Customer Service is Dead. Long Live Customer Service!

20 Nov
2008

An unsavory customer experience today has prompted me to think of customer service. Here is what happened. I am totally swamped, and didn’t have time to run down to the neighborhood deli to grab a sandwich or to cook my own lunch. So I opted for a delivery of a salad from a nearby restaurant. As a co-founder of HomeShopr, I tend to frown upon takeout, but desperate times call for desperate measures (i.e. too busy and no time for grocery store right now). At least the salad is a healthy option; I get steamed calamari, not fried. I call over there, only to find out that my salad option is not available, as they didn’t order enough calamari. They did offer me fried calalmari instead (yuck!). I inquired about alternative steamed / grilled seafoods, and they told me that the shrimp salad was an option, but it cost $2 more. I asked to speak to the manager, explaining to him that I would like to have the shrimp salad for the price of the calamari salad. The manager wouldn’t budge. I explained that I really want the calamari, and not the shrimp, but I would settle for shrimp, if it was the same price (it certainly is not my fault that I can’t get my preferred choice). He said no again. I reminded him politely that I had been ordering from there for months (I don’t order all the time, once a week maybe, and it’s the only takeout I really order). I also asked him if he thought it was worth it to potentially lose a loyal client over $2. To which he quickly retorted, in a very rude tone: “I don’t care. I have enough business.” After which, I told him that he lost a customer for life, and he told me to go F myself.  He could still reject my plea, but his tone and cursewords were completely uncalled for.

Hmmm!!! He gets more than enough business? Really? If and when this recession gets deeper, I wonder if he would sing the same tune. If another joint with excellent salads opened up in his neighborhood, taking all of his clients, would he sing the same tune still? Does he realize the power of word of mouth, and especially negative word of mouth? He probably doesn’t know that I can quickly ruin his reputation via virality of Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, blogging, etc. Personally, I am not going to stoop to his level and slander his establishment. I am sure another slighted consumer will do that. The point I do want to amplify is that in this day and age of social media, word of mouth can spread like wildfire (just look at what happened with the Motrin ads). The social web is making everything so transparent, and as more and more people go to the web as a resource (especially listening to other users’ feedback), companies can no longer take the lackadaisical approach to managing their reputation. Even though this restaurant is an old-fashioned establishment, and I really doubt that the manager uses too many social tools, and thus not managing the restaurant’s reputation proactively, he should at least be aware of the damage that negative word of mouth / bad will can bring.

Before, bad word of mouth could spread through the neighborhood. Today, bad (and good) word of mouth can spread virally through the whole world in a matter of minutes. If you don’t know what your users are saying about you, please make it your business to find out. And even better, take steps to proactively change it for the better. Reach out to your most local haters and try to make them whole. Most likely, they will stop bashing you. Above all, listen and be authentic in your response. Problem-solve and reach out. Most likely, your haters are just hurt and need to know you care. In this age of social media and rapid communication, every company needs to be a service company. No matter what you produce.

For great examples of companies that do this extremely well, check out Zappos. Even though they sell shoes, they consider themselves a service company. Internally, they say: “We are a service company that happens to sell ________” Service is so deeply part of their culture that their social media approach reflects those values. The channels of communication with customers via Twitter is wide open (click here for all Zappos-related conversations, or chat with the CEO directly here).

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  • http://twitter.com/michelletripp michelletripp

    Hi Maria, I just came across your blog and thoroughly enjoy your insights. You struck a chord with this customer service article! I recently read an article on NPR’s site about a San Francisco pizzeria that took negative customer “Yelps” and put them on t-shirts. Personally, I describe that as “Brand Fail Whale.” What a way to lose possibly great customers! The demanding ones are the ones that can be evangelized!

    I totally agree that companies need to get more serious about customer service, and realize that customers have the power now. It’s unfortunate that a lot of companies, like the deli you mentioned, still live in a world where they think “service” ends at flipping the open sign.

    Customers are no longer cattle to be herded. And business owners who can’t adapt are going to have a painful ride.

    @michelletripp

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