Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Lost: The Importance of Customer Service

By Tim Richardson

For the majority of us, our jobs involve interacting with people. My occupation actually states that fact in the name of the industry in which I work…public relations. However, not everyone seems to understand the importance of interpersonal communications and I have directly experienced customer service trending downward in recent years.

BusinessDictionary.com defines customer service as “all interactions between a customer and a product provider at the time of sale, and thereafter. Customer service adds value to a product and builds enduring relationship.”

“Adds value to a product and builds an enduring relationship”…in my opinion, that portion of the definition is the key piece that many people have forgotten. Considering the poor state of the economy, you would think that those competing for our discretionary income or purchases of necessity would strive to provide a level of service that makes them positively stand out amongst the competition.

Retail is a major business in our country. It’s estimated that billions of transactions take place each day in the nation's 1.4 million stores. From restaurants to contractors, technology service provides to manufacturers, high-quality customer service has become a forgotten principle of business.

When I started thinking about this topic for my blog, the examples of poor customer service that I’ve experienced in the last six months alone easily came to mind. Since it was hard to narrow it down to one, here are a few of my “favorites”…without naming the companies directly:

  • Grocery store cashier who never said a word to me as she was texting on the phone and eating fast food while ringing up my order in the checkout line.

  • A contractor who kept “forgetting” to schedule the crew to fix my roof after a snow storm gave me a “natural” skylight that was leaking throughout my house; the company then used the wrong product and slapped on paint so shabbily that it looked like a two-year old with their first coloring book; after receiving the run-around for about two weeks, the owner finally made an appointment with us on a Saturday to come by and address the situation…only he never showed up or called with an explanation.

  • A ticket broker who told me “sorry about your luck” when a concert I bought tickets for was rescheduled and half of our group couldn’t go on the new date. When I asked to speak to his manager, he said “nope” and hung up on me.

Of course, not every company has disregarded the value of customer service. Chick-fil-A is the quintessential example on how to do things right. Think about the last time you went to Chick-fil-A, where you are not considered a customer, but rather a “guest.” After you placed your order, the person on the other side didn’t slap your change on the counter or ignore you after the transaction…they also didn’t say “you’re welcome.” They said “my pleasure.” Their pleasure? Two simple words that make you feel valued.

This mentality comes from the top as President and COO Dan Cathy stresses the importance of attentive and courteous customer service. That philosophy and commitment to “guests” even play a huge role in the decision process for opening new restaurants.

In 2008, Chick-fil-A received over 22,000 applications from aspiring store operators…they selected only 100 who they believed were in tune with Chick-fil-A’s mission.

Tim Richardson is Maroon PR's Executive Vice President. Contact him at tim@maroonpr.com.

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