By Henry Meyerding
Feb 9, 2013 - 1:34:51 PM
UNITED STATES—OK, everybody’s got to old fashioned about something, even me. I am old fashioned about customer service. I think I should get some and it should be good. When I get bad service, I hate it. “The customer is always right” is an article of my consumer faith, right there with "Caveat emptor." I realize that it’s tough being in retail and everybody has a bad day. I am not talking about the occasional lapse or mistake. I am talking about a pattern of deliberate customer abuse that is part of the intentional policies of a business concern. When I run across an instance of that, I am seriously disturbed by it.
So, what is good customer service? More years ago than I care to admit, I worked in a camera store in a big U.S. city. It was an old concern run by a very first generation Japanese gentleman and his family. I did a lot of jobs there and one of them was reorganizing their camera repair department. They didn’t actually fix anything there, they sent it out to different specialists. The problem that I was fixing was that they had very shoddy records of what was there and where it was sent. As a result, I came back from lunch one day to find a boat load of very irate fishermen in the store. One of them had dropped off their camera for repair before going to sea. They didn’t have a receipt. We didn’t have their camera, nor did we have any record of what might have happened to it.
As I came in, the customer in question was about ready to climb over the counter and do grievous bodily harm to the store manager, who was explaining very timidly that there was nothing he could do... it was looking a lot like a first class bar fight about to happen. Most of the staff was edging toward the exits. It was very tense. I hopped over the counter, grabbed an expensive SLR from the self and placed it on the counter between the fisherman and his victim and said “Here, sir, your camera.”
This confused him, somewhat, but he got used to the idea pretty fast. I had correctly judged that I was giving him a better camera than he had left for repair. “Really?” he said with a big grin breaking out on his face. I nodded. Giving him an expensive camera was cheaper than what he and his buddies would do to our entire store.
The fight went out of the whole crew in less than a minute. The store manager escaped into the bathroom. The fishermen crowded around to see their friend’s new camera. I ended up selling four cameras, half a dozen lenses, and a ton of accessories. Instead of visiting the store manager in the hospital and talking to his insurance agent about all the damage to his store, the owner actually made a little money on the deal. He was ecstatic.
That was good customer service. What you get in a lot of business today makes me wonder if they’re not being trained by the TSA.
I had occasion yesterday to open a web sharing account for a friend of mine, an elderly gentleman from Tonga who wanted to promote his luau business online. We picked a domain name and I set it up in my name and paid for it with my credit card. My friend would pay me back in due course. So far so good. Then the web hosting company said they wanted me to verify who I was by sending a fax of the credit card used and my picture ID. I did this, with some reluctance and after blocking out all but the last 4 numbers on the credit card. Then I got another email - they’d blocked the newly created account and were requiring me to send them about twice the amount of money my order was for via Western Union.
Say what? I was flabbergasted. Nothing like this had ever happened to me before. I was at a loss to understand why it was happening now. I called them up and spoke with someone, eventually. He received my question and put me on hold. True he did come back occasionally and ask me to be patient, but he kept me on hold for more than 45 minutes, finally returning to tell me that this is what was and that there would be no explanation. I asked for a supervisor. “He won’t tell you any different” I was told. I insisted on speaking with a supervisor anyway. Half an hour later, the supervisor, if he really was one, confirmed that what was required was required and that I could take it or leave it.
Well, guess what I did? There’s only about a hundred roughly equivalent web hosting firms that charge almost the same for approximately the same service. I went and found another firm and bought another account there. Then I contacted the domain registrar and had the pointer to the website moved from the old crappy web host to the new web host.
The kicker for me is that I am and have been a good customer of the “old crappy web host” for several years. I have absolutely no idea why they pulled this stunt on an actual paying customer of theirs. Are they trying to go out of business? Do they think people won’t notice when you crap on them? As soon as the dust settles a little, I am going to pull all my business away from said crappy web host and they can put it where the moon don’t shine.
When did people decide that the customer was always wrong? I hate going to stores that treat me like a criminal, so I don’t shop in places like that. I don’t like restaurants that make you wait forever and have surly staff and even if the food is good, I don’t eat there.
It seems a simple recipe: You are a business who wants my custom. I am a customer and I want whatever it is you’ve got. However, your business is not alone in providing these services I want, so it is incumbent upon you to woo me for my patronage. You do this by being nice to me. You pretend that I am a good person, almost a member of your family, someone you like. In return, I give you my hard earned cash and may even steer other innocents into your establishment.
Why is it that fewer and fewer business concerns want to follow this recipe?
There is a certain novelty in staying at Fawlty Towers or visiting a cheese shop without any cheese, but surely there can’t be a lot of money in operating a business in this fashion. We all need to get together with our various purveyors and servicers and let them know that we do really believe in getting really good service, even if it costs a few cents more. Don’t take no explanation for an answer. These days, in order to get what you have paid for, you have to demand it, too.
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