Customer service - the good and the bad

Like it or not but we all give and receive customer service. As photographers we buy things and we occasionally sell things too. There's nothing that turns us off more than walking into a store to find store employees chatting on their cellphones and turning away from us. We have all experienced dreadful customer service whether it's from local stores to multinationals, government and our own suppliers.

Let's take a look at some awful customer service.
  • A prospective customer walks into a store and is ignored by staff who don't even look up from the customer they are dealing with to acknowledge your existence. This has happened to me many times, most notably at AT&T stores.
  • A prospective customer walks in and staff walk away in order not to be bothered with doing their job. This most often happens at Walmart. As an aside, if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. This is the attitude of the average monkey.
  • A customer makes contact with the organization and receives no response (Walmart) or a response that's so late that it's laughable (
  • A prospective customer is told in no uncertain terms by a minimum wage employee that the way they are planning to do something won't work and never has worked despite the prospective customer having experience of the subject that the minimum wage yokel does not.
  • Equipment is sent off for repair and takes forever to be returned.
  • Upselling - when a prospective customer selects the item they want to buy and is then subjected to upselling attempts by the salesman. 
  • Add-on sales - where the prospective customer goes in to buy an item and then finds the salesman busily trying to sell add-ons that were not wanted in the first place.
  • A customer/prospective customers phones and is put on hold for long enough that they hang up and call somebody else.
  • Automated switchboards - I personally just hang up when I get those and call somebody else.
  • No after sales service. You've bought our product now don't bother us again! 
With service like that, it's very hard to turn that around into a good experience for the customer. Customers will run away very quickly at the first hint of incompetency or poor service. Not only that but an unhappy customer will tell on average ten people about their poor experience. It's even worse when the poor service is exhibited publicly on social media. It is now May 11th and a bit under a month after I sent my comment about receiving scam emails from Responding this late after my comment just demonstrates that customer service is an afterthought. I'd forgotten all about the scam email by the time they replied.
Seriously, if you're going to use social media then use it, don't just post it on your webpage to look cute. If you're not going to monitor it constantly for communication and are not going to respond (Walmart) then don't put the blessed thing up there. Poncing around on the internet isn't going to gain sales or goodwill.
Now let's take a look at good customer service.
  • Answering the phone promptly and preferably within the first 3 rings with a clear and pleasant "Good morning/afternoon *pause* This is <insert company name> *pause* <insert your name> speaking. How may I help you?"
  • Greeting customers with a pleasant smile and a "Hello, how may I help you?"
  • Actively putting the customer first. If already dealing with a customer, politely excuse yourself for a second and acknowledge the new prospective customer that has just arrived and either summon somebody else to help them or discover if it's a quick query such as "where's the bathroom". 
  • Give good after sales service - to the customer, you are the company. 
  • Deal with customer complaints immediately. Failure to do so will cause an already upset customer to be even more upset. Even if you're with a customer, this is the only time you can break off. This demonstrates to the customer with a problem that you're serious about helping them and to the customer that you're dealing with beforehand that you're serious about supporting them after they make a purchase.
  • Recognize that some people just come in and erupt and there's nothing that can be done except to be respectful and wait until they have finished erupting. It's never personal - it's just part of being human.
  • Answer customer's questions respectfully, honestly and promptly, seeking advice for answers that are unknown by yourself. Lying and evasion are never OK.
  • Respond to social media - if used - promptly and honestly.
Whether you're running your own business, working for a business or just buying things, look at all your interactions from two viewpoints. Remember the Sufi way of the four gates.
  • At the first gate ask "Am I about to speak the truth"
  • At the second gate ask "Is what I want to say necessary"
  • At the third gate ask "Is what I am about to say beneficial"
  • At the fourth gate ask "Is what I am about to say kind"
If the answer to any of those questions is no then do not say it.  This will better all your business dealings whether as a customer or as a salesman. People are human and like to be treated as though they are your friends. Even the bible says "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (Luke 6:31)

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