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Cutthroat Customer Care


08/12/2015 12:35 AM
Succeeding on Purpose

Who to Choose?

There are many options to choose from when it comes to almost any product and service.  When a customer chooses yours you had better honor their choice every time you interact with them.   
Let them know:
  • you are grateful for their choice
  • you don’t take it for granted 
  • you are going to do everything you can to make sure they continue to choose you


Frontline Friendly

For those customer service folks that work the frontlines and are genuinely friendly it’s time to spill the beans and share your secrets. 

What if my company already has a bad reputation?

…fear not all is not lost.  It’s not impossible to makeover a bad image but it will take time, effort and expense.  It will take time because people don’t remember their second kiss but they recollect in vivid detail every time someone kicked them in the family jewels. They recall the time, place,  person, style of shoe and stuff they were looking at on the floor while curled up in the fetal position. Our brain actually creates new creases and pathways so we remember not to go down that road again.  It’s unfortunate but If your company was wearing the shoe that aimed that well placed kick  than that one event could actually have undone years of otherwise good service. Here’s an example to help you better understand why.

I have been with the same bank for about ten years because they offered several key features that set them a part from the rest of the every-other-month-name-changing-banks in town.  These features remained unchanged and functioned just the way I expected them to every month until July of 2010.  One day I logged onto my online banking portal and noticed that three of my savings accounts (one was mine and the other two were joint accounts I shared with my two kids) had service fees.  I immediately called “customer service” and found out I was being charged service fees because my savings accounts had changed and now no longer met the minimum requirements.  The accounts that once functioned just the way I wanted them for years were now being penalized for changes I had never asked for and never authorized.  It was like someone had changed my car from an automatic to a standard overnight and then asked me to pay them in order to have the car changed back to an automatic.  The “customer service” telephone representative said I could easily remedy the situation by simply transferring twenty-five dollars into each account every month or just change my savings account to a different product.  I explained it had taken several years to get the accounts up to their current financial levels because two of them were my children’s and they didn’t have jobs that allowed them to save much money each month.  I also said that in my current situation I wasn’t able to save very much money either (as I had lost my job two years earlier and was working four part-time jobs to make ends meet all the while going to school full time).  The one thing I didn’t need to hassle with in my current situation was my bank.  Before I hung up the phone the rep asked if there was anything else he could do for me today.  I said he could recommend a good bank because apparently it looked like I was going to be closing all of my accounts with my current bank.  He had no answer and so I politely hung up because it’s impossible to slam a cell phone without doing damage to your index finger or phone.  But I did push the “end call” button hard enough to leave a fairly prominent smudge.  Not overly satisfying but it was a start.
                  I went to take a shower so I could go to the bank and have it out with someone in person.  I should have just gone there without showering or brushing my teeth and sat really close to the bank agent.  I didn’t though.  I showered all the while stewing in the juices of what I was going to say to the unsuspecting bank employee.  I got to the bank, cashed two checks than sat down across from my customer service adversary.  Here’s the gist of our conversation:

(CSR stands for Customer Service Representative)
Bank CSR: May I help you sir.
Me: We’ll see.  Here’s what you’re going to do.  You’re going to provide me some of the most outstanding customer service or I’m going to close all seven of my accounts and take my business to another bank.
Bank CSR:  Oh my gosh, what happened?

I proceeded to give her a brief account of my situation recounting that two years ago I got laid off from a job and have since been working four part-time jobs all the while going to school full-time.  Just last week I lost two of my part-time jobs and the last thing I need right now is for my bank to be messing with my money.  I told her that I logged on today to find that a total of thirty dollars had been taken from three of my accounts due to service fees that I didn’t know I was going to be charged.  I also mentioned that all of these were savings accounts and the amount taken from the accounts was more than I had accumulated through interest in all three accounts since they had been opened more than five years ago. 

She looked at my accounts on her little magical computer screen and informed me:

Bank CSR:  Oh, yes these accounts have changed.  We sent out notices that these changes were going to take place.  Now you have to maintain at least five hundred dollars in each account or you’ll be charged a service charge. You should have seen the notice in your statement.

Me: Well, I don’t receive any statements in the mail because I have opted for paperless statements that I can view online.  And to be honest, I check my banking transactions online so frequently that I rarely ever look at my statements.  So, in fact I haven’t received any notice that my accounts would be changing.  And I find it very insulting that someone would change an account that was working just fine for me for years without obtaining some sort of verbal or written approval first.  That’s a little forward if you ask me. 

Bank CSR: No comment to this statement.

Me:  And I find it equally annoying that in order to fix the problem that my bank created, I have to take time out of my day to come and talk to you about refunding my money and changing my accounts.

The end of this story is I got my service fees reversed and I closed my three savings accounts. To fix the problem I opened three new accounts that basically functioned the same way the three accounts had before my bank decided to change them.  Explain how any of this makes sense?  It doesn’t and now my bank has a black mark in its otherwise blemish free history with me.  If I start to notice a trend in this kind of inconsiderate service I will, like most people, simply take my business elsewhere and as they say, “vote with my feet.”

The moral of this story is "keep your customer’s happy", especially the faithful ones that have done business with you for years.  I may not be a high dollar-banking customer but the Bible says, “If you can’t be faithful with a little, who will entrust you with great riches?”  If this is how they treat a loyal patron with seven different accounts spanning twelve years, than this bank obviously has no care for their customers

Another principle from my story is to "give your customers options but don’t simply enforce new policy without their consent."  Never, ever, ever take away your customer’s sovereignty when it comes to how they do business with you.  Never come across as though you are telling them what to do, especially when it comes to their money.  The sting of this insult is like being slapped across the face on a cold winter day.  You as the business owner may think you know what is in the best interest of your customers and may even be excited about a new system or service.  However, it is up to you to sell this new process or product to your clients.  It is not up to you to shove it down their throat and then take issue when they gag and choke.  People like routine and draw comfort from being able to do things in a familiar way.  You have to show them the benefits and advantages of changing and then give them the option.  Provide them with a carrot and lead them gently down the path toward your new idea.  In the end they should be thanking you for helping them see the light not cursing you because you shined it so carelessly in their eyes that they’re blinded from your insensitivity.
 
Hire Right

Bad customer service originates from bad customer service providers.  People do best when it naturally comes from within.  A painter paints a masterpiece because they are passionate about painting.  Fire fighters rush into burning buildings and rescue people because they thrive on the adrenalin from intense life or death situations. Customers receive outstanding customer service because the person serving them genuinely cares about people and their treatment.  They take it personal when others are harshly handled and they go out of their way to remedy the situation even if it takes extra time and effort.  Not everyone can paint or will put themselves in harms way to save a life.  Similarly, not everyone is cut out to connect with people in a personal and professional way that makes the customer feel like they are the most important person in the world. In order to avoid bad customer service you must identify bad customer service providers and avoid hiring them.

What if the pickens are slim?

Understandably it is often a challenge to find the right people to fill the right position.  Many times we hire someone because they were the only one that showed up to the interview.  Be forewarned, however, this is a dangerous way to hire.  If you can’t find the right people than you need to expand your advertising avenues.  You must understand that in order to find the right person you have to be willing to invest in them up front.  In so doing, the long-term benefit of their quality service will pay dividends to your customers for years to come.  In contrast, the price you'll pay for an individual misrepresenting your company through poor service will be a debt of lost customers and a tarnished reputation that will be hard to shed for decades.

What kind of an investment are we talking about?

You first must be willing to make an investment of yourself into the process of hiring the “right person.” You must embrace all the qualities of the “right person” otherwise how will you know them when they are sitting across from you in an interview.  When the secret service trains their federal agents how to spot a counterfeit note of American currency they don’t have them study all of the different examples of counterfeit bills.  Instead they exhaustively familiarize them with every aspect of the authentic American dollar so the moment a fake comes across their path they recognize it immediately because it pales in comparison to the original McCoy. Likewise, you should know instantly when a non-candidate applies for a position.  If you are unable to sniff them out through their resume then you had better filter them out in the interview.  If they somehow sweet-talk their way into your employ then make sure you have a solid training and probationary process in place to catch them before they due irreparable damage to your clientele.  Don’t go into your hiring process with just an idea of what you want.  Have a detailed description of their job functions including a character sketch of the star individual that will provide your customers with stellar service.  There is an old saying, “if you aim at nothing, you will most likely hit your target.”

The above investment of yourself obviously includes a willingness to spend a serious amount of time until you find the “right person.” Unfortunately, most business owners usually don’t have a lot of time to spare.  For this reason, many turn to temp agencies or hiring services to speed along the process for prospective employees.  These can save some time but also will incur additional expense and add some restrictions on immediate hiring if you find the right candidate.  In the end,  only you will know the right individual when you see them and you should never settle for someone else’s assessment over your own.  If your business is big enough to have an HR (Human Resource) Department than make sure your HR people aren’t just filling positions. Make sure you clearly communicate exactly who and what you are looking for and always conduct a final interview with the prospective person so you can personally give your final “yea or nay.” So, whether you or your HR people look through the applications and resumes and conduct the interviews you must set aside time to stay “directly” involved with the hiring process.

It should be a given at this point that hiring right is also includes an investment of resources, in other words a portion of your fiscal budget.  And don’t wait to put this in the budget until you start getting employee turnover.  This expenditure should already be in place.  As they say, “don’t wait until it starts raining before you fix the roof”, by then it will be too late and you will be all wet.  Start planning for tomorrow’s turnover today. Budget for the advertising you will need both in the paper and online (but also utilize free advertising like Craigslist and other no-cost online job posting boards).  Have resources set aside for the time it will take (and cost) you to go over resumes and applications and conduct interviews.  During this time of transition you will probably be stretched thin because we rarely have the luxury of hiring people before the position becomes vacant.  Sometimes retirements and planned medical procedures give us a little heads up but usually we hire because people suddenly vacate their positions through resignation or termination.

Most of the time we are trying to both hire new people and keep things operating while understaffed.  If possible, have prospective candidates in the pipeline by periodically posting positions that tend to have a higher turnover.  Take applications and conduct interviews and catch great potentials before you fall into dire times and feel the pressure to just hire “whomever.”   Be aware of trends in your industry, attend job fairs and familiarize yourself with the potentials colleges are graduating.  You may even be able to snag a few from time to time for free by hiring low to no pay summer interns who are just dying for some real-life experience in their specific field of study.  Don’t make promises to hire but give them true blue exposure to what they can expect in the real world.  If they do come knocking at your door, you will already know what kind of an employee you can expect.

In conclusion, be prepared to make an investment of your time, resources and self.  The end result will be a future constructed with intent and design not merely hopes and prayers (but don’t discount praying either, it truly can move mountains).  We don’t get what we deserve.  We get what we're prepared to receive.  A small church can hope to grow into a big church  but without preparation it will never happen. If a large crowd visits and they are only ready receive a small group, this will be an opportunity lost to retain the numbers that could have made them a mega-sized cathedral.  So, enlarge your vision, expand your horizons and open your arms wide today and when employee turnovers come tomorrow you will be ready to embrace it as a planned opportunity, not merely respond to it as unexpected calamity.


Fire or Fight

Okay, so now you’ve hired the “right person” or so you thought.  Week after week you start to notice that your perfect hire isn’t as ideal as you’d hoped.  Some people know how to interview well but when it comes to the actual work they don’t quite deliver what they promised.  You dread going back to the old drawing board and repeating the “new-hire” process all over again.  You decide to stick with this person and give them a little more time and all the while your gut is telling you to cut your losses. So you do what all of us do when we can’t decide, you put it off.  Now morale among the other employees is beginning to tank because your “newbie” won’t pull their weight.  The phrase “you are only as strong as your weakest link” is not just a cliché. It's a warning to those standing under whatever is being held up by that chain.  In time the pressure and weight of expectation will be too great for that “weak link” and the chain will inevitably break. The question is, "what will be the extent of this destructive event?"  Will it be your customers, other employees or an even more scary reality such as the violent retaliation of the terminated employee?  Workplace violence is a real concern today and can be minimized by preventing powder kegs from ever growing in the first place.  To do so you must have the wherewithal to take the necessary steps when they need to be taken.  You must chose to fire or fight.

None of us like confrontation, unless you’re in the military then it kind of goes with the job.  None of us likes vegetables (I’m speaking from my very Iowa burger-lovin’ background so please no letters if you are a happy healthy vegan) but they are a necessary evil in order to grow big and strong.  In the same way, no one seeks out an unpleasant situation and terminating an employee has never been called a “festive” occasion.  It’s not easy, it’s not fun but it is often necessary.  It is imperative not only for the company but also for the individual being terminated.  The soon to be ex-employee will rarely agree with this assessment at the time of their firing but many times in the long run they find that the event was a liberating point in their lives freeing them (or forcing them) to pursue a career or a field to which they were more ideally suited.  A termination at its very simplest point is a statement that says, “This was not a good fit.” Putting off a necessary firing is simply delaying an inescapable reality that will eventually transpire.

I titled this “Fire or Fight” because bad situations must and will resolve themselves in some way.  In order to succeed on purpose we must be involved in the process.  Too many people pin their fortunes on playing the lottery when simply saving a little over the long haul will yield a financially promising future. Likewise, bad situations must be addressed with purposed intent and decisive action.  You must know what the end-goal looks like and eliminate everything that stands in the way of this destination.  You must have the eye of a sculptor.  A sculptor doesn’t see a hunk of clay or a pillar of marble they perceive the masterpiece in its finished state and then simply remove all of the excess material that obstructs their view until the clay or marble exactly mirrors their original vision.  Failing to fire a person that is wrong for the job is like keeping a piece of clay in a sculpture that doesn’t go with the flow and form of the design.  You can play it off for a time and pretend it goes there but after a while it’s going to become painfully obvious to everyone that it doesn’t belong.

By choosing not to  fire you've now engaged a fight. Be prepared to fight this battle on every front including with the other employees, mistreated customers and last of all at home in your personal life (be it spouse, kids or close friends).  You think I’m kidding?  What’s the one focal point of most people’s conversations when they’re not at work? You guessed it. Work!  You will take this home with you and talk about it over dinner and in the car on the way to church. You'll discuss it right before bed until your spouse puts a pillow over their head (or your head) to drown out your incessant complaining.  When you choose to fight you rarely get to choose how and where the battle takes place. You really only get to choose for how long it goes on. Eventually, you will either win (and the shoddy employee will resign of their own accord or via a petition from their fellow workers) or you will surrender to the inevitable and finally fire them.  At this point, let’s just hope your reputation is still intact enough to rally in customers, a resilient group of remaining employees to get the ball rolling and most importantly forgiving friends and family to welcome you back.

My Cutthroat Customer Care Qualifications

So what qualifies me to write about cutthroat customer care? Because when I receive bad customer service I am that one percent of the population that provides customer feedback and proactively hopes my information will help them correct the problem so others don’t suffer as I have.  I am eligible to speak because I have been providing POS (Positively Outrageous Service) to people in both the public and private sectors of life for over twenty years.  In the public sector, I’ve worked in frontline customer service jobs at airline ticket counters, boarding gates as well as on-board airplanes where people feel entitled to cuss and swear at you because the plane was late due to bad weather.  I’ve smiled and genuinely done anything and everything I could to make my client's day a little better. In the private sector, I’ve been a minister for over twenty years providing hands on compassionate care for people dealing with the very worst that life has to dish out including divorce, disease and death. Others have assessed my skills and experience and hired me accordingly.  I was one of only a thousand people hired out of more than twenty-thousand applicants for a job with a starting pay of only $9.50 an hour.  Why did the people hiring me and I work so hard to get me into this meager paying but utterly rewarding customer service position?  Because customer care is not just what I provide it is a part of who I am.  I approach customer care with a cutthroat mentality because I hate getting horrible service and I relish delivering outstanding care.  I am both serious and passionate about people receiving stellar care, not just because they are good customers but simply because they have chosen to do business with us.  This is the appropriate response that should be given when people choose you. Thank you for your choice!
 

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