After spending my career in advertising agency account management for the past 18+ years, I’ve become obsessed with customer service levels. I don’t care if I’m in the dry cleaner or working with a vendor, I simply expect good customer service. And if the service isn’t up to par, I won’t go back.
Let me start off by defining customer service. According to Websters:
Customer – n. person who buys, especially one who buys regularly; and Service –
1. the occupation of a servant
2. public employment
3. work done for others
4. friendly help
5. benefit; advantage
6. the act or manner of serving food
For purposes of this blog, let’s focus on numbers 3 through 5 above. To me, good customer service is going out of your way to please the customer and to do it with a friendly, helpful attitude. It’s not all that difficult, really. It just requires a little thought and following the golden rule – do unto others as you want done to you.
A few weeks ago, I was booking a hotel room in New York city. After researching rates and locations online, I found an excellent weekend rate at Le Parker Meridien. When I hit “reserve” on their Web site, I received an error message that the reservation system was down and that I should call their 800#, which I promptly did. That’s where things went down hill…
I explained the error message to the “customer service” rep on the phone, to which he said, “I’m sorry but we can’t offer you that rate over the phone.” Huh? Why the heck not? “The rates we offer online are special discounts because you don’t have to speak to a ‘live person.’
Ok, I get this. It’s how the world works – when companies have more expenses, they charge more. But the rate should have been extended to me if the site was down, which I politely explained. Response, “there’s nothing we can do, the phone rate is $60 more a night.” Realizing it was an exercise in futility, I didn’t bother to explain back to him that his company just wasted more money by allowing him to argue with me and wasting his time when he could have just given me the rate and booked the room. I promptly hung up.
For the record – I’m convinced this was some kind of scam anyway to upcharge customers because, two weeks later, the reservation system is still “being updated.” What a crappy way to do business. I’ll never forget it, nor will I ever stay in Le Parker Meridien or refer my friends there.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, I found a hotel reservation service called newyorkcity luxury hotels by Magellan Vacations. Their site clearly states that you have to call to get rates. I explained to the representative what part of the city I wanted to stay in and she had numerous recommendations in my price range and I could even view a map of the hotel locations while we were speaking. After booking, I received a personalized email with a direct contact number to the rep I worked with over the phone. The whole experience was excellent and I highly recommend this service.
And things continued to get better. The hotel I booked was called 6 Columbus. It is a new, ultra modern hotel. From the minute the bell hop opened the door for me to the minute I checked out of the hotel, it was an excellent experience. Every single employee I came in contact with, down to the cleaning staff, was polite and friendly, and genuinely concerned that I was enjoying my stay. Yes, I said the cleaning staff. People introduced themselves and asked my name. Simple ways to create a positive atmosphere and to leave me with a good impression of their business. Will I go back? You bet. (and the hotel itself was just as fab – and I got upgraded to a suite, a rarity in NYC)
When I speak with college students, as I did last week at Wharton, I always tell them first impressions are lasting. My hotel experience proved that…by hiring friendly employees and teaching them the value of customer service, businesses are sure to make a good lasting impression on their customers. And in this economy, that just may make the difference in someone’s purchasing decision.