Fatal Customer “Service”

The absolutely worst thing you can do when dealing with your customers is not simply giving poor customer service. It is giving poor customer service and then telling the customer you’ve done so because you have to run your business. And what will compound that fatal error and cause it to spread like a customer service virus? Be a business-to-business company.

“Flawless” and “Excellent” Are Awarded by the Customer

Keep in mind: When it’s time to determine if a project has been completed to a customer’s satisfaction, the customer makes that decision. Let me use a case from my own business as an example: I am a solo practitioner and a small business, but I have a large and diverse client base that I communicate with; I rely on having the best technology and computers to “stay in touch.” Not only does my consulting practice require that I handle massive amounts of information flowing in and out on a daily basis, but I also write articles, books, workshops, and seminars. I also have seven to ten contractors, ranging from editors and graphic artists to accountants and web site developers, working on various tasks and projects. I also team with other consultants and colleagues on various projects. On any given day, I may have 20 emails or 200 emails. I may get 10 files to download that are 40 to 50 pages each, or they may be 100 pages each. I may need to research four or five topics, or review and approve 25 or 50 images. I may get the final “bluelines” from the publisher to review, or I may be on a deadline to write three 1500-word articles and get them to the editor and out to a magazine. You see what I mean.

My computers (yes, plural!) are integral to the life of my business. My desktop and laptop are the arteries that keep the blood (and the cash and profits) flowing in the business. When I notice anything “off” about one of the computers, it is an immediate “MAYDAY! SOS!” call or email to my IT service company to come and help. There’s no question about IF I will do something; it’s a matter of what do I need to do, and how quickly can I do it. I have backups—and backups of backups.

With all of my proactive paranoia (and remember: you are only paranoid if you are wrong), you would think that making the transition to a new computer (desktop) and adding a server would be a thing of beauty and a smooth transition. Unfortunately, this time, my choice of words to describe the transition would neither be “flawless” nor “excellent.”

Where Do I Begin?

Let’s start with the beginning. The desktop is acting strangely, so I make the call to my IT service company. They arrive and say “Yes, I think you are right. It is failing. We want to take it to the shop to confirm.” That works for me; the service provider copies my desktop files to my laptop so that I can continue to work and run my business while they are doing their thing, which ensures that I will be able to do my thing. And I’m happy. And I would describe this situation as “excellent.”

So the next day comes, and yes the desktop is still dying. I continue to work on my trusty, fully functioning, and dependable laptop. But its hard drive getting full (those pesky clients are sending those files again), so now I have a problem. I need to make space; I delete or move some files. Okay, I’ve moved some files. I’m still doing okay, still happy. But … I’m getting a little uncomfortable, because nowhere is the laptop and all the new stuff being backed up (remember my paranoia). Oh, and one other little thing: My contacts and emails are not quite working right … uh oh …

The IT company representatives are confident they have the right recommendation for me: I need a new server and a desktop. The laptop will be connected in, and all these wonderful computers will be synchronized and the data will be managed so no worries about multiple versions of files. Everything will get backed up! Yes! Excellent! One day will be all it takes to put in the new desktop and the new server! Yes! Happy dance!

There’s a little bit of time to move the data back from the laptop …no worries. And then some training on how to use the server, and some tweaks down the road for a few things, and there may be some minor debugging, but it will be good to go in just a few days. Yes! Yes! Excellent! Go! Make it happen! No computer crash? Check. Data all good? Check. Images will get moved over? Check. Files from laptop will get transferred over? Check. The laptop will get setup to synch with new server? Check. Have new desktop and new server. Check! One day and things will be ready to roll!

TGW: Things Gone Wrong

Installation day arrives. In just one day, I’ll have remote access to my files, with automatic backups and synchronization of all the computers and files. Yes! Ah, but alas, it is not to be on Day One. Day One comes and begins with the late arrival of the IT representative. Then, it turns out that only the server is arriving and it is not ready with all of the files, nor all of the software. But I am assured “It will be made ready on site.”

Then the battery backup begins chirping—not beeping, but chirping. It may be that the electrical system won’t support both the backup and the server. No, it appears that the battery system may be defective. Okay … they’re taking it back to the shop and returning shortly …along with the missing desktop and the server and an answer about the battery backup—I hope.

This won’t be a one-day install! Day Two: I’m out of town for the day on business, and at the request of the IT company, I leave the laptop behind with my all-mportant current computer files for them to set up all the new and lovely synchronization. When I return I will have the server and the new desktop, and everything will be setup and synchronized and will only require training and small refinements on Thursday … Not!

The server and desktop are there, but all the files are not and synchronization has not been set up. Oh, and all the programs are not on the desktop. Did I mention that the laptop is still under a three-year warranty, and they decided it would be faster to open up the laptop and attempt to remove the hard drive in order to move the files from the laptop to the desktop faster? Oh yeah; that was on Day One of the one-day install.

Day Three

Day Three is supposedly training day. For three hours, we are going to review the new system, how to log into the server, handle any issues with backups, and deal with anything not completed in the desktop and server install. Training? What training? It’s late into the evening and we are still installing software and looking for files.

Day Four

Speaking of issues: Have you seen my files? I can’t locate my data files.

Days Five and Six (The Weekend): Time to Catch Up? Not Really.

Where in the heck is? There’s another missing program …

Day Seven

Where are my files? What happened to my email and my calendars? What’s going on with my contacts?

Day Eight … Day Nine … Day 30 … The Most (In)Famous Quote

“You have to understand; I have to run my business!”

When a vendor says that to a customer who is spending thousands of dollars on a new computer system in which the hardware has worked but the support to get the hardware working hasn’t, don’t expect the customer to feel like a valued customer. You can be sure that the customer can report—and will be reporting—on your degree of customer service.

An “I’m sorry. We’ve had issues and caused you and your business to lose time and money” is more appropriate and doesn’t fuel the fire and fan the flames that will burn for days, weeks, and months after the customer takes the business elsewhere—and makes sure other people take their business anywhere but to you. After all: You must have more than enough customers if you can’t be bothered with the one standing in front of you writing the check for your services.

“Groundhog Day” Installation Return on Investment

If you’ve ever seen the movie Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray relives the same day over and over and over, this server installation began to be the real life (and expensive) version of that movie. As in the movie, life does eventually go on, but how? The hardware works well. The new IT vendor starts next week and the references and referrals for this new vendor are outstanding. (Hmm; I’ve heard that before.) The laptop will hopefully return to its former reliable and fully functional self, and remote access to the company’s virtual private network will be a great addition to the business. Unfortunately, it will be quite a while before the convenience of having on-the-road access will generate a return on an investment sufficient to cover the downtime, lost time, and revenues of the “one day” installation. As to the old vendor …

Fatal “Customer Service”

Businesses of all sizes all too frequently adopt a defensive posture with customers when things go wrong with a product or a service. Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, customers don’t expect perfection. They do expect quality of effort, courtesy, and a willingness to admit when mistakes are made and an ability to accept responsibility for the mistake, and a willingness to make it right or make up for the error. There’s defective product? Replace it. Arrive late? Apologize and give a discount or a coupon. An employee fails to have the product ready, loses files, or has a bad attitude? Start with an apology and start making it right.

Things not to do:

  1. Don’t tell the customer “Well, I have a business to run and customers to take care of.” (Essentially saying “You are a customer we don’t care about.”)
  2. Don’t make excuses for your employees or contractors. “They don’t really work for us or he/she is a trainee.” This doesn’t get you off the hook.
  3. Don’t say “We’ve never had this problem before in 15 years of business!” That’s nice, but it doesn’t really help the customer you have had the problem with and whose business you are costing money and causing problems for.
  4. Don’t practice avoidance. Passing the customer’s calls to your trainee, and not returning the pages or responding messages will just escalate the issue. This is especially true if the employee has an attitude problem or—worse still—says directly or implies that the “boss” doesn’t have time for the customer and is avoiding the issue.
  5. Don’t roll your eyes, sigh deeply, shrug your shoulders, or tune out the customer when he/she is standing in front of you.
  6. Don’t lock the door and pretend you aren’t in the office when you have a glass door and the lights are on … and the guy in the office next door says he just saw you and was talking to you.

You get the idea. When it comes to customers, they may not always be right, but when your organization has come up short and done more damage than good, then the customer is right to expect:

  1. Courtesy and respect, personally and for his/her business.
  2. The situation to be made good.
  3. On time, professional, and quality work, attitude, and effort.

Oh, and one more thing: the customer is right to expect the opportunity to decide the degree of customer satisfaction.

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