On this day, I had what I thought was a simple request. I wanted to laminate a photograph, a process which the office had done for me many times before. I found one customer rep busy helping a customer. The other was on the computer and making a concerted effort to avoid eye contact. When I finally got her attention, I got the feeling I had interrupted something important. She told me laconically how to use the laminating machine. In the past, other reps had assisted me in operating the device. Thanks to Ms. No Help and my own inability to make inanimate objects do my biding, my photograph was ruined. Her response? "You don't have to pay for it," and returned to her computer.
This was no ordinary photograph. It is a reference I am using for a painting that will hang at the state capitol. My tears fell on her deaf ears. That is when I corralled the manager, who tried to help me salvage the photo, but to no avail. Damage done.
His apologetic comments afterward were a self-fulfilling prophecy because here I am sharing this episode with you and not the prior good ones. I do so to remind us all that while we all say the right things about serving our customers, perhaps we sometimes forget just how delicate a process that can be. It only takes one rotten apple experience to spoil a barrel full of good ones.
Businesses are under immense pressure to get costs off the bottom line. Maybe this company has decided that taking time to impress on employees the importance of giving consistently good customer service is too expensive. Maybe they want to drive customers like me to the Internet. (Incidentally, this company has a very good website in which they tout their ability to handle "personal projects." Needless to say, that boast has lost a bit of its luster.) Maybe this employee was having a bad day. All I know is that I got unexpectedly poor service on a project of immense importance to me.
I come from another era is which I was taught, "If it doesn't please the customer, it doesn't count." The unevenness I see in customer service these days say that line needs to be tattooed on the forehead of every customer representative and every supervisor. What do we do in our companies that is more important that serving - and pleasing - our customers? Why else are we in business?
You might want to share with your associates this story about how one bad contact undid all the good ones that had preceded it and how a business lost a customer as a result. Remind them that pleasing the customer isn't a sometimes thing. It is the only thing.
Dick Yarbrough is retired vice president of BellSouth Corporation and was managing director - media and government relations for the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta. He was named one of the "100 Most Influential Public Relations Practitioners of the 20th Century" by PR WEEK Magazine.