Three steps to correcting poor customer service

Every company, even those with a strong customer service avocation, has had a situation where a customer was unhappy or displeased with a situation. Can a company company correct this situation, after the fact? Emphatically, the answer is yes. Companies can always improve a bad customer service interaction.

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Here are three crucial  steps to resolving a customer service situation:

  1. Apologize to the customer and accept responsibility for the situation. Don’t try to shift blame or give excuses. That can serve to aggravate the situation.
  2. Work to resolve the situation, as soon as possible.
  3. Follow up with the customer to make sure the situation is resolved satisfactorily.

The sooner a company corrects a customer service complaint the sooner the negativity will be over. Some companies have mandates to resolve complaints within a set amount of time. This is good business. The longer a situation is unresolved, or unsatisfactorily resolved, the longer the customer has to become sour on the company and to spread the word about his/her unhappiness.

How do you correct customer service issues? How important is it for your company to resolve disputes quickly?


Customer service helps the bottom line

Customer service can really help any business with its bottom line. Customer service keeps customers happy or at least not unhappy. Resolving problems instead of ignoring them does pay.

On the blog Small Business CEO, Dov Gordon writes a post entitled “How Your Small Business Can Easily Stand Out.” What do you think a business needs to do to stand out? Customer service of course! According to Gordon:

To stand out, dedicate yourself to your customers. Care more about helping them than you do about making money. The company that cares more will understand more. And the company that understands the customer’s world will think up ideas that will impact their world. In other words, they will stand out.

Dedicating time to understanding customers, helping customers and dealing with any problems and complaints pays off, not only for small businesses but also for large enterprises. Delta Airlines recently announced that it will be investing $1 billion to improve customer service, remodel aircraft and improve fuel efficiency. Delta is the biggest airline in the world. Although we don’t know the breakdown of how the money will be spent, the fact that Delta acknowledges it needs to invest in customer service proves the importance of keeping customers satisfied.

It is a simple fact that if a customer is happy/satisfied, he or she will stay with your business and if he/she is not happy he/she will seek the same service/product elsewhere.  Therefore, to retain customers you must make sure they are happy.

You can stand out in a recession

We have discussed this before, but now we have a study out of Arizona State University to back it up:  customer service is the key to making it in the recession.

The study, Research Priorities for the Science of Service, from the Center for Services Leadership at the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University (ASU), will appear in the Journal of Service Research. A press release on the ASU website describes the content:

Among the premises of the report is that “all businesses are service businesses” and that services dominate the economies of advanced countries. As a result, governments, academic institutions and businesses are calling for an increased focus on the science of service to direct and support emerging business models.

The press release also quotes one of the study’s contributors, Joe Shaheen, director for the Defense and Government Services division at Boeing:

The combination of the strained market and economic conditions has provided companies with the unique opportunity to engage and adjust, leveraging their current capabilities and focusing on the design of customer-centric service solutions for existing and new customers.

The bottom line seems to be that when the economy is not doing well, customers are looking for better service. Service adds to the value of what is being offered.

The White House and Customer Service

Surely the first thing you think about when you think about the White House is NOT  customer service. You may think about its historical significance, its political power or about the current residents of the house.  However,  the White House IS thinking about customer service, specifically, improving their customer service.

First, it begs the question, who is a customer of the White  House? The vendors that provide support? Or the American people as a whole?

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It turns out the White House is talking about making the U.S. government more customer friendly.  In order to do this, the government folks interviewed the airline folks, twelve in all, including Southwest Airlines. Are the airlines good at customer service? They certainly deal with many millions of passengers yearly.

The Dallas Morning News provides a recap, saying that Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly gave the following advice:

…find ways to constantly get tips from customers and employees, and avoid single-shot surveys that allow companies to “check the box.”

Some of the best ways to communicate with customers don’t cost much, he said, citing comments on the airline’s blog as valuable feedback that many companies might pay a research firm to generate.

What would you counsel the White House to do to improve its customer service to the American people?

Customers do notice and reward service

American Express and the National Retail Federation (NRF) conduct a Customers’ Choice survey to determine the top ten retailers for service.  The survey’s purpose is to recognize excellent customer service and to promote best customer service practices for retail operations.

The ten finalists were:

  • Coldwater Creek
  • HSN
  • JC Penney
  • Kohl’s
  • Land’s End
  • LL Bean
  • Nordstrom
  • QVC
  • Zappos

The number one retailer was determined to be LL Bean,  an award the company has received for the past three years.  Among the many customer service qualities that LL Bean has is its commitment to make it 100% right. You can return any merchandise that you are not 100% satisfied with.

Awards like this one are helpful because they shine the spotlight on the need for best practices in customer service and they highlight the companies that are doing it right.

Do you agree with this survey? Have you had good experiences with these retailers?

Good people wanted

According to an article on, customer service representatives are in high demand and the demand  is expected to grow. The article cites the following statistics:

The number of reps will rise by nearly 400,000 jobs through 2018. Today, there are about 1.9 million people employed in this field.

Not everyone is suited to be a customer service representative.  We think good candidates for this job have the following attributes:

  • Desire to help resolve problems
  • Like to interact with people
  • Patient
  • Not easily riled
  • Innovative
  • Enterprising

What characteristics would you add?

How important is it to set up a customer service department?

Imagine that you are a new company. You are selling an electric gadget. You’ve already set up a pricing scheme and distribution network. You have marketing in place and a couple of reviewers really liked your product.  Should you set up a customer service department?

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The answer is yes, you should. What will inevitably happen is that someone will not be happy with your product. Or a product will be defective. If you do not have a way to address these issues, potential customers will be turned off.  One unhappy customer can lead to an unhappy review, which then can generate negative word of mouth. Companies need to be able to address  and try to correct any issues.

This situation is being played out right now. As you may have heard, Google just released a new smart phone, the Nexus One. However, Google is not a company that has ever put out a physical product before. Up to now, their product has been online advertising, and other Internet  offerings.

As the Times of the Internet reports in the article Google  Nexus One Reviews Coming In-Does Google Have Customer Service:

Google Inc has made it’s money through automation, not through providing hands-on customer service.

That’s one big weakness that Google will have to address if they plan on dominating a technological product like a SmartPhone.

Clearly, with a physical (and complicated) product, Google will have to deal with customers who have questions or complaints. Will email be enough?