Friday, June 20, 2008

When service fails

I'm fairly certain that businesses do not intentionally set out to disappoint their customers by providing poor service. It is truly amazing when you begin to think about recent experiences and how poor service has become the norm rather than the exception to rule.

Recently I attended a trade/convention show in Buffalo, NY and was on the receiving end of my fair share of poor service. I had some distance away from our business and therefore an opportunity to reflect on the topic and more in particular about the experiences that our customers have when interacting with our business.

When I'm the recipient of poor service I'm human and find myself getting irritated or frustrated to varying degrees. Depending on the situation I consider my options and decide what I'm going to do. Often times I grumble, walk away with a poor taste in my mouth and catalog the experience so I can decide in the future whether or not I choose to do business with the establishment again.

When I'm the recipient of less than satisfactory service I begin to ask myself a series of questions.

  • Is the business owner or manager aware of how their employees are failing their customers?
  • Will I come back to this business again?
  • How many repeat sales is this business going to loose because it can't get the basics right?
  • Should I say something to owner or manager? Wouldn't they like to know what is happening?

The extent to which I ask myself these questions in part depends on the relationship I have with the business and my need or desire to continue a relationship with the business. It is opportunities like my time away from my own business where I can reflect on these questions and begin to evaluate how other businesses succeed at customer service and how others seem to fail.

I know that we have let down our fair share of customers over the years. For me, the topic of customer service is very personal. While certainly this is no excuse, we have gone through and continue to experience growing pains. In the process I know that I have let down my fair share of people by failing to follow through. I ask myself why have I let this happen and how do I fix it. As a business owner I make it my goal to insulate our customers from having to experience our growing pains. Our customers have enough frustrations in the day, we certainly do not need to add to the list.

For me, I recognize that we are not perfect. It's the reason that I often give other businesses a second chance when I feel let down from their service. What I hope to see is improvement in other businesses where I may have been the recipient of bad service. In our own business I have recognized some areas that we are weak. In many cases it was our customers who pointed out some areas where we needed to improve. I appreciate those customers who take time from their day and risk sharing their thoughts and feelings regarding their experience.

In most cases the feedback I get is taken very personally. As the owner of the business I'm responsible for the experience our customers have and it begins with me. I think back to the times when I know I let someone down because I didn't follow through. Some distraction got in the way between my commitment to them and the follow through they expected. I've worked to change things internally so I can avoid making these same mistakes again.

Hopefully our customers can see the difference we're making - and in any case, will continue to provide the feedback so that we can continue to improve. Some of the feedback we get is louder, more direct and shall we say... obvious. While at other times the feedback we receive is more subtle. Anyway the feedback comes it is appreciated and please know that you are heard.

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