Reflections on customer service

Is there anything worse than paying for a service and then being unhappy with the service you receive? You pay someone to clean your house and things you would excuse if you had done it yourself all of a sudden become completely unacceptable and you become annoyed with the person who did not perform to your expectation.
Or, you have a certain level of expectation of service in a restaurant, or at a hotel, or from a vendor, whatever. It all comes down to expectations: we hear under-promise and over-deliver all the time but yet we usually mostly over-promise and under-deliver because we either don’t think people want to hear realistic timeframes or, like me, we tend to over-estimate our own ability to get things done timeously.
Some of you may have heard me loudly complaining about Qatar Airways in the last week. For some reason, I was unable to skip my CPT-JNB leg without invalidating my entire ticket, and I could not change my ticket, or even cancel and rebook. Nope, do not pass go, do not collect $200. But we hope you enjoy your trip, and thank you for following us on Twitter, we do hope you re-Tweet us. Really? (this after a bunch of back-and-forth ‘you’ve got to be kidding me’ Tweets to their customer service)
I still fail to see how my skipping the first leg of my flight would have caused any disruption to their business systems. Other people were boarding in Joburg. But instead of applying logic to the situation, some drone followed a rule, and created an unhappy customer who then went and told everyone she encountered for the next 48 hours. This is typical – one bad experience creates 20x the impact. It’s apparently also true that if you can then reclaim that customer they are more loyal. Well, I’m still waiting for my call from Qatar Airways, and I did manage to rebook all my meetings for the Friday so no huge harm done.
On the opposite side, JetBlue: I asked for coffee on my flight between JFK and Burlington, VT, and was told they don’t normally brew coffee on such short flights so I said no problem, water. The guy then came around with some fresh Dunkin Donuts coffee, and I blog about that too. Way to go, JetBlue.
So yeah, I’m back in the USA safely, and work permit papers are off. Yay!
I was having coffee last week with a very smart and insightful guy who was talking about how good service is not valued in South Africa. He didn’t mean it wasn’t expected … he meant people weren’t willing to pay for it. With so much cheap labour running around, you can kind of see why. This is why the striking mine-workers are in a no-win situation. Yes, their wages are lousy. But they are also a dime a dozen. The structural problems are manifesting in such disputes. The problem isn’t that there’s high unemployment, it’s that the high unemployment is structural in that vast masses of people are unemployable. Whoever figures out how to gamify vocational training for the underprivileged masses will win a Nobel Peace Prize. But I digress.
I’ve also observed this mentality of penny-wise and pound-foolish. Let’s hire three junior people rather than one senior one … oh, wait, but the junior people need to be actively managed and management doesn’t actually have time. This was one of my downfalls at Heart – rather than actually doing the really high-value consulting myself, I spent most of my time managing a revolving door of interns and trying to get something useful out of them, which wasn’t actually what our enterprises or our organisation actually needed. Won’t make that mistake again.
There is nothing, and I mean nothing, as wonderful as working with smart, motivated people who take ownership of what they are doing and understand the difference between when they can make decisions on their own, and when they should ask for guidance. Give me a person like that, and I’ll give them as much as they can handle as quickly as they can handle it. Now, if only we could find a head of sales ….
So as it turns out it’s quite an interesting thing to look at a situation, figure out what the customer need is, how to build a solution, and then actually fit all the pieces together in a way that is consistent. I would never want to sell a customer something they don’t actually want or need: that is just a way to create churn, an unhappy customer, and a whole heck of a lot of trouble. These micro-cosms of customer service I speak of are just bits and pieces of a larger context, which is that in which you clearly understand what value you are delivering, actually deliver it, and communicate well along the way.
Speaking of communication, here is my order of preference: face-to-face, phone/voice, chat, email. What do you notice about this? Speed of back-and-forth interaction and ability to read the body language of the other person. Context matters. All communication is local, at least all effective communication. There have been a few times when I have just wished I could pick up the phone because not being able to do so has hampered my ability to get my point across quickly and expeditiously.
Business relationships are like personal ones. For them to work, there needs to be mutual respect, good communication, good give-and-take. I can’t tell you how many meetings I’ve had with partners, vendors, customers, prospects, potential resellers, and potential partners where I keep thinking that the old cliché of getting into bed with other companies is pretty much true. Can I work with these people long term? Do we like each other? Do we trust each other? Does this actually make sense or are we just blinded by each others’ brand (or whatever)?
What’s the difference between a VC and a matchmaker? There isn’t one. 

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