Thursday, July 25, 2013

How To Be a Better Customer (And Get Better Service!)

Many lament the loss of good customer service. It does still exist. I have had many great (and a few not so great) customer service experiences. I do believe our experiences are often tempered by our own behavior and expectations. We live in a automated society full of immediate results where waiting .005 seconds for a web page to load feels like an agonizing length of time. Often our expectations are so unrealistic that no company can possibly leap over the bar we have set. The more specialized services you need, the more likely you are to experience a wait time longer than you like, regardless of industry. Have you ever had to make an appointment with a medical specialists? That can often take months! Our well pump went out a few years ago and we went 5 days without water. At all. We have seven animals and a family of five and the wait for the well guys seemed like forever. Was it an inconvenience? Definetly. The end of the world as I knew it? Nope. An emergency? Well, it might have been had my house been on fire! Frankly, there are few legitimate emergencies in the service industry. Most are truly just inconveniences, and some are larger than others!

I have spent my entire working careeer in customer service, and I may be opening a can of worms here, but here are my suggestions from my 30+ years of experience.

Leave a clear message. We experience a very high volume of phone calls in during our peak season, and often our customers will get the voice mail rather than a live person. Please leave a message and do your best to make it a clear message. You are well aware of your name and phone number, but the person listening to your call and jotting it down notes does not. If you have had 4 shots of espresso, you may need to take a breath and slow down a bit before you speak.
Also, do not assume your name and number are displayed on Caller ID. Saying "This is Bob and call me at this number" does not help if the number is not displayed, nor does it narrow down to which of the hundreds of men named Bob in the database need a call back. A message like that probably will not get a return call, and that is not the fault of the office staff. If you have called from a cell phone and don't get a call back from someone within 24 hours, call again. Notice I said 24 hours, not 2 or 4. Calling repeatedly clogs the system and frustrates you and the office staff - one message is adequate.  I don't know about other areas, but I get at least one call a week from a cell phone that is absolutely unitelligible, where the message is garbled or every few words come thru. Cell phones don't always show on Caller ID, so a message like this will not get returned because it is impossible to tell where it came from. If you are a person who only uses a cell phone to communicate, don't assume your service company is ignoring you, they may not be able to understand you and you might want to give them another chance. A good message to leave for your service company will include your first and last name, your address, phone number and a brief overview of your problem. Do this every time, even if you have done business with them for 20 years and you are sure they will know who it is when you say, "This is Joe and call me back when you get a minute".

Call during business hours. Many of you have jobs that don't allow calls during the normal course of the day, but calling outside of business hours gives your call more opportunities to get lost in the shuffle. Unless you are working with a company that has a 24 hour guaranteed answer line, don't expect an answer on the weekend, at 10 o'clock at night or at 5 in the morning. Everyone needs and deserves some down time. Don't leave a message at 7pm on Thursday night and another one at 7am Friday morning and be angry that you haven't gotten a call back in those 12 hours. Odds are, no one had even listened to your first message by the time you were leaving your second one.

Be honest about the service you need.  This is really important to any service industry. If you call for a dishwasher repair and then ask the technician to check your washer and dryer "while he is here", you have probably messed up his entire day. Likewise, if you call and say you have one broken head and I schedule 15 minutes for that quick repair and then you decide you want your entire 24 zone system checked for proper operation and adjustment, you have just put that technician behind at least an hour and a half for the rest of his day inconveniencing everyone else on the schedule. The information you provide the office staff is used to assess the time and materials your technician needs for your repair. If you completely change what you need after his arrival, it may cost you more in the long run if he has to go searching for parts. We don't charge our customers for parts runs, but I know many service companies do because time is money. If you happen to be one of those people who are having to shuffle your scheduled appointment because of surprise appointments ahead of you, please try to be understanding - we don't do it on purpose!

Let your technician do his job. Feel free to clarify what needs to be done at the beginning of your appointment and get an overview of what was accomplished when he is finished,  but resist the urge to have your technician explain every his move while he is working. If you are following your tech like a hungry puppy and badgering him with questions, you may be gleaning information, but your service call will take longer (and cost more) and your technician is distracted from what he should be focusing on -- your repair.

Plan ahead! This is a biggie. We see this a lot in the sprinkler industry. You plan every hinge and door knob in your new home but wait until the sod truck is in the driveway to begin to consider how you are going to keep it green. A good contractor can be booked out for weeks. You might not like the results with a guy that is available for a same day installation at the peak of the irrigation season. There is usually a very good reason why they aren't busy.
Make sure your sprinkler works before you put on your spring chemicals. If you wait until the end of your "must water in 48 hours" window to even call for assistance, your service company might not be able to help you. As a side note, most spring fertilizers will not burn your yard, they just don't activate until they are wet.
Please don't wait until the day before you go on vacation to call about that head you mowed off three weeks ago. Providing a window of a few hours to accomplish your repair isn't feasible and provides an added layer of stress for both you and your service contractor. They want to be able to help you, but if you pigeon hole too much on the time, sometimes it just can't get done. Your lack of planning should not become their emergency.

Be nice! This should be the easiest rule to follow, but it is so often forgotten. If you are having a bad day, please don't take it out on others (including those you love - life is too short!). We understand that sometimes life is hard, because, frankly, we have bad days too. I am sure you have heard the saying you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar -  it is so true. Almost every person I know in the service industry is more likely to go the extra mile for customers who treat them with kindness and respect than they are for people who are rude. It may make you feel better to be nasty, but it isn't going to get you good service. Not anywhere. If using foul language or intimidation is your go-to tactic for dealing with the people you have hired to provide services for you, I can almost guarantee you aren't getting the best service they can provide. We have a customer who bakes our techs homemade cookies whenever she has an appointment scheduled. If she and "Mr. Rude" have a stand-by call on the same day who do you think they will squeeze in first? Kindness always wins.

Every business and industry has it's own quirks and ways of doing things, but I think these suggestions will be helpful across many different areas of service. Hope this insight from my side of the phone helps you gain better service in your future!

Thanks for sticking with us! We appreciate you!

Keeping it green -

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