Category Archives: Customer Service

Bank of America Comes Through with Great Customer Service

Great blog post from our colleague, Rob Leavitt:

Bank of America Comes Through with Great Customer Service

US Airways’ Heroic Customer Service

By now, everyone knows about the heroic efforts of the captain and crew of US Airways flight 1549, which had to make an emergency landing in the Hudson River after its engines had been immobilized by a flock of geese.  The captain, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, and his crew became instant celebrities in the aftermath of this incredible event, and rightly so.  We read interviews, and we watched them on morning and late night television.  We saw them in parades and at ballgames.  These were true American heroes.

But one thing we did not hear so much about was the heroic efforts in customer service that the extended team of US Airways personnel to care for the passengers, all of whom survived, following the emergency landing.  This was practically as amazing as the flight crew’s actions.

Recently, BusinessWeek ran an article on how the airline immediately put teams into play, to assist the passengers and their familes.  The article called the airline’s performance “a model for crisis management.”  After reading the article, I must agree.

Here are some of the things that US Airways did right:

  • Activated a special 800 number for families of passengers and crew to call
  • Scott Stewart, managing director for corporate finance, brought a bag of emergency cash for passengers and credit cards for employees
    to buy medicines, toiletries, or personal items that were needed
  • Others arrived with suitcases full of prepaid cell phones and sweatsuits for any passengers who needed dry clothes
  • Staffers escorted each passenger to a new flight or a local New York hotel, where it arranged for round-the-clock buffets
  • Arranged train tickets and/or rental cars for those who did not wish to fly
  • Some passengers lost their driver’s licenses, so US Airways reached out to
    high-level executives at Hertz and Amtrak to ensure they had no
    trouble getting a rental or a ticket
  • Retained the services of locksmiths to help passengers who had lost their keys get back into their cars and homes
  • Sent three letters providing updates to customers, along with a ticket
    refund to each passenger and a $5,000 advance check to help cover the
    cost of replacing their possessions
  • Employed claims adjusters to compensate passengers whose losses were higher
  • Did NOT require recipients to waive their legal rights, “an unprecedented exception to the industry norm.”

US Airways has not been known as a provider of world class service.  In fact, oftentimes, their service has left a lot to be desired.  But this time, during and after this crisis, they shined.  Their employees should be proud, the public should be aware of their efforts, and anyone who has anything to do with customer service should take note.  This is how you care for customers.

— Chuck Dennis

My Neighborhood Knows More about Customer Service than Your Company

If all companies were as concerned about service as my neighbors proved to be, the business world would be in a lot better shape.

Our home is a short distance from the harbor.  This means we have a perpetually damp basement.  So we have a dehumidifier and
a sump pump that are integral parts of our lives.  But in the midst of last week’s snow storm, the sump pump quit working.

While out shoveling the snow and talking with two of my neighbors, I mentioned my predicament.  One neighbor explained a couple of things that could be the problem, and how to address it.  The other neighbor said he had a colleague who did restoration work around town, and probably had a few extra used sump pumps in reserve, and he would try to get hold of one.

So, while Neighbor #2 called his colleague, I went and tried the things that Neighbor #1 suggested.  Neighbor #2 came with me, and brought an arsenal of tools, including a wet/dry vacuum, which cleaned up the overflowing water.  It was a messy job, but unfortunately we did not fix the pump.  Meanwhile, Neighbor #2’s colleague called back and did have some extra pumps, but he could not guarantee that they would work, so he would go and take a look and see if he could get one in working order.  In the meantime, Neighbor #1 called to see if I had any luck fixing the pump.  When I told him it still didn’t work, he called Neighbor #3, who happened to have an old pump that worked, but he no longer used.  He said I could have it if I needed it!

So I went over, got the pump, installed it, and presto!  It worked like a charm!  Dry basement!  Money spent: $0.

Here’s what my neighbors did right, customer service-wise:  First and foremost, they wanted to help.  That, in and of itself, goes a long way.  They made my problem their focus.  They tapped into years of experience in fixing household appliances, and suggested actions that could address the problem.  When that didn’t work, they pursued other means of help.  Calls were made, people were contacted, and a solution was found.  They didn’t leave me hanging.  And all three neighbors checked in with me later, to make sure the pump was still working.

The moral of this story is, the best kind of service you can provide is the kind that a real friend would provide.  While it may be true that you don’t have the same relationships with your customers that you have with your friends, you can certainly emulate the caring and helpful nature of those relationships.  Your customers will recognize that effort as the kind of effort that real friends and family do for one another, and that positive experience will make a profound impact on them.  This is how businesses retain their customers for life.  Loyalty.  If your customers know that you care about them, they will not be inclined to leave you.

— Chuck Dennis

The Future of Customer Care has Arrived

I continue to be fascinated by the possibilities of Web 2.0 applications.  Things that were initially developed as amusement and entertainment are now being mined for business applications.  This explains the proliferation of geezers such as myself on Facebook (wanna be my friend?), YouTube, MySpace, etc.

Now, YouTube, the Internet’s favorite video site, is being used by some progressive businesses to enhance their total customer experience.  T-Mobile has created a YouTube channel where customers can get video answers to their specific questions, demos for various products, tips and hints for users to get the most out of their new phones.  This, good people, is where customer service must be headed.

Businesses need to keep up with the applications most favored by their customers.  And ultimately, they all will.  It’s just that some are doing it now, and that is pretty cool.

– Chuck Dennis

Customer Service Saves the Day

Readers of this blog know that we are champions of businesses that provide excellent service for their customers.  We believe that making customers feel welcome and appreciated is simply the best way of growing a business, regardless of industry.

But here is another benefit of providing attentive customer service: defense against robbery and shoplifting!

A recent Seattle Times article discussed how two area banks thwarted robbery by identifying a suspicious-looking man, and treating him like a top customer.  By lavishing attention on this man, the banks took away the suspected robber's initiative and frustrated him into leaving without committing a crime.  Brilliant!

I recently did some work with a major book/CD/DVD retailer who takes the same approach to suspected shoplifters.  Instead of discreetly keeping an eye on the suspect, they train their employees to turn on the service charm. "Hi!  Can I help you find anything today?  Say, that sure is a nice parka you're wearing.  Must be hot today, though.  What is it, 90 degrees outside?" 

The beauty of this approach is, of course, you are simply providing the level of attentive service that all businesses should provide all customers.  There's no trickery involved, no covert spying, nothing but good old fashioned friendly service.  As thieves typically like to operate in anonymity, oftentimes this attention directed at them is enough to derail their plans.

So, if you needed another reason to provide top-notch customer service in your business, add theft-prevention to the list.  No, it's not 100% foolproof, but it doesn't cost anything extra to do.  And your non-thieving customers will appreciate the attention, and maybe even buy more from you!

  — Chuck Dennis

The Apple of Her Eye

"The transaction was done before I even knew it began!"

These were the words of my friend Carole, when discussing a recent purchase at an Apple Store.  She went in to simply look at her options for an iPod speaker dock (i.e., a device to play her iPod so that others may hear the music).  She had gone into the store to assess her options, but left the store shortly thereafter with her purchase in hand. 

So what transformed her from a tire-kicker to a satisfied customer?  Big surprise here: SERVICE!

Even amidst the hustle and bustle of the constantly busy Apple Store, the rep found Carole, determined what she was seeking, led her to the right area, explained the options that she had, and patiently waited for her to make her decision, while standing at the ready to be able to answer any questions she may have had.  Then, here’s the beautiful thing:

Once she had decided on which speaker dock to purchase, the Apple rep whipped out his hand-held credit / debit card processor, and processed her order.  By the time her receipt had printed out for her to sign, another Apple employee was approaching, with her purchase boxed up, and then bagged in a handy-dandy backpack-type bag, that could be carried by hand or strapped to one’s back like a backpack.  This is where Carole realized, "The transaction was done before I even knew it began!"

This anecdote is key, not just because the reps were attentive, and Carole got what she wanted with a minimum of hassle or heavy-lifting, but because the purchase was made at all.  You see, Carole had no intention of actually BUYING the product at the Apple Store.  Everybody knows by now that Apple Stores are cool, fun places to check out the latest technology, but they are not the place one goes to save money.  And Carole’s husband Ron, who loves his toys, is a big fan of saving money on sites like uBid, so she knew she could get a better deal elsewhere.  But, because of the hand-held order processor, she did not have to stand idly in line, and therefore, did not have to opportunity to ponder her purchase, and wonder if she might save money by buying it elsewhere.  Now, the Apple Store employees did not steamroller her into making a purchase.  Rather, they were ready when the customer was ready, and processed the order immediately before she could start considering any other options.

So, once again, this is why SERVICE is more important than product or price.  If your customer feels taken care of, she or he will buy.  End of story. 

   — Chuck Dennis

Customer Service for Those in Need

Just had an epiphany about customer service, that might just give all merchants & vendors something to think about.

This one is hot off the presses… of my life.

We had a futon in storage, and we retrieved it today.  Six months ago, when I broke it down for storage, I carefully put all the bolts and other hardware in a zip-lock plastic bag.  Because I knew I would need them again.

So, six months later, where is that bag?  No, really, where is that bag???  This is not a rhetorical question – this is serious!  I’ve got a futon in parts, and no hardware to hold the sucker together!  In addition to being a bit aggrevating and embarrassing, it also has me in a spot of hot water with the missus. 

So when the going gets tough, the tough go online.  Oh great Google, does anyone sell futon hardware (without having to buy the whole futon)?  It turns out that many organizations do. 

BUT… the fly in the ointment is, each site makes it clear you must order the correct size hardware, because hardware purchases are not returnable.  A reasonable request, I can understand, but my problem is, having lost the bag of hardware, I have no freakin’ idea as to what size bolts, etc. that I need.

This, I think, is good opportunity to test the customer service skills of one of these businesses purporting to sell the needed hardware.  So I call Futon Planet, and explain my predicament to their friendly customer service rep.  He understood, and immediately assured me that it was pretty easy to get the measurements I needed in order to buy the correct product.  He didn’t try to sell me anything, he didn’t hustle for my order, he just told me the info I would need, and how to obtain that info, and that I could then be assured of buying the correct product.  Geez, I love this guy! 

Now, this seems like a sort of baseline quality customer service kind of experience, and perhaps it is.  BUT… what ratched up the significance with me is that I had made a dumb mistake by misplacing the bag of hardware, and I was mad at myself, and my better half was not exactly overjoyed with me at the moment.  When suddenly, there is light at the end of the tunnel.  A way out of this dilemma! 

And that is why a basic well-executed customer service interaction has me so fired up.  And that is my message to you (ah, you wondered if I would get around to that!):

You never know the mood or the circumstances surrounding anyone you serve, at any given time.  Therefore, the slightest kindnesses can sometimes be magnified because they came at exactly the right time.  "Customer service" is not just about taking orders and answering questions – it’s about SERVING your customer, and helping them.  You might just make a much larger impact than you ever expected. 

  — Chuck Dennis

Be Friendly to Your Customers, but Don’t Treat Them Like Friends

As readers of this blog know, I am not shy about shining a spotlight on examples of poor customer service, and sharing my views on how the matter could have been improved.  Armchair quarterbacking, I believe it is called.

That said, I must now point the finger at myself.



In a conference call with a client last week, he was explaining that he was going to have to push our project back a couple of months, due to some issues concerning a sister company of his.

What I should have said is, "Hey, no problem.  Give me a holler when you are ready to roll."  But because I had built a friendship with the guy in addition to our business relationship, and we had agreed to speak freely with one another, I barely masked my disappointment, and for some reason felt the need to remind him that I would be seeking other projects in the interim, and I hoped that I would be available when he was ready to go.  I wasn’t rude or snotty when I said this; it was more of like "Hey, you snooze, you lose" that you would say to a buddy.

Even now, as I retell this story, I am astounded at my ignorance.  Anyone who has worked with a consultant before, and certainly anyone with this particular gentleman’s business pedagree, understands that projects need to scheduled as to availability.  But friendship or no friendship, buddy or no buddy, I should have had my customer service consultant hat on at that time.  I should have been understanding and accomodating, and I am afraid that in this instance, I was not.

I soon regained my common sense, and apologized, which the client quickly accepted and dismissed in true male-buddy fashion, and we have continued our business relationship and friendship.  But I was lucky.  By letting my guard down and wearing my friend hat when I should have been wearing my consultant hat, I could have easily lost or damaged a business relationship.

So please, learn from my error.  No matter how friendly you become with a client or customer, always remember to treat them with the respect that all customers deserve.  Any less can be damaging to both the business, and the personal, relationship.

   — Chuck Dennis

Hammer Time – Angry Customer Style

A recent article in the Washington Post titled Taking a Whack Against Comcast tells the story of a 75 year old Virginia woman, who, after receiving poor and indifferent service over the course of four separate incidents, decided to draw some attention ftom her cable provider’s service department by taking a hammer to a service rep’s PC and telephone. 

While I am sensitive to the plight of angry customers everywhere, and believe that businesses can learn a lot from listening to their angry customers, and while I believe that being ignored and mistreated by businesses can rightfully elicit anger from customers, I must draw the line at violent reactions to the service.

And I am a little bit disturbed at the smirking, cavalier tone of the Post’s article.  In this day and age, violent outbursts are not really a laughing matter.  The fact that this woman is 75 years old does not mean she was incapable of inflicting pain or injury to Comcast personnel.  OK, she busted up a keyboard, monitor, and telephone, as a way of getting "attention."  Cute.  What if some of the splintering equipment hit a Comcast employee in the eye?  What if Granny’s backswing of the hammer caught someone in the face?  What if she hurt herself while wreaking havoc on the Comcast office?  Would she then sue Comcast for the pain and suffering? (Fact is, her blood pressure did go up to a dangerous level, and she began hyperventilating, and required an ambulance.)

And the Washington Post, who really should know better, chose to highlight this woman as a great American outlaw, going outside the boundaries of the law, yet striking a blow for "justice."

Let’s get this straight.  I love angry customers.  My consulting practice and the articles I write are all about getting businesses to take heed of their angry customers, and learn how to improve their service, products and operations by hearing, and then addressing, customer complaints.  But their are limits to the appropriateness of customer anger.  I tend to draw the line after the first use of profanity.  Violent actions?  Forget about it!  You just lost your complainin’ priviledges, is what ya did.

  — Chuck Dennis

Hell Hath No Fury Like a Customer Scorned

It used to be, if your business angered a customer, you could lose the customer’s business, and count on him telling anywhere from 5 to 25 people about the negative experience.  Depending on the nature of the the experience and the credibility of the angry customer, you might take a business hit from some existing and prospective customers.  Not to mention, your loss is your competitor’s gain.

Nowadays, through the wonders of technology, specifically the interactivity of Web 2.0, disgruntled customers have a much larger stage for their soapbox.  Hundreds, thousands, even millions of people can now read about a single customer complaint!  An article in yesterday’s New York Times, titled "Dealing With the Damage From Online Critics," discusses this topic. 

Now, no business is immune to the occasional dissatisfied customer.  However, as the article explains, it’s often how the business deals with the dissatisfaction that makes or breaks them.  Depending on the magnitude of the customer’s anger, bitter online posts with embellished details and ominous threats can give pause to potential customers and even disinterested third parties.  Critical and derogatory web sites can be created, or simply steaming posts on blogs or online forums can wreak havoc on a business’ goodwill.

Businesses can fight back by jumping into the fray with denials, counter-claims, or simply by posting authentic or contrived positive news about themselves or their products.  However, my belief is that nobody wins in this kind of online street fight.  Everyone comes out with at least some scrapes and bruises.  A better approach would be for the business to attempt to reach out to the offended customer, and try to learn the exact nature of the problem, why it happened, why it disturbed the customer, and how it can be avoided in the future. 

The business that acknowledges its problems, and resolves them to the customers’ satisfaction, is going to win a lot more loyalty and admiration than one who simply tries to sweep the dirt under the carpet.

  — Chuck Dennis

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