Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Who Killed Customer Service?

It was my daughter's birthday. We'd eaten at a sushi bar, had arrived at 1:45, and were served 20 minutes later in a very rushed manner. 15 minutes later, while still in the middle of our meal, our server was insistent that we pay our bill immediately. Then the lights started going off in the restaurant, other customers were hurried out the door and clean-up began; chairs piled on tables, vacuum cleaners fired up, chefs closing up the sushi stations, the music was turned off and we were left to finish our food in the dark accompanied by the roar of the vacuum. A not so subtle hint to “be gone.”

There's a high-end coffee and dessert shop in my neighborhood and I wanted to treat my daughter to a nice follow-up to the lunch we'd had. There are no less than 50 dessert options and a myriad of coffees to select from. No sooner had we entered than a surly counter person asked for our order. We weren't even at the counter yet, hadn't had 10 seconds to peruse the offerings, and here this sneering employee with a considerable itch to be elsewhere was making it very clear that she didn't have time to bother with us. She was in a big hurry to toss our desserts at us and move on to her next victim. Once we ordered, she took her sweet time preparing two pieces of pie and coffee, slapped it on the counter and barked a number at us. There was no eye contact. Tip = ZERO.

This trend of treating customers like they're of little consequence has baffled me for 20 years. It seems it happened overnight. I guess I'm “old school”; I remember one of my first jobs pumping gas way back when it was a service provided by the station. A car pulls up, the attendant appears at the driver's window, and performs the duties the driver requests. Can't remember the last time I witnessed this phenomenon. This service vanished a long time ago, replaced with a single employee behind a security window running the show with no co-pilot.

With the economy in decline, which can and does drive sales figures down, customer service can be a determining factor when potential buyers are making their decision on where to spend their hard-won dollars. The sushi bar I mentioned has the best sushi in town, and I'll go there again. I'll just arrive earlier to avoid the bum's rush. But the dessert place won't be seeing me again. Both of those establishments are unique in that the service you receive is a “face to face” interaction. With businesses moving to the internet to reach a wider audience, the “face time” factor is removed and you're left with text on a screen and email communications with which to employ customer service that shines. You're left with some decisions to make concerning how your buyers are treated.

eBay has been employing “feedback” since it's inception, and I invariably scroll through the comments should a seller have a rating of less than 100%. It's stopped me from patronizing certain sellers, especially when their response to negative feedback is terse. If the seller allows the negative feedback to go unaddressed, or admits their mistake, I'm more liable to consider making a purchase. We're all striving to do our best, but the simple fact is, nobody's perfect; mistakes will be made. Owning those mistakes takes a certain level of integrity.

With products becoming widely available on the internet I seek out the suppliers that have a Service Review or Feedback section on their site. But this can be misleading, as often the website has partial reviews that include only the positive aspects of what the customer experienced, or they simply leave out any weak feedback they have received. Should an internet business include any and all service reviews it gives them more credibility as they are willing to let you know that they can't please everybody, perhaps a mistake was made, a miscommunication of some sort; any form of “glitch” in customer service that is offered up to potential buyers indicates to me that the business is aware of the mishap and has taken precautions to insure it's been addressed.

It's important to me that my clientele are treated with all due respect and should any slip on my part transpire, I'll make every effort to insure it's rectified, and adjust my practices to see that it's not repeated. The Service Reviews category on the Native Treasures website has only recently been implemented, as the site is still in it's infancy. Our handful of current reviews are all positive, some of them glowing, as my customer service is based on what I would expect from a site that I have chosen to patronize. Our policy is that ALL reviews will be posted, verbatim, regardless of their message. I make every effort to insure 100% satisfaction, and should a negative review be offered, it's mine to own and potential buyers should have the opportunity to see that although the “face to face” aspect of doing business has been removed, there is still the possibility that a problem can arise. Internet based businesses that follow this policy earn my respect and often my dollars, as honesty is an attribute that instills confidence in potential buyers, and goes a long way toward them becoming repeat customers.