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December 22, 2009

PR Buzz – 5 Customer Service Lessons

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Customer service is the center of business.  Treat your customers well and they will be happy, thus, in theory, become repeat and loyal customers.

Sounds fairly basic, right?

And yet, here I am, waiting for the DC Water Authority…for a second straight day.  Let me timeline this out for you, and hopefully give businesses a how-not on customer service.

Thursday – I log on to my online bill and see my water bill is ELEVEN times what it should be.  That’s bad.  So I call the number listed on DC Water’s website.  Of course, that number is NOT the Customer Service number and the person who answered seemed peeved I called that number.

Customer Service Lesson #1 – Make your customer service contact information prominent.  Most of your incoming calls, no matter what your industry, will revolve around customer service!

I actually had a terrific person help me that day.  She agreed that the numbers seemed horribly wrong.  She scheduled an appointment for Monday (between 8am-Noon) to have a home auditor take a look and see what the problem was.  In addition to that, she put a freeze on my account, so I wouldn’t be charged late fees for not paying that astronomically-high bill.

Customer Service Lesson #2 – Think like your customer.  How would they want the problem handled?  Do those things, within reason.

Friday through Sunday – Washington, DC, is pummelled with the 6th-largest snowstorm in recorded history!

Digging out from the SnowPocalypse!

Monday 8:15am – I call DC Water’s CORRECT Customer Service line to confirm they are still coming today.  Of course, with the SnowPocalypse, I didn’t expect them to keep the appointment, but, shockingly, they said they would be there!

Monday 11:40am – With the Noon endtime approaching, I called Customer Service to get an ETA on their arrival, so I could go and try to dig my car out of the 3 FEET of ice encasing it (good times!).  The representative was rude and combative when I asked a simple question:  “It is currently 11:40am…are you still planning to come by noon?”

He snapped that, “Yes, we established the parameters when we scheduled your appointment last week!”

My response: “What will happen if you aren’t there by noon?”

Representative: “It isn’t noon yet, so you don’t have a problem.”  Yikes!

Customer Service Lesson #3 – Snapping at customers is not a good way to handle simple questions.  Try responding with something like: “We deeply apologize, it looks like we are running behind, do you want to wait or reschedule now?”

Monday 12:30pm – Still no word from DC Water, so my wife calls and they finally admit that they weren’t there by noon (yeah….) because half of their staff was unable to make it in that morning.  They could reschedule us for Tuesday morning between 8 and noon again.  We took their offer and went about our day, working and digging, working and digging, working and digging.

Monday night – DC re-freeezes, the SnowPocalypse becomes the IcePocalypse.

Tuesday 11:30am – With no word from DC Water, I call them (Customer Service number, of course) and speak to a representative.  She explains to me that because they are running with about 2/3 of their staff, they are prioritizing emergency calls over inspections, which makes perfect sense.  She says that because of the snow and ice, they have to focus on those emergency issues for this entire week and will have to push our inspection to Monday.

Customer Service Lesson #4 – Tell the truth!  If there is something happening that is preventing you from keeping a promise/appointment/deadline, be up front with it.  Own the issue, take responsibility and your customers will understand.

This representative was open and honest, apologetic that her coworkers put me in this position.

I explained to her my issues:

1) I called to confirm the appointment on Monday.

2) They rescheduled me for Tuesday.

3) I had to track them down for them to say they were unable to come.  My phone number was on their appointment ledger.  Let me know something is wrong BEFORE I wait for two days!

Customer Service Lesson #5 – Be proactive!  If you know there will be a problem, or even COULD be a problem, let your customers know in advance.  Even if everything goes as planned, they will appreciate the fact that you are looking out for them.

If they had called me Monday morning and said “Listen, this SnowPocalypse really messed everything up and we have dozens of emergencies to respond to, so we may have to push you to next week, is that OK?” I would have ZERO problem with that.  Heck, it’s Tuesday and my car is STILL frozen in!

The funny part is that I’m not mad.  I’m amazed that a major city utility can be so inconsistent in customer service.

Just a little customer service really can go a long way to having a happy consumer base.

(Note – Pepco, our local power company, thought they missed an appointment with me and had their Twitter Customer Service Representative check on me!  Now THAT is fantastic customer service!)

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