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Butchering Customer Service

All businesses strive to provide excellent customer service, but thereís a fine line between service and servility. Extreme servility is called obsequiousness. Now thereís a word for you to know. Even if you donít know what it means, youíve experienced itómaybe in a restaurant, a clothing store, a car dealership, anywhere where employees hope that by virtue of their attention they will make sales or garner large tips. Itís one thing to be attentive and meet customersí needs; itís another to be so present and ďin their faceĒ that customers think you want them to adopt you. A few months ago, I ordered a gift of steaks and roasts from a meat mail order business for some family members. When no acknowledgement came, I called to find out if they had gotten their present. As it turned out, the parcel delivery service had left the package at the wrong address, but the people who had received it in error were honest enough to immediately call the intended recipients to let them know about the mix up. The only person who had made a mistake was the delivery man whoíd misread the mailing label, and no one ever heard a word out of him or his company. The same canít be said for the meat company. In its relentless pursuit to keep customers satisfied, company representatives started calling meódailyóto make sure I was still happy and to see if I didnít want to order more meat. After the umpteenth call that resulted in no additional purchases from me, I asked to have my name and number removed from the calling list. Being nice hadnít worked. Maybe some force would be more effective. Keep in mind I had had absolutely no beef with the mail order company until now. It was at this point, however, that customer service attention turned into customer obsession. I thought Iíd gotten the point across, but about a week later I started receiving calls at my work number. When I would take advantage of the caller ID feature on my phone, I saw an area code and number I didnít recognize. I answered in my usual way, but each time the caller said nothing and simply hung up. This happened several times until I checked the number and discovered it was the cattle crew. This was out of control. Iíd said no from my home number. The answer wasnít going to be any different on my business line. Now they were intruding on my work day without saying a word. One final call (and I emphasize the word final) came at 9:17 p.m. last week. Dinner was long over, and no one in the house was thinking about food, especially not about T-bones. No one was consciously thinking about anything since we were all asleep. It had taken almost an hour to get the three-year-old to quit fussing about having to go to bed, but at last heíd drifted off. That is, until the phone rang. I was roused from a very deep sleep by the phone ringing and our child yelling for Mommy. Too unawake to check the caller ID, I answered. To my utter amazement, it was another company rep wanting to know if I was ready to order more filets. It was time to take this bull by the horns. ďNo,Ē I said, ďnot now, not ever again!Ē I canít remember exactly, but Iím sure I pointed out that Iíd asked to have my name and number removed from their list. That he had had the audacity to call so late in the evening was absolutely beyond my comprehension. This experience is a clear illustration of how customer service can go terribly wrong. Probably part of this was due to someone misreading the data and assuming that since I had placed a substantial order, I would likely do so again. Who knows? Maybe I would have at a later time, but the ďoverkillĒ from the sales staff turned out to be a deal breaker as far as Iím concerned. Let this be a cautionary tale for any businesses out there that think ďhard sellingĒ is going to work every time. In many cases it will backfire and have just the opposite effect from the one you want. Iíve recently conducted a less-than-statistically-valid study polling people (my office manager, my aunt, and a very nice woman behind me in a line at Safeway) about customer disservice. Although not all the results are in, here are ten tips to take to heart to keep your customers truly satisfied:

1. Just because your business model says customers should, in all probability, be interested in buying something, donít assume theyíre kidding when they tell you no.

2. Limit unsolicited calls to the same person.

3. Call at a reasonable time.

4. After you hear ďHello,Ē really listen to what the other person says to you.

5. Donít argue when the customer says ďno.Ē

6. Honor the customerís wishes.

7. If you are offering service to someone in person, be available, but donít hover.

8. An internet order does not give you authorization to call someone at home or work to offer add-on purchases or services.

9. Know that a lot of people have caller ID, so donít call and hang up without saying something.


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