Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Customer Dis-Service

Nugget For The Noggin
By Jim "Gymbeaux" Brown, April 2, 2009

I thought I would start this Nugget with the definition of “oxymoron”:

n., pl. -mo·ra (-môr'ə, -mōr'ə) or -rons.

A rhetorical figure in which incongruous or contradictory terms are combined, as in a deafening silence and a mournful optimist. (Also, Jumbo Shrimp)

The dictionary can add “customer service” to that definition. When was the last time you received customer “service.”, or better still, “high quality customer service?” How about GREAT customer service? Maybe I expected too much when I dialed the customer service number. My first mistake was to assume I understood what the term “service” meant. I think most people would expect “good” or “great” or at least “satisfactory” service in lieu of “bad” service. I mean I’m just saying…

Over the past four weeks I have had three occasions (no make that four) to call customer “disservice.” On two (no now you can make that three) occasions I actually spoke to a live person and said the same thing to all of them:

“I challenge you to call your own customer service number and pretend you are a customer and then evaluate the kind of customer service you receive when you called. I dare you! If you aren’t as angry as I am at this moment you were not paying attention!”

This evening I had the unfortunate task of calling the Sam’s Club Customer Service number when I realized that I had not received a monthly statement for the past month. I was able to go on line and realized that the payment was due today but as stated, I had not received a statement. I made an online payment and wanted to talk to someone to find out what happened, request a replacement statement and advise them that I had made a payment on line this date.

I love Sam’s Club! It is fantastic. They need to evaluate their vendor who provides their credit card services – they are the worst I have ever experienced. The worst! I was on the telephone for more than 5 minutes listening to one voice message after another. The very first message directed me to press “1” if I wanted to speak in English. If they are going to put such a message on their service why not direct me to press a number if I wanted to speak in a language other than English; did anyone notice we are in America? Obviously not!

It got much worse. The next message went on in great length as to how I could expect to get my rewards check in February, two months ago, and how I can earn more points by using my card more than I do. It went on…… and finally I was given another choice and at this point I am screaming at my phone as it advised me of my current balance, minimum amount due, what my credit limit was, how much I could retrieve as a cash advance and how much credit I had remaining on my account.

Then I was given SEVEN more choices and frankly at this point I am staring down at my phone screaming “Oh come on!” Seriously, that is exactly what I did. I couldn’t see my phone because I had blood squirting from my eyes (not really but it felt like it)! I am certain that my blood pressure was off the charts.

How could I be a walking advocate (a phrase used by Bob Burg in Endless Referrals) for Sam’s Clubs and then be treated so shabbily by their credit service vendor? It defied logic. Every dark cloud has a silver lining if you look for it. The silver lining in this story is that it caused me to think more seriously about customer service and sales people.

Go back just 3 hours ago when I called Jon Nelson, a Sprint Telephone Sales Representative. I name Jon because he represented the opposite of what happened with Sam’s Club’s credit card service vendor, GE Credit. I felt a need to change my cellular phone service and after the sale was completed, he said something that at the time was appreciated but not that much. It wasn’t until the non-call to the Sam’s Club Credit Card Service provider that a HUGE AHA hit me on my call with Jon. The following is paraphrased:

“Jim, I want you to know that after you make the call to the Sprint Customer Service number to activate the new telephone when you receive it on Monday, you never have to call them again. If you have any problem with the phone or service you call me. I know who you are, I know what kind of phone you have, I know what service you have selected and I can help you resolve any problem you may have.”

WOW! I feel I owe Jon an apology for not appreciating what he said when he said it. When have you ever bought anything and had a sales person make such a statement? I’ll wait…..times up! If you are like me, NEVER! At least until today. Today I experienced both ends of the customer service or disservice spectrum within the space of just three hours.

There is a very good chance that if you are reading this Nugget you are in a sales position. Actually everyone is in sales to some degree even if it is trying to sell your boss that you are a good employee. If you want a challenge, have someone call you with the expectation of receiving some form of customer service, or disservice. If I called you today, what kind of response would I get? If you said excellent, you may want to reconsider and here is why.

When a customer calls with a problem, they have tuned into their mental 180 channel tuner box to the “I have a problem and I need help right now” channel. You on the other hand are hard at work at your desk, or not, doing dollar productive activities, or not, and are tuned into the appropriate channel on YOUR 180 channel mental tuner box. It would be a rare occasion when you and the customer are actually on the same channel at the same moment. The customer is desperate; you are busy - not a winning combination. When your phone rings or it is announced that you have a call on line 3, if you are like most people and you probably are, the first thought that comes to mind is “go away, can’t you see I’m busy with my dollar productive activities (or not)?” Time out, be honest, is that not what you think or some version of it? The natural or default tendency is to feel interrupted from what you were doing. If that is true, what kind of customer service is the customer going to “feel” like he is receiving? I dare say – not great service!

It gets worse. Let’s say you are not in when the call is received. “I am not at my desk and your call is important to me, leave your name and number and I will call you as soon as possible.” As soon as the customer hears the beginning of your recorded non-passionate message I think they realize you are “not at your desk.” I also think they know if they leave their number you will call them back, or not. The jury is still out in regards to whether you really believe their call is important. Think about it, they are probably complaining about something are they not?

I know in this age of busy, busy, busy and technology, a live person answering the telephone is a rarity but when YOU call a business and YOU get a live person how do YOU feel? Again, I’ll wait…..times up! You feel as I do, SUPER! Someone who is alive actually cares about you. I also know that having a live person answer your phone is not always possible so when you must use a recorded message, make it creative, make it humorous and make it memorable. People have asked me if my voice mail has made anyone angry – not yet. I usually include my name and I am always amazed when someone hears who I am and still leaves a long winded message when they dialed the wrong number. Just goes to prove that people rarely listen to your message even mine which is a bit off the wall. “Hi, this is Jim Brown and today I decided to be happy. If you called for any reason other than to make me happy, you have the wrong number. Leave your message anyway.” (Or something to that effect.) There was a New Orleans lawyer (and some people say lawyers have no sense of humor) who had to take his voice message off the telephone because he received so many calls from people just to hear his message.

Sound of dog barking… “I am Sophie, Jim Brown’s dog and I haven’t seen Jim either. If you see him before I do tell him I need to go out. Leave your message and I’ll tell him when I see him (sound of barking dog)” That is not exactly what the message said but it is close. Just for a moment, assume it was you that called the number and you were not a happy camper when you called. Do you think you would be as angry after you called and received the message from Sophie? Maybe so, probably not.

There are so many examples of poor service that it would be impossible to give examples of all of them. The following are just a couple in hopes of getting you to think about how you handle your customer service or disservice.

Have you ever called a business and had the person who answered the phone ask, “May I tell Jim who’s calling?” How did that make you feel? I always felt like Jim may be screening his calls and just maybe I am not important enough for Jim to take my call. I have also thought that the person who was answering the phone was just nosey but then I could be wrong.

Or how about this one? “Jim is not in; may I take a message or pass you through to his voice mail?” “Jim is NOT in?” How about Jim is with a customer? Everyone has been a customer and everyone wants the sales person’s FULL ATTENTION and thus understands that Jim cannot be disturbed at this very moment unless the reason for the call is truly an emergency. The problem with that thought is that everyone thinks their reason to call is an emergency. Face it, there are very few “real” emergencies that require instant contact; very few!

How can you avoid such problems before they arise? Explain how you work when you first meet with your probable buyer or seller. For example, “Joe, let me tell you how I work. As you can see, I am turning my cell phone off. Why, because at this moment there is nothing and no one more important in this world to me than you. Nothing. If you call me, expecting to get instant contact, there is a good chance my cell phone will be off because I work with a lot of customers and like you, when we are together that customer is the most important person in the world at that moment and my phone is off. It is not fair to the customer to be interrupted by a cell phone wouldn’t you agree? So if you call and get my voice mail, understand, your call really is important to me and I will return the call the moment I am free to do so. Will that be okay with you?” Geeze, has anyone ever told you that? I doubt it. If they did, would you be upset if you got your salesperson’s voice mail? I don’t think so. The stage has been set so to speak.

Here is a remarkable tip from Jeffrey Gitomer. Before I give it to you let me “set the stage.” I have been in real estate sales for almost 30 years and until I read Gitomer’s books, I had never thought of this proof you CAN teach an old dog (me) new tricks. The secret is that I read his books. Gitomer’s books or any book serves little purpose if they are not taken off the shelf and actually read. This is Gitomer’s script to initially respond to the call of an angry customer: “Oh how horrible!” When was the last time someone said that to you? I have never heard it. On the contrary when I call customer disservice the person called usually gets on the defense – immediately! I have always joked that whenever I am operated on, I would prefer to be the first patient rather than the last. Can you imagine the mindset of the customer disservice representative after 8 hours of receiving complaint calls? Yuck! Call (or be operated on) early!

Emails. When I send an email that asks for a response, if I don’t get the response I simply assume that you have not received the request or you don’t have the answer – yet. We all get more emails than we would like. So why send an email that states, “I am out of the office and I will respond to your email when I return,” No kidding, really? It is one more unnecessary email to read and delete. Is that not what you do when you receive such an automatic response? If you go on vacation and really go on vacation like you are not taking cell phone calls while on the beach with your kids or you are not answering emails, arrange for someone else to take your calls and answer your emails. Better still, use the occasion of going on vacation to contact your sphere of influence. “Wish me well, I am going to Disneyland with the family all of next week; wish you could go with me. Suzie Agent will be serving you in my absence so do not hesitate to call or email her (give contact info). I’ll be thinking of you…” You know you won’t, they know you won’t either and they will smile when they read it; like you just did. Sending such an email tells your customer base and sphere of influence that (1) they are important to you, (2) you have a life, and, (3) their needs will be taken care of even though you are off having fun with your family. When was the last time YOU received such an email or telephone call? I can say I have never received one.

So here’s the deal folks, evaluate how you are responding to your customers. Do you have a quality customer service system in place or is it a customer disservice system? Do you treat people as you want to be treated or do you treat people like everyone else treats people – like dirt! Today I was treated like a king (Jon Nelson with Sprint) and I was treated like dirt (GE Credit) all in the space of 3 hours – go figure!

I no longer had finished the draft of this email when I received the following email from the GE Credit:

Thank you for contacting Sam's Club Discover Card Services. This is a system-generated acknowledgement to inform you that we have received your inquiry and are working on a response. We will provide you with a response within 48 hours.

Thank you for using our website.ABOUT THIS MESSAGEThis is an auto-generated email from Sam's Club Discover Services. PLEASE DO NOT REPLY TO THIS EMAIL. To send us a secure message about your account, please visit the Sam's Club Discover Card Online Message Center at

This is a perfect example of sending an email that says nothing and you have to read it and delete it. If an answer was to be sent within 48 hours, I can certainly wait.



The initial email was sent on a Thursday and the actual response was just over 48 hours later. Not bad. The response, however, never addressed the question; so much for customer “service.”
Another update. Today I received a mortgage payment statement. The only problem is that 3 days ago I had already received a mortgage statement from the same company on the exact same loan yet the amounts due were different. I called the “customer disservice” 800 number. Just like before, I went through at least 6 different sets of instructions and finally got to a point where it said “hold for the next available representative” all of which took about 3 minutes. As soon as the last message was received I received a dial tone. I had lost my place in the waiting line. I redialed and this time I kept hitting “0” and finally got to the same place.

Words mean things! If you are in sales, I would suggest that you no longer think of yourself as a sales person or sales consultant or sales advisor. Instead, think of your title as being “Chief Problem Solver!” Everyone who buys has a problem – they need something. You are there to solve their problem by providing them with whatever they want to buy. If in the process something goes astray, you are their to solve their problem – fix whatever it is! While you are fixing other people’s problems, start by fixing your customer service system – today – before the next customer service call.

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