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Icedcoffee Forget customer service, in most of my encounters it doesn’t exist. A survey of the airlines over 2007 – 2009 by BusinessWeek rated Southwest Airlines the Best Customer Service Champs. Was it 100%? No, not even close, but they still came out on top. And that leads me to wondering, is there such a thing as 100% customer service? What about 110%? Should a business strive for 100%? I thought we were supposed to strive better than 100% — to over promise and over deliver.

It was also announced recently that the Chicago transit is doing customer service training with the drivers: they’re going to teach them how to smile! I guess you have to start somewhere. If I was in charge of the Chicago transit I don’t know if I would bother to do any training. I mean, what’s the customer’s choice, to stay home? That’s probably what they’re wondering as well.

Paying customers are in short supply. It’s partly the economy, partly the abundance of merchandise, and partly the fact that we are tired of being tied to our credit cards. It would seem like a good idea to keep the customers that you have—happy!

Customer service is pretty limited, which is why I wrote the book, Red Hot Customer Service, 38 Sizzling Ways to Heat Up Your Business and Ignite Your Sales. Sales, as we once knew it, doesn’t exist anymore. We don’t sell anyone anything. In fact, the word “sell” implies convincing, making someone do something they don’t want to do. Sales is an outdated word from the dark ages, but it certainly is not an outdated profession, it’s simply been morphed into what we now call “customer service.”

Customers are too smart to really be sold anything. Do you go into a store to be sold anything? I doubt it, by the time you’ve gotten to the store you probably have already decided what you want — having tracked it down online. Or you wander into a store, see something you like and buy it. Maybe you have a conversation with a clerk or sales associate, or the concierge. (All clever disguises for the name “salesman”.) Maybe you want to ask a question or just seek some knowledge, “Where do you keep the tuna fish sandwiches?”

What we think of as sales is what I call customer service. The process is simple: define the problem or predicament or desire with the customer and then help them make a decision. That’s just good   business practice. The customer comes in for something, you have the something, or you have the solution. Hoping that your something is better, prettier, or smarter than the next guy’s.

That’s customer service.

So, the ice story. A perfect case of someone not delivering customer service but trying to sell the customer. Albany International Airport has about 4 or 5 places to buy coffee. One is Starbucks; the other is Mickey D’s, and then there are the no names. I love iced coffee. It’s what I drink instead of soda or pop. And what’s strange about that?

For the last three months I have been looking for iced coffee in the Albany Airport. No one except Mickey D’s has ice. But they’re at the other end of the airport and I usually go the other way.

So I keep asking for ice coffee at the normal no-name place I go to and they keep making excuses or rolling their eyes. Today Ms. Salesperson points me to the cooler and says everything in there is cold. Now that’s selling—and it doesn’t work. She dismissed my cries for help and tried to sell me a cold drink instead of what I wanted. There was no listening and no paying attention. So I explain it’s been 4 months and there’s still no ice at the coffee stands in terminal C. I ask her if she has ever heard of an airport without ice; to which she replies, “I’ve never been in any other airport!”

She tells me that McDonald’s has ice. Which is great, but she’s now sending a customer off to a competitor. If it were my coffee stand, I would have said “Watch my money and I will run down and get some ice.” Maybe I’m kidding and maybe not but the customer would if nothing else have been impressed with my commitment to her.

So I head on down about 4 blocks to McDonald’s and order a Big Mac — hold the meat and cheese — and an ice coffee, one pump of the flavored vanilla, 1% milk and the rest iced coffee, no sugar. I ask the cashier if she knows that no one other than Mickey D’s has ice.  To which she replies, how can you make your cold drinks really cold without ice?

My sentiments exactly.

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