Posts Tagged 'customer service'

Customer Service Not Dead?

Bear with me while I recount some frustrating experiences before I get to the good stuff.

Yesterday we were out almost all day. I generally prefer staying in most of the day on the weekends, but we had a few errands to run, and my son had a gift certificate for Toys-R-Us that we were determined to use. So, out we went.

First we stopped by Target looking for a few medications for our allergy-stricken little girl, and an arm sling for my wife (who has a pinched nerve in her rotary cuff, or something like that).

Target was frustrating. Their level of customer service is beginning to sink to Wal-Mart’s abysmal state, and for some odd reason they were packed with hundreds of rude, hurried individuals. Plus, we needed to have some questions answered by a pharmacist, but they only had one man behind the pharmacy counter, and he was more interested in chatting with some friends who were hanging out by the counter than he was in helping the ever-growing line of customers waiting for him.

Eventually my frustration crested, and we left in a hurry. That’s when I noticed that my irritation with Target was being amplified by a nauseating hunger. Our next stop was supposed to be Wal-Mart to try their pharmacy, but that was looking less appealing by the second. While I just wanted to get it over with, we decided that our whole family was just going to be cranky and upset until we got some food.

Our whole family loves Panda Express, and there was a good location in the same general area as the Target we had just fled. I say it is a “good location” because there is another Panda Express closer to where we live that serves sub-standard food. It’s a shame, really, that one of my favorite restaurants can’t keep their food at a consistent quality. When it’s made well, it’s really good. When they just don’t try, it’s pretty nasty.

Unfortunately, the parking area around the “good” Panda Express was full. Not a single parking spot within walking distance of the restaurant. By this time, I had already decided that I would prefer something with a drive-through anyway, so we decided to look for a Chick-fil-a that we had been to in the area once before.

About five minutes down the road we pulled in and got in the drive-through line. As it happened, the line was long and moving slowly.  To maximize our efficiency, I decided to let my wife move to the driver’s seat so I could jump ship and run into the Rite Aid pharmacy located conveniently next-door to the restaurant.

Inside I waited around a little before being helped by one of the two available pharmacists. She was very kind and extremely helpful. We found some good medications for my little girl, but they were all out of arm slings. She warmly thanked me as I walked away toward the registers with my medication. That pharmacist had nearly healed me of the Target incident, but my experience with their cash register operator was not so positive. The only words he exchanged with me were, “I can help you over here,” which he rudely interjected into his conversation with another employee. He didn’t look at me, he didn’t bother ceasing his conversation even a little for me, and I walked out wondering if customer service was completely dead.

Several years ago, while working for a major national bank, I was put in charge of increasing our team’s customer service skills. I was told to read a little book called “Raving Fans” about customer service. I highly recommend this book to anyone, not just those who run businesses.

Anyhow, that book forever changed my perspective on customer service. Inside, the authors point out that good customer service is very much a dying art. On this Saturday afternoon, that point was being driven home straight and true.

Just as I was exiting the store doors, I saw my wife getting back into her seat in the car, which she had pulled around to the Rite Aid parking lot. When I got into the car, I noticed a sharp contrast between the way she was feeling and the way I was feeling. I had thought she would have been more frustrated than she was, because she had just waited in a long, slow-moving drive-through line. However, she was smiling, calm and relaxed. This is very unusual for her after having to wait in a car full of frustrated, hungry children.

What had happened? Chick-fil-a had saved the day.

I have been to several Chick-fil-a stores all over the county (as far as their boundaries allow), and I have never, not once, had a poor customer service experience there. Whatever they are doing, they are doing it right. Of course, I’m not alone in recognizing this. Every Chick-fil-a I have ever visited has had the most friendly, attractive and competent people working their registers. They have extremely high standards in customer service, food quality, restaurant appearance and much, much more. Of course, they aren’t perfect, but I am not aware of another fast-food chain that comes even close so consistently. Sure, some restaurant locations come close or even surpass this standard, but never have I come across such a large chain that is able to apply the same high standard over so many stores.

While I do not know exactly how everything prior to our arrival at this particular store played out, here are the facts mingled with my speculation.

Sometime prior to the lunch rush on this hot Saturday afternoon, the employees at Chick-fil-a on the Crain Highway in Waldorf, Maryland realized their drive-through intercom system was not working properly. I do not know if anyone panicked, I do not know who coordinated how they would handle the situation, but I do know that they came up with a perfect plan, turning rotten circumstances into a great opportunity to show their customers how much they care.

After I left my wife in the driver’s seat and ran off to the drug store, and before she even made it to the menu board with the broken intercom, she was greeted at her window by a knowledgeable, smiling young man in a Chick-fil-a uniform. He was equipped with laminated menus for the customers to look at, but my wife didn’t even need one because every question she asked about the menu or her available options was answered quickly, naturally and easily by the smiling young man.

At some point during their wait in line (either before or after their order was taken) an employee came by offering my wife and children a free sample of milkshake (or some other appropriately cool treat to help fight the heat).

By the time she made it to the window, she simply handed her preferred method of payment over to another smiling employee before receiving her hot, fresh, excellently prepared food. Every employee displayed the best possible attitude, every employee did their job expertly and with a smile, and not one of the customers felt inconvenienced by the broken intercom. In fact, in many ways it seemed to my wife that they were actually operating their drive-through more efficiently without the intercom than if it had been working properly.

As my wife related all of this to me, I was brought back to the many times I had encountered broken intercoms at other fast-food restaurants. Usually, I was greeted at the broken intercom by a weathered paper sign duct-taped to the broken speaker telling me to pull around to the window. The employees inside were frustrated at their misfortune, and the customers were all irritated at the inconvenience.

I have even worked in fast-food restaurants, and I have worked in the drive-through while our intercom was unusable (what is it with those things breaking so easily?). I remember trying hard to keep a good attitude and be patient with the understandably irritated customers, but I never would have thought to turn the event into a positive experience for our customers.

I must say, Ken Weikel (the operator of that particular Chick-fil-a store) has an outstanding crew working at his location, and I hope they are all lavishly rewarded for their genius customer service performance on Saturday, April 17, 2010. I will never forget it, and I know my wife won’t either.

Now, if only all of the other restaurants in the world could take a lesson from this. You see, it isn’t impossible for fast-food chains to find good people. Any business that serves customers should invest heavily in finding the best people to face those customers. Given the choice between Chick-fil-a and McDonald’s, I will always choose Chick-fil-a because I am important there. I have a very similar experience every time I call my insurance company, USAA.

Someday, if I ever own, operate or start a business, I hope I can find people as good as those that USAA and Chick-fil-a have found.

We did finally make it to Toys-R-Us where our customer service experience was largely neutral, but the nice young lady who did the check-out did have pretty good customer service skills, so I’m not complaining.

RE: RE: Letter to Verizon Wireless

If you’ve been following since the first letter I wrote, I just received a response to yesterday’s letter and here it is.  It’s short, it’s cold and it’s completely useless.  Notice that the second paragraph is the only thing this lady took the time to actually write to me, the rest is canned.

Dear [Mediocre Renaissance Man],

Thank you for your reply.  My name is [Service Chick] and I am happy to assist you.

[Mediocre Renaissance Man], at this time we do not know if we will have phones that will support the Android software. With [Service Dude]’s response, we cannot even mention any potential phones that have not been announced to the public. I am sorry for the inconvenience this may cause.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to assist you today. We appreciate your business and thank you for using Verizon Wireless.  Should you have additional questions or concerns, please reply to this e-mail.

Sincerely,

[Service Chick]

Verizon Wireless

Customer Service

My response:

Dear [Service Chick],

I am sorry too.  I hope that Verizon offers or announces something before I move in a couple of months.

Sincerely,

[Mediocre Renaissance Man]

The long version:

I just wish they would reaffirm their intentions to release something, even with no definite time frame.  I think I made that clear in my communications with them, but I was talking to the wrong department.  Customer service doesn’t know much more than I do as a consumer.  I really should have tried harder to contact a different division.  Maybe I will, next time.

RE: Letter to Verizon Wireless

This is follow-up for the letter to Verizon Wireless that I wrote yesterday.

For the follow-up to these letters, see this entry.

The letter submission was successful, and I want to share the response I got back today with you.  I have edited the customer service member’s name out, as well as my own (just for fun, I’m sure most of you know it, I haven’t exactly tried to hide it from you).  Here’s the letter from Verizon, with my response immediately following it:

Dear [Mediocre Renaissance Man],

My name is [Service Dude], and I?ll be happy to assist you with your equipment questions today.

I am unable to provide information regarding which equipment is being considered or approximate release dates, as this may raise expectations that may not be met.

Although we do not have the handset you are looking for at this time, I invite you to view our current phone selection as a possible alternative.  To view available equipment, please click on the following link, which will direct you the “Products” page of our website:

http://www.verizonwireless.com/products

You may also receive free e-mail updates as to when new products and services are available.  To receive your free e-mail update please click on the following link, to view the “E-mail Updates” page of our website:

http://email.vzwshop.com/servlet/website/ResponseForm?OSPEJNlmhtLk_.2ef

There are several wireless phones being tested for functionality and reliability with our network.  Verizon Wireless will not offer a product or service unless it meets the high standards our customers have come to expect.  Verizon Wireless is constantly improving the services, features, and wireless phones we offer to our customers for their communication needs.

[Mediocre Renaissance Man], I hope this information has been helpful.  We value your business and appreciate the opportunity to continue as your wireless service provider. Thank you for using Verizon Wireless products and services. Should you have additional questions or concerns, please reply to this e-mail.

Sincerely,

[Service Dude]

Verizon Wireless

Customer Service

Here’s what I had to say to that:

[Service Dude],

Thank you for your timely response.  I fear you have understood my inquiry well, but somehow managed to pretend you missed the point.

I am familiar enough with Verizon’s complete lineup of handsets and I am not interested in any of them (I currently have the Samsung SCH-U620 and am not displeased with it).  I am not looking for just another handset.  I am looking for an Android handset.  Like I said in my initial communication, this is something of such a great importance to me that I am considering switching service providers unless I receive some indication that I will not have to wait long to get an Android phone on the Verizon network.

I do somewhat appreciate your vague statement about “several wireless phones being tested for functionality and reliability with [y]our network,” but I am afraid it does not provide enough of an assurance that an Android phone will be available to me soon.

I am sure you understand my position as a customer.  Having worked in customer service many years myself, one of the greatest customer service philosophies I came to understand is that loyal customers are the most important foundation on which a business should maintain itself.  If you begin to lose longtime, loyal customers, you hurt your business almost irreparably.

I hope that Verizon will announce something soon that will answer my question.  I will be moving away from my current home in California within the next few months, and when I get to my new home (even if my contract is not yet expired with Verizon Wireless) I will begin researching T-Mobile’s service in my area.  I am sure I am not the only Verizon customer with such plans.  The only way Verizon will be able to retain my business is if concrete plans to release an Android phone are revealed before I move.

I understand that I am just one customer among many hundreds of thousands on the Verizon network, and my changing networks will not ultimately hurt business for the company.  I am not trying to make threats.  I am simply pointing out the fact that good, valuable customers (like myself) are walking away from your company simply because of your inaction.  All it would take is one press release (dated 2008, last year’s press release is not enough) to assure Verizon customers that an Android phone is coming soon, and many customers would be retained.

Sincerely,

[Mediocre Renaissance Man]

Letter to Verizon Wireless

Dear Verizon Wireless,

I have been your customer exclusively since I purchased my first cell phone in my first year of college several years ago.  The years have been good to us, and I am pleased to report that I have been almost entirely satisfied with all of your services.

These days I work, support a wife and two children and maintain a technology blog in my free time.  As a longtime fan of Google products and services, I was thrilled by the announcement and unveiling of T-Mobile’s new Android enabled phone, the G1.  In fact, I was so excited about the new product that I immediately found myself at your competitor’s web site researching pricing and plan information.  My contract with Verizon won’t be over until November 2009, but I was already considering abandoning my favorite service provider to get the shiny new G1 in my hands, despite the complaints I have heard about T-Mobile services.

So, as a technology blogger, Google buff and loyal Verizon customer, I am asking you directly: when can Verizon customers expect to see an Android phone available?  I am aware that LG, Samsung and Motorola have all announced their intention to build Android phones, but which one(s) will we see on the great Verizon network?  Will Verizon just sit back and watch their customer base switch (even in small numbers) to a competing network without doing anything to retain them?

If Verizon would simply announce something (a date, timeframe or even just the intention to release an Android phone) – other than the announcement last year that Android would be supported on the Verizon network – many customers like myself would remain loyal and wait for the official arrival of a Verizon Android smartphone.

A clear and detailed answer to my inquiries would be much appreciated, and the failure to respond with action before my contract is up will result in at least one fewer Verizon customer.

Sincerely,

[Mediocre Renaissance Man]
Note to my readers:

I e-mailed this to them (via their “contact us” form on their website) today.  Now we wait and see.  I’ll let you know if I get a response.  I’d really rather stay with Verizon, but if I can’t get my hands on an Android phone on their network soon you can bet I’ll be switching.

Their response and my subsequent response can now be read here.


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