Providing Quality Service
By Peter L DeHaan
up, I heard a radio commercial with the tag line, “Service sold
it.” Even as a young child I was able to grasp
the concept that providing quality service was a great way to close
more sales and gain new business.
the years, I have heard this mantra repeated, again and again, either
verbatim or conceptually, by various local, national, and
international companies – answering services included. Yet
I now give this grandiose platitude only passing consideration.
This phrase has a hollow ring; it seems a disingenuous
assurance, holding an empty promise. What was once
good business turned into good ad copy and now gets lost in the
clutter of promotions that we no longer believe. In
fact, the louder this claim is trumpeted, the less credence I give it
and the more I assume that their quality is lousy, that their ad
campaign’s only goal is to convince us of the contrary. To
paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, “He who can, does. He
who cannot, talks about it.” It seems that no one
provides quality service any more.
I placed a series of calls to my computer vendor. They
offer a quality package at a good price, provide fast shipment, and
facilitate ordering. Yet the quality of their
service is rotten. Two prior interactions with
their “customer service” staff resulted in one failure and one
partial success. My latest episode, requiring a
dozen or so phone calls over the span of weeks, ultimately resulted in
a satisfactory outcome. But it required great
patience and persistence, long hold times, being transferred to the
wrong departments and back again, and talking with “English”
speaking reps who could not effectively communicate in a language I
comprehended. One humorous example was a
representative who said, “Excuse please the silence while I hold
you.” To accomplish my objective, I had to
escalate my call, invoke their “100% Satisfaction Guarantee,” and
insist that they accept the return of my entire order – not just the
computer in question. As you might suspect, I deem
it a waste of money to buy their extended customer support plan.
I attempted to resolve an ongoing problem with my caller ID.
The feature that sold me on the product was the promise that,
working in conjunction with call waiting, it would display the number
of a second caller while I continued talking to the first.
Unfortunately, it never worked. I called
repair and reported the problem. I was given the
time and date by which it would be repaired. It was
not. I reported it again. No
change. I pulled out the multi-page manual and
found a small-print footnote, which said that the feature I desired
needed to be installed separately. Thinking I was
on to something, I called and ordered it. Again,
the promised due date came and went. I called
again, only to be informed that the desired feature was not available
in my area. Four “service” people decided to
take the easy way out, pushing me through their system or hoping I
would give up, rather than simply check to see if the feature was
to cable TV. With the escalating costs of cable, it
eventually became less costly to switch to satellite. Now
I can get 100 channels and still not have anything to watch!
The installation and support of the satellite system was
excellent (more on that later), but the simple act of canceling my
cable service took months. With each passing month
a new bill would arrive, announcing an escalating monthly balance.
A call would be placed to the cable company; an assurance would
be given that our service was indeed cancelled and that they had no
idea why we kept being billed. This went on for
over six months. I seriously doubt that any company
can be that incompetent, so my cynical nature speculates that they
were intentionally doing this to pad their receivables.
I installed DSL Internet
service, the big challenge came in disconnecting my unneeded dialup
Internet line. Because of a previous service
debacle, my Internet line had became the billed number and my listed
number became secondary. The representative,
fortunately one knowledgeable and thorough, apologized that the only
solution was to cancel the entire bill and the reinstall my main line.
This would only be a billing function and my phone service
would not be interrupted. However, there would be
side effects. First, I would need to call their DSL division to make sure my DSL wasn’t
cancelled and to update my billing arrangement. (Apparently,
this was common, because the DSL representative
immediately understood the problem and knew just what to do.)
Then I would need to call my long distance carrier to make sure
that when my service was “reinstalled” I would be put on my same
rate plan and not their higher default plan. A
third call needed to be made for my white page listing. Surprisingly,
each call had its desired effect. But imagine the
turmoil that would have ensued had the first representative not fully
informed me of all the ramifications and exactly what needed to be
done. Exceptional customer service, however, would
never have put me in the position to make those calls in the first
place and even good customer service would have done so for me.
Quality service didn’t sell it, being the only game in town
all know someone who left one company because of poor quality and then
subsequently left their competitor for the same reason. Eventually,
all available alternatives had been tried and subsequently rejected.
They were then faced with the necessity of returning to a
previously unsatisfactory company. Their new goal
was simply to pick the provider that was the least bad.
anyone provide quality service anymore? Fortunately,
yes. In previous columns, I mentioned my mechanic
and optometrist, both stellar success stories. In
concert with this, it is noteworthy to mention that the authorized
agent for my satellite television is a local company. Is
being local then, the key for my satisfaction? Not
entirely. My local credit union, bank, and doctor
have all caused me repeated consternation. Besides,
there are also good service examples that are not local. To
produce this magazine, the sales, graphic design, and proof editing
are all handled by extremely competent individuals who are not local,
yet provide an exceptional level of service and quality work.
The common thread here is that they are all small
organizations. So then, is company size the key?
No, there are many other small organizations that have
demonstrated the ability to disappoint.
being local and being small are two elements that decidedly allow the
potential for providing quality service, they are not requirements;
the real key is the personal touch. With each
unfavorable example I gave, I dealt with a department, not an
individual – not really. The representative had
no accountability to me and no stake in the outcome. With
subsequent calls, I would talk to a different person. To
them I was not a customer; I had no real value. I
was just another phone call – a problem – one to get rid of in the
shortest time possible, so they could go on to the next call, and
eventually punch out for the day.
with each positive example I cited, it was a specific person who made
the difference. This was someone who genuinely
cared and had a real interest in the outcome, someone who was willing
to make me his or her priority and do what was required.
telephone answering service I know claims to offer quality service,
but is this a reality or a hoped for fantasy? Is
a one-on-one personal relationship provided to clients? Whether
you are on the receiving end or the provider, can you honestly say,
believe, and prove that your telephone answering service provides
quality service? If not, what changes need to be
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