Customer Service – Are You Even Listening?

customer service reading a script

The customer is not always right.  The computer is not always right.  They system is not always right.

But do you know how to make it right if your clients or customers have a problem?

I have been a business owner for several years.  There is one thing that drives me every morning rain or shine, weekend or week day, feast or famine.

It is not the benefits of setting my own schedule, the ability to choose the clients I work with, the freedom to explore new opportunities or the control of my finances; although these are all great perks, they are not the driver. There is only one true core to my business:

It is a privilege and honor to provide service to my clients.

I remind myself of this after each win with a client – and when there is a challenge.  This week is a great example.  I spoke to two different clients who were thrilled with our work.  I spoke to three others who are beginning new opportunities.  I also spoke to one who was not happy.

I do not always get it right the first time.  I let my clients know this and encourage open feedback.  Bless my client, he is a very polite, respectful gentleman.  Yet, he was not happy with the initial direction.  He was kind in attempting to relate his thoughts.

I encouraged him to give me open, straightforward feedback, even if it meant he hated it. This allowed him to be more honest with me which allows me to zero in on exactly what I need to do.  I encouraged the negative feedback and then thanked him for providing it to me.

Not all companies have the luxury or desire to be selective in choosing their clients.  Some offer services that cater to a wide range of markets.  Some want to be so big that the more clients the merrier the company.  The revenues and conquering of markets and competitors takes a backseat to that fundamental core of having the privilege to serve. Clients take a backseat to expansion and profits.

I personally experienced this today.  I have a service provider that is huge.  I am just one little guppy in their ocean of customers.  I noticed two errors and called to have them corrected.

Long story short – the computer made two mistakes.  The first was reading the system wrong and showing a bill for twice the amount owed.  The second was a reconnect charge when service was not interrupted.

I spoke to three representatives, two initial level and one the next level up.  I was told that the system made a mistake on the billing but not on the fee.  Each one was staunch in telling me that since it was showing on the system that the service was interrupted, than it was true, nothing could be done, pay the fee.

I was told, “I am verbalizing to you that the system says this happened.” I have to admit, that is the first time I have ever had someone tell me they were ‘verbalizing’ something to me.  Where I come from, we normally said, “And I am telling you…”

I was also told that the only solution they could provide is that I would have to pay the fee. In what world is that a solution?  I will admit, I am very impressed with the wordplay used by this organization.

I walked away from this experience feeling that I had just experienced three conversations, no, not conversations, three sessions of reading from a script to a blank wall – and I was the blank wall.

More importantly, I walked away grateful.  This was a wonderful reminder to me to remember my core guiding principle: it is a privilege and honor to provide service to my clients.

Back to my original question: do you know how to make it right if your client has a problem?

No matter the size of your company, your customer base or service you provide; here are three things that will help make it right for your clients when there is a challenge:

Listen

Recognize

Bend if Possible

 

My biggest frustration is feeling as though with the three individuals I talked to, no one listened.  They spoke to me, but not with me.  If one person had said, “let me make sure I understand this” and reiterated what I had asked, I would have felt like a client – not a blank wall.

Listening is not, “I understand you are frustrated and I am sorry to hear that.”  No you are not.  That is a script.  When a client explains a frustration and you respond with a canned line, that is not listening.  That is responding.

My second biggest frustration is the refusal to recognize that there might be an issue with a system, process or program.  If it screwed up one thing, is it not possible it screwed up another?  If one of those three people took the time to say, “There is a possibility that our computer screwed up more than one thing” it would have validated my thoughts. Even if there was not a darn thing they could do about it.

My last frustration, and most minor, was the ‘solution’ was not a solution.  Since they had not heard me, no recognized that there might be an error there was no reason to attempt any type of solution.

The bottom line is, I am paying a fee – no matter what the discussion.  Perhaps I would not have such a bee in my bonnet about it had I been treated like a person.  Validating frustration, recognizing the potential for an error – even if it cannot be corrected – will go a long way in keeping clients.

Sometimes a solution is not possible; however, there are times that it is possible to bend – offer an alternative to bridge the gap even if you cannot repave the road.

In customer service it is paramount to remember that behind each account name and number there is an actual person, not a revenue source, for whom you have the privilege to serve. You may forget this, but they will not when they choose another service provider.

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As the Founder and Principle of Career Polish, Inc., a national career coaching and practice firm, I am an Executive Brand Strategist, Resume Writer and Career Coach. I work with individual clients, companies, leadership and teams to identify, strengthen and effectively communicate their brand, engagement, commitment and most importantly – their value – by learning and leveraging LinkedIn, resumes, networking, communication, relationship management, presence and influence.
I help people get from where they are in their jobs to where they want to be in their careers.

Click here – CareerPolish.com – to find out more about how we can help you.

 

Reasons to You are Excuses to Your Clients

I visit a lot of doctors’ offices.  Not for me, but with a member of my family who is a cancer survivor of 13 years.

Good news, he survived cancer; bad news, the chemotherapy caused severe neuropathy in his feet and hands.  It also destroyed his intestinal track and immune system while causing major havoc with his eye sight, balance, strength and ability to walk.  We go to a lot of doctors’ offices.

We have been to Neurologists, Oncologists, Pain Management Specialists, Gastroenterologists, Dermatologists and Ophthalmologists just to name a few.

Oh, let’s not forget the Orthopedic surgeon!  A few months ago marked his ninth foot surgery – yes, nine major foot surgeries.

I now have a whole new level of emotion and passion for insurance companies, and not in a good way.

The point being, I have been to a lot of doctors’ offices, dealt with a lot of healthcare professionals and am recognized by sight at the pharmacy.  Over the past 13 years I have dealt with a lot of healthcare professionals.

Let me reiterate that this is a member of my family.  My family is my core.  I give whole new meaning to the phrase Momma Bear when it comes to my family.

One thing that brings out the Momma Bear is when someone in my family is treated with disrespect.  A few of the times Momma Bear came out due to poor customer service from healthcare staff:

When a new treatment facility ignored all the documentation that we and the original provider gave to them and double dosed him on some major meds.

Reasons:
They didn’t see the paperwork the other facility sent over.
They didn’t see the copies of the meds and dosages that we provided.
The list we provided didn’t make it into his chart.
My favorite was it was his fault, he should have known not to take what they gave him.
The woman who told me this was fired shortly thereafter, again, Momma Bear.

When the surgeons office did not contact his employer about him being on sick leave for the most recent surgery thus causing him to have his pay severely delayed.

Reasons:
They didn’t know.  (This was his 5th surgery with this group – not new)
No one told them. (I personally handed the paperwork to an assistant and it was faxed by his employer)
The nurse didn’t know (I left her three voice-mails that day)
Oh, well, she did get the voice-mails, but the information was not provided (I left detailed messages, my son explained this to her as he was with me when I made the calls).
They never got the form (confirmed sent by the employer and again, I gave it to them)
Oh, they got the form, but the woman who takes care of it is super busy doing three jobs and doesn’t have the time to go through the 2 inch stack of paperwork coming through the fax.  (ok, seriously?)

Yesterday, Momma Bear came out again.

He contacted the doctor’s office last Wednesday to tell them he was out of one of his scripts.  Friday, I left two voice-mails.  Monday I paid a visit to the office.

Reasons:
The person was out of the office, come back tomorrow (I don’t think so)
They didn’t see the original communication. (and yet had record of the two other communications)
They are going through a transition.
They are short staffed.
They wanted to look it up. (This could have been done Wednesday, Thursday or Friday).
Their staff is really overbooked.

As a person who tries to generally look at the bright side of things, give others the benefit of the doubt and in general strives to be a kind person I just have three words for the providers and their reasons:

I don’t care!

Every single reason can be valid.  It can be a true and genuine statement.

But they all turned into excuses because:

There was no ownership
There was no accountability
There was blame
There was no apology

You are accountable to your clients, not for them.  There is a line there; however, there is defiantly accountability.

There are life events that at times hamper us from fulfilling commitments. That is understandable and unavoidable. These events represent a reason, not an excuse.

An excuse is blaming for not doing the work; a reason is a delay with the work completed.

I have the best clients, they are amazing human beings.  When I had an event transpire that caused a delay, my clients were compassionate, which I appreciated deeply.  But on some level I also knew they don’t care.

They don’t care if my dog passed, my kid is sick or there is some major event going on in my life.  They may empathize and truly feel bad; but bottom line, they still want the service I promised and they deserve it.

When an event happens that makes you break your promise to your clients, it is your responsibility to take immediate action.

Communicate: let them know what is going on.  If it is going to be delayed they want to know sooner rather than later.

Apologize: do not blame, do not try to get sympathy, simply apologize.

Own it: let them know what you are doing to make it right, right now.

Follow through: thank them for their patience or understanding, deliver the goods and continue a professional relationship.

The next time you find yourself explaining a delay to a client, ask yourself, “Am I giving a reason or an excuse?”

The answer will be in what you have done since the event and what you do next.

One last thing, you may not like it when the patient/family/customer turns Momma Bear on you, they most likely do not like it either.  I hate the fact that I have to go into that mode to get proper treatment!  I do not know anyone who enjoys being mean to get what should be a given: proper service.  If the service is continually below par, your client may feel this is their only resort.  That should speak volumes to you.

Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW

Brand Strategist & Career Coach

Certified Professional Resume Writer

www.CareerPolish.com

Is That How You Treat Your Mother?

Logan mite-e-ductsSometimes I really just want to ask people in a service industry this question.  Then again, those that I want to ask probably wouldn’t get it anyway so it would be a complete waste of time.  But still….

 

I think treating a female client the way you would your mother or grandmother and a male client how you would treat your father or grandfather would be a pretty good rule of thumb.

 

I had some experiences this week which inspired me for this blog.  I always see experiences as a way to grow and learn; thus, I must share.

 

My friend just bought a home.  One thing that was recommended before he moved in was to have the ventilation system cleaned.  It is an older home and I don’t think it had ever been done – ever, in many, many years.  Easy enough and it makes sense.

 

So I scheduled the appointment for Tuesday afternoon.  I got a call that morning asking if I could move the appointment to late morning or – now.  So I rearranged a few things and met them early at the house.

 

The representative was very pleasant.  When opening the furnace I started hearing things like “this isn’t good”, “oh, all this needs to be done”, “oh this is going to be a problem.”  Hint – bad sign

 

Now, keep in mind a thorough inspection was done by an extremely reputable inspector with no stake in the game.  He wouldn’t even recommend anyone for work as it would be a conflict of interest. Hint – good sign (There were a couple inspections actually by different parties.)

 

He had asked me about something with the house and I told him of a small remodel my friend is going to be doing.  The representative pipes up and says he can do that while he is there, he is licensed with the state.  Hint – bad sign

 

A few minutes later he comes out in the garage where I was painting to tell me that he has very bad news.  Hint – bad sign

And here is where the fun begins….

He cannot clean out the system because just by putting his hand in the vents he can tell that the foundation has crumbled the entire system and cleaning it would make it worse.  A whole new ventilation system is going to be needed to be put in through the ceiling.

 

That’s when he popped into the attic, looked around and promptly came back down to tell me the entire attic was covered in mold.  Big ol’ germ fest up there.

 

Oh, and I would also need to replace the furnace because it is the original one that came with the house. (Remember the inspection?  That will come back into play soon).

 

Now for just the ventilation system it would be a little over $2,000; but he recommends a new furnace and all for a price over $5,000.

 

He gave me his business card and wrote his personal cell number on it “because he would be able to schedule me in faster if I call him directly.”  Hint – bad sign.

 

I noticed on the business card it had a line for technicians to write in their name.  Hint – bad sign, your techs are not staying long enough to put their name on a card?  Or you are just handing your business card out to sub guys so little lack of quality control there.

 

After he left I noticed that he had just placed the vent covers upside down on the vents without putting them back in as he found them.  Hint – bad sign, disrespect for home and homeowner.

 

At this point I start flipping out.  I will be honest – I really was.  Normally I am much more astute and on my game, but I’m blaming it on the paint fumes in the enclosed garage.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  I mean it wasn’t even my house, I couldn’t get a hold of my friend and I’m all wonky on paint fumes so all those things didn’t even register.

 

I called my inspector.  I told him the story and he pulled the report.  That’s when he became as incensed as I was freaked out.

 

There is no mold in the attic.  He went in that attic from top to bottom and photographed the entire thing complete with a whole litany of pictures.

 

It’s an older home, seeing sand and rubble in vents is not an indication that the foundation is crumbling around you run, run for your lives.  It means it really, really needs to be cleaned.

 

Oh and the original furnace?  It is long gone.  The one that is in the house is only about five years old.

 

At this point I had calmed down and was coming down from the paint.  But this is where the excellent distinguish themselves from the good.

 

My inspector, Mike Bower of Principle Home Inspection Services is excellent.  He went a step further at this point and personally researched ventilation cleaning companies.  He reached out to contacts that he knew to get their professional opinion.

 

He looked at referrals, asked a lot of questions and narrowed it down to the highest recommended based on his research and the recommendations he was given.  He then called that company!  He asked about their process, service, cost and crumbling foundations.  Hint – good inspector going above and beyond to calm freaked out person

 

Vent cleaning guy: bad way to treat your mother.

Inspector: what a good boy, your mother would be so proud.

 

There is always more to sell, always more profit but at what cost?  Not only that, but add on top of it the anger issues.  I had to spend almost an entire day trying to be talked off the ledge and get a true response and action plan based on what is really there.

 

The other anger issue: the girl factor.  That will be tomorrow’s blog.

 

Mike, my inspector, had nothing to gain yet he took the time – his own billable time – to not only talk me off the ledge but do the research and make calls on my behalf.

 

Yesterday Logan with Mite-E-Ducts came out to the house.  He gave me a courtesy call and waited because I was a few minutes late.  Hint – good sign; I know he is on a schedule and their time is money but he was very nice about it.

 

When I arrived there was a huge company vehicle in the driveway, rather than the personal vehicle of the other guy.  Hint – good sign, professional and shows they are there for the job and have all the right tools.

 

He walked into the home and immediately put on the little booties.  That was a nice touch (the other guy just walked right in) and I appreciate the small details.  He did a thorough inspection including taking pictures within each vent.  Again, nice small touch.  Hint – good sign, attention to details.

 

Next he explained exactly what he was going to do, how and asked me if I had any questions.  Courteous and professional without the schmoozing or suck up questions or conversations.  There was no upselling at any point throughout the entire process.  Even when I asked about a new ventilation system in the ceiling he said they do not do that because it is a conflict of interest.  Hint – good sign

 

When he was done he cleaned up each location and even swept the driveway because a little rubble fell out of the major hose when he was putting it away.  Hint – good sign, nice touch noticing again the small details.

 

What are your clients saying about you and your staff?  Can you look at every one of your staff and say you would want them assisting your mother, grandmother, sister, girlfriend, wife or daughter?  You should have a two-part answer to this.

 

Not only should you answer an immediate “yes” but you should also be able to give a solid reason other than “they are a good guy.”   The first ventilation guy was a “nice guy” too.  If you can’t give a professional reason why then you need to rethink your staff.

 

I know most people do not come back to you and give you the positive reviews of your staff, only the negative.  But that doesn’t mean that the positive isn’t making a difference.

 

You can bet my friends and family will hear about the virtues and professionalism of Mike and Logan.  I am not going to let the other company know about their horribly disrespectful and lecherous behavior – my friend is taking care of that.

 

At the end of the day I have two resources I can personally recommend based on my own experience.  Yep, Mite-E-Ducts can do work at my mom’s house anytime and if she is ever needing an inspection done I will call Principle Home Inspection Services for her.

 

And just for you pessimists out there – no, I did not receive any discounts, offers or one single thing in return for mentioning either one of these companies in my blog.  Nor am I affiliated with either one and I do not know Logan or Mike outside of our professional interactions.  They don’t even know I am writing about them.   I believe exceptional service deserves to be recognized without reward – that’s just one of the reasons that is it exceptional.

 

 

Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW

Career Coach-Strategist

Certified Professional Resume Writer

Career Polish, Inc.

www.CareerPolish.com