Customer Service: Mind Your Manners
Most of us grew up with our parents trying subtly (or not so subtly, in some instances) to instill the importance of the words “please” and “thank you” in us. As we grew up, some of us held firm to these basic manners, while others phased them out along with our belief in Santa Claus.
This year I have interacted with several customer service departments — in person, over the phone, and online. Through these experiences I have come to a simple conclusion: If you mind your P’s and T’s when dealing with P’s and T’s, you will find not only a satisfied consumer, but one who will remain loyal to your business time and time again, with the bonus of giving you free advertising. Here are two examples.
Around the Fourth of July this year, I traveled from New York to Des Moines, Iowa (with a connection flight in Milwaukee) to visit family. About an hour before departure, I hear this announcement:
“Ladies and gentlemen traveling to Milwaukee, the departure time for this flight has been delayed. For those of you making a connecting flight in Milwaukee, please see our customer service agent at Gate 9A.”
Wait! What? Delayed? Is it possible for “delayed” to turn into “canceled”? What exactly is causing this delay? So many questions sprang into my head that I had to remind myself to take a deep breath as I approached the ever growing line at Gate 9A.
As I stood waiting for my fate to be decided, I had one major question: Where was the “sorry for the inconvenience” line that is so prominent throughout the travel industry? And while we’re on the subject, why was there such a lack of basic manners in the announcement? No “May we have your attention, please,” no “Thank you for your cooperation” — no mention of any apology or politeness.
The CS agent: “Yes?” (Not “How can I help you?”)
Me: “Yes, I’m on the flight to Milwaukee, and I’m supposed to make a connecting flight—”
CS: “Boarding pass.” (Commanded, not asked for.) “You will miss this flight; I can book you on one tomorrow morning.”
Me: “So, we’d stay over in Milwaukee tonight? You’ll put us up?”
CS: “You will stay overnight in Milwaukee, but we will not put you up. I can give you a list of hotels by the airport.”
Me: “Hold on. Your company delayed the flight, causing me to miss my connection, and you’re not going to put us up?” (Secretly thinking, Is the airline just shirking all responsibility for this situation?)
CS: “This flight is delayed due to weather here at LaGuardia. That is not our fault. Do you want me to book you on the flight tomorrow or not?”
I told her yes, of course. I mean, how else would I get to my destination? The dialogue with this CS agent left me flabbergasted. First, the weather at LGA was causing the delay? It was blue skies as far as the eye could see. Second, and most important, what has happened to basic kindness? What has happened to businesses and organizations using manners and apologizing for inconveniences to their customers and patrons, even if the problem is not their fault? Much like Mulder in The X-Files, I know the answer is out there.
Now, let me contrast that experience with a better one. A few weeks before the trip, I needed to order some new contact lenses. I went online and decided to try 1-800-Contacts. Within a few minutes of placing my order, I realized I had used the wrong credit card. I called them up and was not only responded to immediately, and helped in the most courteous manner possible, but was also given an apology for the inconvenience I had caused myself. Their CS agent actually told me how sorry she was this had happened, an incident I had caused and that was in no way, shape, or form her fault. I was once again left astonished, but on the complete opposite side of the spectrum.
After hanging up the phone, I went straight to Twitter and followed them, went to Facebook and liked them, and noticed how not alone I was in praising them for their excellent customer service. Every day I see happy customers giving thankful tweets for the customer service agents at 1-800-Contacts. I’m positive they have made lifelong returns to their company based solely on their attitude toward this aspect of business.
Likewise, never again will I patronize the airline that had no remorse for how the delay affected me, their customer.
These situations occur in all kinds of business, especially where tickets are involved. Patrons can get, at the very least, quite upset if they feel inconvenienced and/or unheard. When they contact your box office, they are not only looking for their problem to be solved in the quickest way possible, but they want to feel as though the person on the other end of the phone or e-mail has their back. They need to feel that they are being heard, responded to, and compensated in a manner that fixes the perceived slight. On top of all this, basic human politeness is a necessity.
Our society takes please, thanks, and I’m sorry for granted. As a whole, these manners are usually only implied — to the point that I get a little shocked and always note when someone actually uses these words in any business I patronize.
This, sadly, should not be the case. If we all took a little time to sincerely say please, thank you, I’m sorry — and, at least every now and then, you’re welcome — it would go a long way. I guarantee it will take your box office/customer service departments further into 1-800-Contacts territory, with many happy returns and word-of-mouth recommendations coming your way.
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