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Editor's Page: The Secret to Customer Satisfaction

Editor's Page: The Secret to Customer Satisfaction

Service failures happen in every business.

As I write this, I have just watched a phone service truck pull out of my driveway after a two-hour visit to troubleshoot my home DSL connection. The technician — Jim — was an old-school guy, with many years of experience under his belt. He had a folksy way of explaining what he was up to as he worked his way from my outside box, through the tangle of wiring along my basement's ceiling, to the wall jack that feeds my modem and the various extensions throughout the house.

In two hours, my service was fixed, my connection reliability restored, and my comfort level with the service provider (I'll refer to it as “W” from here on) immensely improved.

What makes this incident worth remarking on is that it comes after three years of on-again, off-again service relaiability issues with W and many dozens of calls in which I dealt with various customer service and technical service support personnel who failed, one after another, to provide me with answers, troubleshooting and accurate installation information. A modem was promised but never delivered. A rate package was promised but a different one was put in place. Documentation for hooking up my Mac was sent, but proved to be inaccurate. Callbacks were promised but never made. I invested scores of hours seeking to get the basic service I'd signed up for, never really succeeding.

At one point, I became so frustrated that I abandoned W and went to a cable service provider, only to discover the “games cable plays” with teaser bundles, relentless rate hikes and the “all eggs in one basket” telecommunications bundle challenge: like the Christmas tree lights of old, “if one goes out, they all go out.”

So I went back to W, reluctantly. The only problem was that my DSL service, even after re-installation, still wasn't very fast, or especially reliable.

The capper occurred two weeks ago, when I called the company to increase my connection speed for an extra monthly fee, hoping to end my sometimes long refresh waits on the web.

That's when service really went downhill. After the upgrade, my modem started disconnecting every minute or so, aborting one web action after another. I tried my own troubleshooting: disconnecting phones, the router, rebooting the modem, etc. and once again found myself placing numerous technical support calls (each with its own long phone menu tree wait). And again reaching one person after another who wasn't able to provide much help.

Jim was finally sent out to troubleshoot. Frankly, he was the first truly technically competent person I had talked with in this three year old ordeal. He checked the outside and inside lines, suggested and put in place an alternate line filtering strategy, tracing most of the problem to a part of the wiring installed by the phone company years before. In two hours, I had the best home internet connection I'd ever had.

But Jim also demonstrated a lot more than sheer technical competence. He was a natural customer relations guy, emphasizing that his role was not just to get the system working, but to make sure it worked well and provided the peak performance it was capable of.

When he was done, I knew the problem was fixed, and not just because of the signal readings he showed me on his meter. His attention to detail and methodical checking of his own work as he went along just inspired confidence. He did the job that should have been done when the DSL service was first installed.

And W, which up to this time had so many black marks in my book that I would have thought it impossible to ever erase them, immediately became a company I might actually recommend to others. That is, if it had a few more “Jims” on board.

The message here? Customer service is not a phone tree, a complaint line, or a refund. It is also not perfection, because service failures happen in every business.

The best customer service is based on competence and people. And on executing very high quality recovery strategies. It's often said that a strong recovery after a service failure will earn you a more loyal customer than one who didn't have a problem in the first place, and that's what Jim just did for W.

The point? Every good onsite operator I know strives to provide excellent service the first time around. But if you want to earn the true loyalty of your customers, look hard at how you train your people in service recovery procedures for those times when the eventual and inevitable service failures occur.

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