By: Derek Johanson
We’ve all been there. Whether it’s impatiently tapping a foot through a long wait in line, fighting through a barrage of prompts from an automated phone operator, or voicing a concern only to watch it bounce off the forehead of a blank-faced company rep, it’s easy for any of us to recall poor customer service. After the initial shock and frustration it’s easy to think, “This just shouldn’t happen. I would never let myself disregard a customer that way!” What’s intriguing is that most owners of these offending businesses feel the same way. As people, we not only seek out positive relationships, we intuitively understand that they are the backbone of any lasting organization. Where, then, is the disconnect? A lot of it has to do with the effectiveness of communicating that vision in terms of experience, both within the organization, and of course, to the public.
I recently saw this sort of communication deficiency when I caught dinner with a good friend who was passing through town. We enjoyed a wonderful meal at a local restaurant, and she continued home to Ogden, Utah – about a ninety minute trip from where we met. She didn’t realize until she was home that she had left her purse behind. She called the restaurant to ask if she could pick it up that evening, and they told her that she would have to come before closing time in half an hour. Since that was out of the question, she wanted to know if a night supervisor could give her the purse when she arrived. That was against policy, they said. When she asked if she could speak with a manager, they told her that they were busy. The conversation only grew worse from there, and eventually she called me in a panic and asked me to pick it up for her, still seething with frustration at her phone call. When I arrived at the restaurant ten minutes later and explained my errand, however, I was surprised; it was nothing like what my friend had described. In the middle of the late-evening rush, everyone was respectful, cordial, and efficient. They immediately recognized the name of my friend, and after a short ID check to verify our connection, a manager almost immediately appeared, purse in hand, and I walked out with it having spent literally less than two minutes inside. I knew that somebody in management understood the value of relationships and was willing to take charge to restore my confidence in them. On the other hand, my friend will only remember that management was “too busy” to help her solve an urgent problem. Same company, very inconsistent messages. It’s a shame – the business seems to support sound principles at the head.
No matter how much value an organization places in the people it works with, it still needs answers to the following questions. Does its image convey it? Do the employees live by it? Most importantly, do the customers actually feel it? After all, no mission statement or ad will be more influential than an experience. According to a 2012 global advertising study, 92 percent of consumers trust the recommendations of their friends, while only about half trust the messages they receive from businesses. If everyone is a potential walking ad campaign, how does an organization effectively influence the conversation? By becoming the vision; by creating experiences; by showing – not just telling. It’s a great time of the year to focus on both basic and creative ways to reestablish relationships. Are we delivering what we promise? Is there room for a more personal touch? Can we improve the nature of our contact with the people we value? What events or offers will be most appreciated? How can we be involved in the community? While no single action in itself is a silver bullet, the spirit in which an organization makes decisions can change everything, and with experience, the effectiveness of those decisions will only increase to the benefit of everyone. After all, when you’re doing all you can to show how much you legitimately care, it’s hard for customers to be too upset at you, even if they may be driving ninety minutes for a forgotten purse.