Customer Service, or Good Will Hunting

Margaret Atkins MunroLet's Talk About MoneyLeave a Comment

Ask any moderately successful businessperson the secret of their success and the answer will inevitably include the quality of their customer service. Whether in a restaurant or store, with a doctor, lawyer or accountant, or even at the local gas station, a patron will only consider returning if prior experiences are pleasant. The good will that is created is a vital ingredient in any successful business, as returning customers are essential to the survival of any enterprise.

Customer service incorporates all contacts, large and small, between the provider and the consumer; as with any human interaction, the tenor of those experiences will define the quality of that transaction. The purchaser has the right to expect that the goods are as advertised, or that job will be done correctly and for the agreed-upon price. But good customer service also demands intangibles like speed with which the job is performed, amiability of the person performing the job, and satisfaction with the final product.

These ordinary and necessary encounters rely on the good will of both parties. I want to know that a businessperson values my custom, and desires my repeat business; in exchange, by paying timely, I show that I appreciate the job done. And when service is above and beyond, the customer should acknowledge that; nothing is more likely to generate continued excellence than letting the merchant know when they’ve done an exceptional job.

Some of my recent experiences perfectly illustrate both the good, and the bad, of this critical business component. While I almost never watch broadcast television, preferring to wait for the DVD release, I wanted to see a popular HBO series as it was aired. One call to our satellite company later, my husband had renegotiated our monthly cost below the level of our old bill, with not one, but two premium stations now added into the mix.

One phone call between my husband and an outstanding customer service rep saved me hundreds of dollars, and kept me a loyal and happy patron, unlikely to even consider changing our satellite provider. Other companies—credit card, fuel oil, mortgage, and so on—will also negotiate with you in order to retain your business. Whether it’s a small local concern like your oil company, local bank, or repair person, or a large conglomerate like a credit card company, all businesses find servicing existing clients to be more profitable than chasing and enticing new customers. All it takes is a phone call; you might be pleasantly surprised by the results.

Unfortunately, I’ve also had my share of negative experiences; my phone companies, for example, who leave me hanging for days, weeks, and sometimes months, clearly could care less about my home or business accounts. Of course, not all large, impersonal corporations are like my phone companies, so I am greeted at the door at Lowes, I feel like I’m speaking with my best friend with L.L. Bean customer service, and MVP Health Insurance’s assistance during my husband’s back surgery was prompt, responsive, and helpful. On the other hand, my business does not appear important to some local concerns, which surprises me; these are, after all, my neighbors. But the local vacuum cleaner store scoffed at the very idea of returning a wrong-sized belt, and the local nursery was unwilling to answer questions on merchandise or honor their guarantees on plants that turned brown and gristly a week after they were purchased. These merchants may have avoided a small inconvenience, but they have gained locally bad PR while losing at least one customer.

And then there is the sad tale of the exterminator, and what happens when one action is promised, and another delivered. One year after I employed a well-known national extermination service to keep the mice population in my house down to a dull roar, my regular exterminator was replaced by someone physically compromised and unable to do the job. After several phone calls to the national headquarters to request a different service person, I was assured that this would happen. It did not. As I watched the same individual wheeze up the hill to my house, I realized that the national office had clearly neither heard nor heeded my concerns. Now I have no extermination service; instead, I have a cat.

As a businessperson, my job is to build good will and keep my clients content. I know that my success relies on repeat customers and positive word-of-mouth—verbal, written and electronic. If I have provided unsatisfactory service, my clients are free to go elsewhere, and are equally free to leave negative feedback regarding my business on a site such as Angie’s List, by remarks on Facebook or Twitter, or by just picking up a phone. There is natural and acceptable attrition, and clients do leave, but I try to make certain that the leave taking only happens due to events like change of circumstance or change of location.

Remember, no enterprise survives without substantial good will, especially in these challenging times—losing a client due to poor customer service is careless, and just plain old bad business.