Customer Service coaching moments

Bad days have a ripple effect in our world in uncountable ways. But good days can sometimes provide significant counterweight. The tension between those opposing viewpoints is as old as humanity and maybe that’s why the world is an interesting place. Can you imagine a world where everyone was having a good day? How would you know?

I’ll describe what I would imagine is someone who was having a bad day. Mamie (read my other posts to find out who she is) needed to head to a part of Toronto that required her to take a different transit line than she is familiar with. I have to tell you first of all that Toronto is undergoing a construction frenzy of biblical proportions, and taking as long a time as the pyramids to complete. So, our major hub of transit, Union Station (finished renovation project depicted below) is in the midst of chaos, teeming with commuters from every mode of transportation converging in a single place amid debris, hoarding, and closures.

She saw a sign saying that the streetcar line she expected to use was out of service due to construction and so she approached a uniformed transit employee for guidance.

She asked him how she could get to Spadina Avenue if the underground streetcar line was shut for construction, to which he replied, “Bay Street.” Toronto is the third largest city in all of North America and Mamie was standing in the heart of it. To her, “Bay Street” was like saying “Get Lost”.  She was not impressed.

She stood up to Mr. Grumpy and asked him again for more clarity to which he replied by silently pointing to a stairwell to the street.  Mamie is not one to back down and she cornered Mr Bad Day and said, “What I want to know is this. What’s the location of the stop and the vehicle number? Can you tell me?”  Here’s what he said, “Do you know how many times I get asked that question every single day?”

Here comes the coaching moment that Mamie so thoughtfully provided to this poor soul at that moment. “Then why are you doing this job if you don’t like it?” She turned on her heels and walked away.

My hope is he then took a breath, took a break, and went home at the end of the day in a better mood, maybe he resolved to take control of what he may normally feel are daily situations that are out of his control.


Simple Contrasts

Do you know what good service looks like? Let me tell you of a recent example of an interaction I had with Rogers Communications, my cellphone provider, that I’d like to hold up as a perfect model.

Because I was given a new phone by my new employer, I had no use for my old one. Same manufacturer, different version. My wife, Mamie, wanted the old one. I bought a new SIM card, swapped out the one from the old phone and inserted the new. All I needed to do was go online and make the change, or so I thought. I’m pretty swift at doing things myself but I found the Rogers website slightly confusing regarding the steps I needed to go through in order to do everything online. I decided to call the Help line and spoke to a representative immediately. She completed the transfer and enabled my former phone on Mamie’s account in less than two minutes. What’s remarkable is not the speed, although I was very pleased with that. It was the fact that the representative took the time afterwards to ask me about the website and if I could explain why it seemed non-intuitive (my words when I first called in). It was the interest she took in improving a subscriber’s experience in the future. I thanked her for her terrific support and then hung up and tweeted to her employer about the great interaction.

Do you know what poor service looks like? Here’s a perfect model.

There’s a restaurant on the ground floor of our condo building. It’s called the Tilted Kilt and is sometimes referred to as Hooters with Class but I call it just another place for guys to watch sports. There was a mini-uproar when it was being built because it’s basically a pub staffed by servers who wear short kilts and (too) small bras. That’s poor taste but it’s not poor service.  With a sense of fairness, we’d been talking with some friends about giving the place a try to at least be fully informed about the establishment. You know, maybe the food was actually good.  Mamie (yes, she shows up periodically in these posts) tried to make a reservation by walking in one day and speaking with the hostess. She was told that reservations can only be handled by the manager (odd) and she was given his email address (really odd). She sent the guy a message with the request. The weekend neared and she hadn’t received a reply and so she sent a follow on note. No email back over the next two days. Remember, we live upstairs and there are seven different restaurants all within crawling distance of our front door, and probably twenty more within three blocks, so it was not a big risk to just walk in that evening.

We said we’d had a reservation and were told by a young innocent in a too small bra that the restaurant does not take reservations. Holy Kafka. Mamie asked for the manager and what do you know, the dude was standing 10 feet away and came over. He greeted us and when Mamie informed him that she’d sent him two emails, as instructed, this is what he said with a big dumb grin. “Oh, yeah, I remember those.”  Mamie sliced him down to size in front of his flock of servers dressed, well you know how, by asking a simple question.  “Then why didn’t you reply to them?” Picture a blank expression. Picture Mamie standing there with me and our four male friends, waiting. Picture six young eager women looking, and waiting… with interest… for a man twice their age, their boss, to answer the question. Picture the six-foot man shrink from the most logical, polite, and assertive dressing down from a customer. Priceless. And I fell in love yet again with my wife. He said we could have a table in about an hour. I can’t recall if we even thanked him as we walked out (we probably did because we’re Canadian).

We crossed the street and ate at a another restaurant. The food was great and reasonably priced. The server may have worn a bra. Who knows. It didn’t matter.

5 Crimes of Customer Care

There are many ways to be a hero for your employer, for your customer, and for yourself when you’re a frontline customer-facing employee. Besides having a thorough understanding of departmental processes and procedures, success almost always boils down to inherently knowing what it means to do the right thing and being consistently respectful and organized. Yet, there are just as many ways to mess things up when you work in a high pressure frontline role and most of the time your employer won’t even notice right away. That’s the scariest part for those smart executives who know their company’s image and brand are often outside their immediate span of control.  They know that the experience felt by paying customers is controlled to a large degree by frontline staff in day-to-day conversations and interactions.

I find this topic so interesting that I wrote a blog post for my employer and you can find it on the Eloqua Blog.  The post is called 5 Crimes of Customer Care and can be found here: I’m interested in hearing what you think of it.

Losing sight of the mission

One of my favorite websites is the one for the fabled Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). If you want unvarnished, un-embellished, and unadulterated leading-edge information about some element of science, this is the place to look.  A recently published article called dueling algorithms described how two fictional software companies fought to see who could produce the most effective algorithm. The moral of the story is they lost sight of their mission, to meet the needs of their customer.  The exercise morphed into a battle to see who could best the other, a battle that through great effort shunted the customer to the sidelines and resulted in diminished returns. 

Having been on both sides of the customer and vendor equation, I can say that feature/function leap-frogging is usually a silly game.  If one company has a clear advantage in that regard, it is only true for a brief period of time. Many times (as a vendor) we tried to pitch our feature advantage and sometimes it sounded impressive; we were all sold on the notion that the customer could really gain an edge by selecting our solution.  But the truth is, when we won, we won not only by convincing the customer our solution met their needs but that we would be there to help get the thing up and running and to support them onwards. Given similar relative technical capabilities between solutions of two software companies, the important and lasting differentiator for the winning vendor should be the ability of its front-line staff (sales and support) to make personal connections with customers and convey a high level of trust.  How does one do that?  There’s no escaping the conclusion that the old-fashioned method of employing a highly credible and respectful communications style works best.  People essentially want to be treated well, not with special favors (because they can be seen through and they often sour) or showmanship (because the ego is too apparent), but with honesty, consistency, and the belief that their needs are front and center.

Customer service stories

Good customer service is not that difficult.  All you have to do is remember to ask yourself two simple questions.  If I was on the other side of the equation: 1) what would be my expectations of the interaction?, and 2) are those expectations reasonable? To complete the interaction, deliver the service with pride.

IT departments get a lot of bad press for customer service but I don’t think they’ve cornered that market.  Poor service is democratically spread across all industries, across all levels, and across all types of people.  I’ll cite a good example of customer service and another where work is obviously required.

This blog you’re reading is written on an application called WordPress.  It was reported in the media this week that they were the target of a DDoS attack that slowed, and briefly made unavailable, service on the platform.  They also experienced another slowdown that was self-inflicted and was due to a software maintenance issue. What I appreciated was that we WordPress users were sent an email in which the company owned up to and explained the problems, and how they were dealing with them.  Good customer service.

The second example is very local for me and should have been incredibly easy to avoid. I live in a condo with a property management company that is supposed to take care of  all common areas of the facilities. It’s a relatively new building so they’re still getting their feet wet figuring things out. However, remember what I said was the first question you should ask yourself…. what would be my expectations of the interaction?  In the case of working with a property manager, I expect totally transparent communications and I expect smartly logical planning of work.  I think those are reasonable expectations.  Afterall, we pay a considerable sum of money each month for maintenance.  Should intelligence and courtesy command a surcharge? Evidently, they do. Our parking garage was in desperate need of a cleaning and the property management company scheduled the work, and announced the dates and the procedure (move your cars out for two days) to the residents. The work was executed (poorly, but that’s another blog post) and everyone put their cars back in the garage. You can imagine our surprise and frustration the next day to see new construction being carried out in the garage, with clouds of dust and debris blanketing the cars and the parking surface. No explanation forthcoming from Property Management, no communication whatsoever, bad customer service.

People, it really is not that hard of a job.  Use your head, plan logically, communicate with honesty, and….apologize if you know in your heart that you screwed up.