what all companies should learn from the customer serving engineer
“The goal as a company is to have customer service that is not just the best, but legendary.” -Sam Walton
Mid last year I began having bill delivery issues with my monthly statement from a local utility company. I noticed that I was only sporadically receiving my monthly paper statement via mail and was never receiving any email alerts. Not sure why and annoyed that I didn’t have a monthly reminder to pay my bill, I decided to call their customer service line. The ensuing conversation was not only frustrating, but an excellent example of what seems to be a never-ending trend of poor customer service by companies big and small, despite the fact that we’re in the day and age of transparency thru social media.
During the phone conversation, a middle age rep with an unpleasant attitude, misinformed me that my paper bill was being mailed out each month. In fact, I was told that since she could guarantee that my bill was being mailed monthly, I simply must not be seeing it when it arrives in my mailbox. Nothing was resolved and I walked away from that conversation annoyed.
Now to clarify, my sole goal of the conversation was to simply find an effective resolution for reminding me to pay my monthly bill. In other words, I wanted to make sure that I was giving this company my money on a consistent basis.
Not wanting to deal with another middle aged woman with an attitude, I avoided any future calls to this company, in spite of the fact that the situation remained unresolved.
Several weekends ago, however, I was casually mentioning this story to a friend, who happens to also be an engineer at this company. For the sake of discussion, let’s call this friend Megan. By 9:15am that Monday morning, Megan, whose job has no direct ties to customer service, educated herself on the available payment options and diagnosed why I was not receiving my paper bill- which turned out to be a result of me using one of their 3rd party payment options. Megan then sent me an email describing the problem, offered solutions for resolving the problem, and even attached a PDF of my current statement.
Impressed that Megan went way above and beyond the scope of her job as an engineer, it got me thinking about customer service in general and why all companies need more “Megans”.
What this utility company – and companies of any size – should learn from this experience:
- Do absolutely whatever it takes to win a customer’s respect: I once told a colleague of mine at LockerDome, ”If someone emails you at 4am; please email them back at 4:01am. If someone calls and you’re working out; please walk out of the gym and pick up the phone.” We preach this because as customers ourselves, we appreciate and demand this level of service.
- Don’t ever offer more than you can properly support: The customer service rep that I spoke with had absolutely no clue about the nuances of the (many) payment options and therefore failed to diagnose the root of the problem. Your customer service reps should know your product so well that they can roll out of bed in 30 seconds, awakening from a deep sleep, and instantaneously provide knowledgeable support. And if your rep doesn’t know the answer, (s)he should tell the customer that (s)he’s is going to research the available options and be in touch shortly. Your rep then better make sure that (s)he follows through on gathering information as quickly as possible; customers are not OK with having their time wasted!
- Make sure that all employees are your customer service reps, regardless of their job title: While I describe Megan’s actions as “way above and beyond the scope of her job”, I firmly believe that this should be the norm, at least for the companies that plan on being around in the future.
I don’t care if you’re a technology startup or a regulated utility company, customer perception matters and great customer service can work on any scale. Zappos, an online retailer that sold for $1.2B to Amazon last year, is a shining example of what tremendous customer service looks like on a large scale. In this overview of Zappos’ culture, the author outlines multiple operational tacts that Zappos’ CEO, Tony Hseh, and his company have implemented to create an ethos of customer satisfaction:
- “They encourage customers to call them about nearly everything. Their call center takes 5,000 calls per day, and employees work independent of scripts, quotas, or call time limits. The longest call to date has been four hours. Zappos views the phone experience as a branding device, and speaks to virtually every customer at least once.
- They decided to invest in “surprise” (free) upgrades to overnight shipping for most customers. This means that most orders are delivered within 24 hours, despite the web site indicating it will take 2-5 business days.
- They encourage customers to order as many products as they wanted in order to “try them on,” then offering free return shipping for a full 365 days
- They only list products on the site when stock was in their own warehouse (which actually lowered sales by 25% at a time when the company was still in the red)
- They decided to run their warehouse operation 24/7 to deliver super-fast turnaround on orders, despite it being an inefficient way to manage fulfillment”
Still wondering how customer service translates to your bottom line? Let’s just put it this way: with great customer service, nearly any price point (within market expectations) and the majority of product flaws are OK, but with bad customer service, no price point is low enough and even the tiniest of product flaws won’t be ignored.