Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Lessons in customer service

If I ever find I haven't enough to do as a priest, maybe one of the things I'll do is become a corporate consultant in customer service. I realize many companies do pay attention to this. And--when you figure out that a company is paying attention to this, that's a company to watch; perhaps to invest in. Certainly to do business with. An example follows below.

But first, some examples of "needs improvement":

> From a visit to a bank office downtown, yesterday. I was there to pay my credit card bill, as I'd waited to long to mail it. So I gave the teller the bill and my check. He mashes some buttons on his computer, clickety-clack, click-click-click; he marks this and marks that; then, "uh oh."

"Uh oh?" I knew there was plenty of money in my account; what's wrong. I wait. Slower, less certain clicks; more paper shuffling.

Meanwhile I've got errands to run; so I ask, "What's the problem?"

No answer right away but more computer-staring and paper-fiddling.

"Is there some problem?"

He stammers a little, then holds up the bill I gave him, plus another piece of paper, and says something about how he was supposed to do something with this one, but he did it with this one.

"So, I'm paid up?"

"Oh; yeah, you can go."

Not a big deal (that's why I didn't mention the company), but--why make the customer stand there, when you don't need him to solve the problem?

> Next stop -- well, after I voted in the city primary election -- I visited the Marathon station at Victory Parkway and McMillan Street. A fill up was badly needed. I used my credit card outside, normal, normal.

Only I heard the sound I dreaded from the pump: as it passed the $49 mark, the pump slows down, down, down...and stops at $50. Dude! I just paid my credit card! Why do you stop at $50?

But I know why; because gas stations in the inner city do this now, I assume because of fraudulent card use. But when gas is north of $3.50 a gallon, that's about 13 gallons; I want to fill the tank!

The last time I just left with my tank 3/4ths full. But I thought I'd try something. I put everything back and started a new transaction. Maybe that would work?

Nope. "See the attendant." Crud; now I'd better, because for all I know, the attendant put some black mark on my credit card. So I go in. And I have fun trying to explain to the attendant the problem. I suggested maybe changing the limit outside to more than $50, since that doesn't buy much gas these days. Pleasant smiles; no sign of comprehension. (FYI, this wasn't a language problem.)

"Well, just swipe the card"--meaning here at the counter.

I said, "yes, but I want to know what the problem was out there." I wanted to see if my suspicion was correct that the machine thought I was up to something when I tried to have two transactions in a row--but maybe not."

"Sometimes it just doesn't work." OK, I accept that. So I swipe it. It doesn't work.

"How much do you need?" For the second time, I explain I'm filling up, and I need maybe 3 and a half gallons. So how can I say how much that'll cost. Frustrating: am I the only person these folks have met who is filling the tank? "I just want to fill it up--why is that so hard?"

"Well, give us the card." No, I said; that means a return trip to the counter, and--given this experience--who knows what other miscues. "Never mind; I'll buy my gas elsewhere."

So, if you're paying attention, Marathon--and Shell does the same down on Liberty--maybe do something about this policy. Because my solution is to stop buying gas at these locations.

> Learning how to give change. I could do a clinic on this one. Somewhere in the world, some dim-bulb has been teaching people, when they make change, to put the bills in the customer's hand first, and then put the change on top.

This makes no sense.

If you, the customer, holding your money in your hand this way, don't make the exact right move, what happens? That's right: whatever change was placed on top of a stack of bills will slide out of your hands. If you're in the drive-through lane, that means onto the ground outside your car. A nice donation for the restaurant, or whoever happens along.

Apparently this is a lost art, like tying a bow-tie; but I'll now explain the proper way to give change. This'll blow your mind. Ready?

Put the coins in the customer's hand first, then the bills (and receipt).

But good news: here's how we customers can solve this problem while we wait for the people who train clerks to straighten this out:

When you reach for your change, first have your palm down--and take the bills between your fingers. The clerk will, perhaps, be confused, but (from my experience) does not attempt to deposit coins on the back of your hand. Then, after taking the bills, turn hand up for coins.

Maybe that seems a small thing; maybe I'm really irked the Reds' offense hasn't shown up the last two games against the Cubs! But in any case, let's end on a high note...

> Don't lie to your customers!

The other day I called a restaurant for a reservation. The person on the phone asked for my email. I hesitated, saying, "oh, you're going to use that for marketing, aren't you? I'd rather not."

Oh no, she chirped; we won't do that. So, I gave her my email.

Well, the dinner was very good, good service; a little pricey, but I expected that.

Then guess what I found in my email box two days after my visit? You got it: a marketing email.

So--I called the restaurant and asked for the manager, and I explained my call.

*Here begins the main lesson in customer service*

"I apologize, Sir, that shouldn't have happened." He explained how it happened in a clear way. No fuzzing up the facts.

Then he explained how to make the unwanted emails go away. It was an easy fix. Good!

Then he asked for my address: "I'd like to send you something to make up for this."

A few days later, I got a straightforward letter of apology; and a $25 gift card from Maggiano's.

So I hope you see I'm mentioning the name, not to knock the place, but to give a thumbs up.

Time for lunch!


phil dunton said...

This would be humorous if it wasn't so true. It is part of the dumbing down of America and it goes on everywhere. Calling customer service on the phone is even more painful. Proving you aren't a robot on your blog is the most painful of all!

Will said...

Ditto what Phil said about proving that one is not a bot to the blogger software.

The gas pump problem is probably down to the card processor, rather than the filling station. The card company is the one that loses money when a stolen card is used, and many crooks (apparently) make a beeline to the gas station to try out a newly acquired card. Therefore the limits, which are at least plainly displayed on the pumps where I get gas, and preemptive blocks/verification calls by the card company.

Joe K said...

Father, thanks for the tip about how tp properly receive change with palm down at first. I'll try it.

Fr Martin Fox said...

Phil & Will:

I'm sorry you have troubles making comments here, but I wouldn't call that a failure in customer service. Are you my customers?

That said, I'm certainly open to suggestion on ameliorating the problem. I'm sure you understand why the verification is there? So, what can I do to help?

Fr Martin Fox said...


Thanks for your point about the credit cards--you're right, of course, that's probably from the credit cards.

But the problem I'm highlighting remains, even despite the notice on the pumps. If I go to certain gas stations in town, I can't easily fill my tank.

Given the current situation, my remedy is to avoid those stations.

Part of my point is to wonder, aloud, if that's really what the gas-station owners want?

Who knows, maybe--if a careful analysis were applied--they'd still end up with what they have now.

But I'm a little skeptical about that; it seems to me, a bit more thought might yield a solution that doesn't deter valuable customers (i.e., my credit card isn't fraudulent; you'd think they'd want more customers like me).

Will said...

Father, my initial comment (and, I suspect so was Phil's) was in jest. I know you don't have a great deal of control over Google's captcha system. But captchas are frustrating, and I dislike helping Google to catalog people's house numbers.

Your greater point about the inconvenience of the gas pump limit is well taken. The scourge of credit card fraud adds a great deal of hassle to the lives of people who are innocent and are just trying to get on with life. Trying to balance convenience, security, and costs is not easy, I'm sure.