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Summer 2010
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The Golden Rule

Your worst customer service experience could be a lesson to learn from.

by Keith Giles

We knew we were in trouble when we arrived at the airport at 4:15 a.m. and discovered that our 7 a.m. flight had been canceled. The airline never called to inform us of the cancellation.

After waiting in line for several hours, going through security twice, and enduring two more canceled flights, we eventually found ourselves back at the ticket counter in an attempt to escape the airport and begin our family vacation. That's when it happened.

The airline representative looked us over and said, "OK, I'm only going to say this one time, so I need you to pay attention. All our flights were grounded in Denver. The best we can do is book you on a flight leaving at 7 p.m. Friday." This was on a Wednesday.

Strategies for Great Customer Service

Feel free to add a few strategies of your own to this list. And remember, customer service is all about the Golden Rule.

  • Call every customer by name.
  • Return every phone call and e-mail the same day.
  • Listen to your customer more than you speak.
  • Empower your employees to resolve customer complaints.
  • Train everyone in your company to provide great service.
  • Take time to listen to every complaint and take it seriously.
  • Verify what the core issue really is before you attempt to resolve the complaint.
  • An issue isn't resolved until the customer tells you it's resolved.

When my wife started to cry as she realized that she would miss seeing her twin brother and his family in Tennessee as we had planned, the ticket agent said, "Listen up. You can't control this situation, but you can control your attitude. The guy in front of you who just left had a bad attitude, too, and I took care of him real quick."

I stood there with my arm around my wife and blinked in disbelief. A little voice in my head inquired, "Did he really just say that to us?"

Over the next 24 hours my family would go on to experience some of the most pathetic treatment by a single airline in three different states -- all under the banner of "customer service."

I'm sure many of you reading this story can relate. We all know what it feels like to receive bad customer service, and we've most likely taken some small comfort by sharing our negative experience with our friends and family members.

Think of your worst customer-service experience. Think of how many times you've told and retold the horrific story. Try to count just how many people you've talked to about that bad service experience.

The truth is, most people will tell up to 20 people about their negative experience. And, unfortunately, most of them will never issue any formal complaint directly to the company. Instead, they will look for an opportunity to vent their frustration to anyone who will listen -- for the rest of their lives.

These days, the big buzz in the world of marketing is all about social media. It seems all we can talk about lately is how these online tools can help us attract and retain customers. But I can't help but wonder if we've forgotten how important it is to provide great service as a way of keeping the customers we already have. Like social media, this practice costs relatively little to implement, and the positive impact on our businesses is immense.

In nearly every industry there is a company that sets the gold standard for great customer service -- Nordstrom, Hilton, Since great customer service is free, there's no reason your company can't set the standard for great service in the technology solution provider market.

If you want to set yourself apart from the competition and create loyal, lifetime customers, then training and empowering your staff to provide excellent customer service is a cost-effective place to start.


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