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Ernestine Ernestine the Switchboard Operator from Saturday Night Live

I don’t know how many of you remember or have seen the reruns of Ernestine, the silly Switchboard Operator who couldn’t get anything straight… but we liked her!

Customer service alive or dead has prompted many of you to respond. A good friend of mine and prominent Canadian businessperson sent me this felonious report. Apparently my friend has been doing business with this well known Canadian manufacturer of flooring products for 30 plus years.

While in the process of producing advertising material for her company, my friend said she needed some explanation on a product from one of the companies included in the material. She made her call, introduced herself to the switchboard operator, explained the purpose for the inquiry and asked the switchboard operator to confirm the company’s address and 800 number before the brochure went to print. Keep in mind, my friend is no stranger to the company and she isn’t from one of those states that is notoriously rude… in case that’s what you’re thinking.

Anyway, even though the switchboard operator knows my friend, duh (my friend’s words) she quickly asked "did someone from our company tell you to call here?"  My friend replied no, to which the switchboard operator replied "then I can’t give you the information." Another duh!

According to my steaming friend, she (nicely) re-iterated her need and was told there was no way that she could get it. But in all her helpfulness, the woman replied she could go to the Web site. Meanwhile I can hardly see the keyboard through my tears of laughter as I type away. My friend interpreted this as a “get lost” and she found herself saying that she felt the woman was being rude. The woman, obviously not to be outdone, replied that she felt that my friend was also being rude.

(Rirst rule of business, never miss an opportunity to upstage a customer.)

My friend goes on to explain that she was flabbergasted and asked to speak to the woman’s boss, whom she has had a great relationship with for many years. The boss came on the line and he said that she (my friend) wouldn’t believe the calls that they get, one time someone ask for their address, shipped them a product and then asked for payment!

To which my friend replied, so what and who cares? I am trying to advertise your company and your products to all architects across the country at my expense and this is your response? Triple Duh!

All is well that ends well; the boss gave her the information she needed, apologized, and said he would speak to the switchboard operator… while my friend reshuffled his competitor to the top!


Some tips:

  • Know your customers; somebody should know the 30 year-old customer. If not get someone who does before you turn down their request.
  • Treat all your customers special; sure some are crack pots but if I want to do business with you “I’m special.”
  • Give people leeway in their decision making; the key is to get customers to stay – not go!
  • Send an apology note for the mix up; a bag of goodies, blog it. Go way beyond what’s expected and turn the unhappy customer into a raving fan as they say.
  • Be easy on employees; obviously this one had been instructed to do it a certain way; she was only doing her job. Maybe the job needed to be updated, maybe she needs to get to know the customers better.
  • Everyone has to care; there are only so many customers out there and more of you trying to get those customers. With less customers and more time on my hands, I can spend more time trying to steal your customers—if I’m smart!

Have a great day!

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