On being nice...

Print advertising, costly... traditional public relations, less costly... good customer service, priceless.

Good customer service is your greatest source of business. Let me say that again, good customer service is your greatest source of business. If you are not focused on providing the most outstanding customer support possible, you are missing an opportunity to let other people sing your praises, and now people can sing your praises, not just over coffee, but over Twitter, LinkedIn, RSS feeds, etc, etc.

Here are a few recent experiences I've had with good and bad customer service. Purchased a Calvin Klein coat at Macy's. Zipper keeps separating. I don't want to return the coat (it's really beautiful!). I called the Macy's store where I purchased it and asked if they had another and was told I needed the receipt and she couldn't look anything up for me by my account info and despite saying, "This is Jill, how can I provide you with outstanding customer service today?" She was quick to inform me that she had other things to do and couldn't wait for me to look for the receipt and I should call back. I called the main Macy's number and got through to a woman who gave me all the info and said I should call back the store and they would find the coat at another store, have it delivered and I could pick it up there.... called back the store and was stuck in a 30 minute loop and couldn't get the original department. Finally got through got the same woman who told me the main call in number was wrong and that she couldn't order it for me, I would have to call other stores and have it delivered to my home and pay for shipping. Several of the stores I called said they didn't actually have it and couldn't help me. Finally reached an Ohio store clerk who apologized for all the other stores and said she would find the coat for me, which she did and called me back with the all the details. Awesome.

In the meantime I called Calvin Klein in NYC who told me they would reimburse me for $25 for the zipper repair and instantly sent me the claim form. Super!

Now the dark side.... Recently I paid my Bank of America bill using their online payment system (which I do all the time and I always pay off the full amount due), but I had to send it from two different sources. Their website is awful and too complicated and while it allowed me to make two payments, they couldn't be the same amount (weird). So I made one less and realized the total would be short by about $150. I tried to fix it and again, the site wouldn't let me. So I figured, no problem, I would pay the interest on the left over $150, how much could that be? Then I received my bill and found a $38 interest charge (25% on the outstanding balance!). When I called to say there must be some mistake, the woman on the other end of the phone said, "No, we charge you on the full amount even if you pay most of it on time, but leave $1.00 outstanding... WHAT? I just paid nearly $8,000, I have a flawless credit history and have paid my entire balance due every month since having the card. When I asked, "Could you waive it this one time for me since I'm such a good customer?" "No sorry we are not allowed to do that. Is that all? If so, I hope I have provided you with excellent customer service today." WHAT??? No you haven't! And now I can tell the word about in many different ways. I hope to never use that card again!

How is your customer service? Regardless of whether you are a big company or a small one, good customer service is your more important asset. Call in to your own company, how is the phone system? Ask for customer support and report a problem, how is it handled? What happens when you place an order on your site?  Try it. If you have poor customer service you are sending people to a competitor and encouraging them to tell the world about your bad customer service.

Want to take it a step further? Ask your customers how you're doing. Most companies are afraid to do this. They don't want to hear the negative responses. You should not only hear them, you should respond to them and make changes based on them (if appropriate of course, there's always a few folks you won't ever please). Make phone calls to customers, set up an on-line survey, send an email, do something and find out if you are maximizing one of your best marketing tools - good word of mouth.


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