Friday, August 21, 2009

The Customer's Credo

The bank had recently restricted my card due to an uptick in recent activity. I was miffed at having a transaction declined and immediately got on the phone to customer service, loaded for bear. You tend to lose your humanity when someone messes with your money.

What monsters we can be! Gone are the days when a courtesy was unexpected and even appreciated. We live in a something-for-nothing world now, where once-in-a-lifetime is still often enough to demand red carpet treatment if our honor is impugned or our “valuable” time wasted lest we take our bargain-hunting business elsewhere.

But who really created those monsters? A dollar is a dollar, even a discounted one, so companies create service goals as equally unrealistic in their execution as the customers’ demands are unreasonable. “Satisfaction guaranteed” leaves the frontline employee at the bottom of the corporate food chain unprepared, untrained and bereft of any real ability to meet the demands of the demanding customer head on:

I don’t care that you’re losing money on this sale.
I don’t care that you are having staffing issues.
I don’t care that your third-party contractor failed to perform.
I don’t care that your affiliate operates differently from you.
I don’t care that your supplier is having logistics issues.
I don't care that it is five days past the 30 day return period.
I don't care that the warranty just expired.
I don't care that you sold out sooner than expected.

and the prize winner of them all...

I don't care that you or the manufacturer no longer makes or sells the product!

Enter the fine print which is constantly getting smaller to read and harder to interpret. Companies have service policies nearly as long as their operating manuals and far, far longer than their blanket mission statements!

“We strive to be the best in our business, anticipating the needs of our customers and returning real value to our employees and shareholders.” That's the usual refrain, right?

Best Buy has a four-statement version of "values" which is to unleash the power of their people, have fun while being the best, show respect, humility and integrity and learn from challenge and change. All sounds good, right? Or how about United Airlines, who at one time wanted to be "The worldwide airline of choice?"

Right. Now click here to view Best Buy's return policy and bring a cup of Joe with you. Better to say “We’ll do our best to earn your business without going broke or over-committing our own capabilities.” I’d be the first to sign up with someone who just kept it real.

Companies know the score and have seen their share of "rocks in the box" but the real ugliness bears its fangs when the paranoid retailer hides behind policy rather than genuinely try to make things right for a guileless customer.

The bank? They wanted to make sure it was really me running up a tab over the past 48 hours. I was just paying monthly bills online! I kept my cool, though, and truly surprised the agent on the other end when I wished her a pleasant rest of the day.

Misunderstandings happen. Having been on both sides of the counter, I’ve found it far less stressful to simply remember my humanity and encourage theirs to shine just as brightly.

Gotta go!

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