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Jan 21

How to Give and Get Great Customer Service

Good customer service is one of the things most business leaders think their company does well. Most customers disagree. For consumers to get the best customer service it pays to be strategic, calm and tenacious. For a business, understanding those traits will help a customer service organization better plan for the consumer’s needs.


On a recent visit to Starbucks, a new barista just couldn’t get it right. As I approached the counter he was engrossed in conversation with a customer about a job he was hoping to get elsewhere. Eventually, he freed himself and came to the register to take my order. He stood silently, staring at me. No “hello”, “can I help you” or greeting of any kind. After the visit I quickly fired off an email to Starbucks and received an apology and a stack of drink coupons as a thanks for alerting them.

How would your customers respond to a bad experience with a member of your team? Would they let your company know? Would they tell one friend at work? Would they tell 100 friends on Facebook or the world on Twitter?

As a customer coming upon these situations in your private life, what would you do?

Understanding how your customer interacts with your business is crucial to creating a customer service strategy. It doesn’t involve flow charts or xml maps … it requires thinking like a customer.

Many companies are salivating at the chance to reduce their costs and use social media as a growing share of their customer service strategy. Clearly there is a move to social media, but obviously that’s not the solution for every business – or every situation. Retail organizations have embraced social media. But many customers are still taking traditional routes.

Great Customer Service

Your customers’ expectations are growing every day. They expect a quick answer on the telephone. A prompt reply to an email and a nearly instant reply to their tweets. But if all customer service departments were able to respond like that, every newspaper and television station wouldn’t have a full-time reporter dedicated to helping their readers and viewers clear up service complaints.

Kimberly Palmer, US News personal finance columnist, recently interviewed Jon Yates. Yates writes the “What’s Your Problem” column in the Chicago Tribune.1

Yates isn’t allowed to use his position as a reporter for personal gain. That means he can’t mention his day job when he has his own customer service complaint. But as someone who has represented consumers for the paper, he knows when and how to escalate a problem.

After trying the traditional routes of phone calls and emails, Yates brings out the big guns:

According to Yates, “It’s my cardinal rule of problem solving: always threaten to take your business elsewhere, and follow through if the company doesn’t respond.”

But even that might not help your customers elevate their problems. I recall the old Seinfeld skit with Jerry and Elaine parroting a desk agent at a rental car company. When the agent went to speak to a manager, Jerry and Elaine act out the conversation with the agent pretending to ask for help.

At times, your customer is going to strike-out by trying the traditional means of contacting you and go right to the CEO’s office. And you’ve got to have a plan in place to respond to the customer who is passionate enough to try to contact management directly. If they’ve got this much passion they deserve to get some attention.

“My advice is to skip the customer call center altogether and go straight to the top,” Yates says in US News, “Ask to speak to the chief executive. If you can’t get through, write the chief executive a letter. It works way more often than you’d think.”

I strongly agree with the Tribune’s Jon Yates, “Often, a company’s leaders have no idea that customers are being treated poorly, and are so appalled by a disgruntled consumer’s letter that they help almost immediately.” 1

If your business understands what consumers expect from your customer service department, you’ll be far more effective building your strategy. And that time up front can be a big cost and resource savings once the organization is built to truly serve that customer.

1 How to Solve and Customer Service Challenge

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