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Letter From America: Customer Service

When there's cause to complain about poor service Ronnie Bray recommends the further up the executive tree you go, the better you will be treated.

For more of Ronnie's invigorating words please click on Letter From America in the menu on this page.

On the radio this morning I heard a man tell how his father had complained to the company that made his aerosol shaving foam that he had only manage to get seventy shaves from the can instead of the more than ninety that they advertised. In response, the company sent him a whole case of shaving foam. It was when the foam arrived at his home that his wife confessed that she also used his can of foam to shave her legs.

He told the story to illustrate the point that customer service has been replaced with an apology, as if saying "Sorry" when customers complain about their products somehow absolves them from having to do any more to put matters right.

My experience with customer service has been limited in the complaints department to the renting of a television set from Telemex when I lived with my infant Matthew at 15 Church Street, Longwood in Huddersfield. I rented a set and paid fortnightly, which meant that I was always one week in arrears and one week in advance. I paid that way because I was paid that way, and such was the relationship between my income and expenditure that I could not make up the week of arrears.

The company was not satisfied that my arrears week was balanced by my advance week, and kept sending nasty letters to me insisting that I pay up or lose the benefit of the rental set. I grew tired of explaining my situation to them, pointing out that I was regular in payment, had never missed a payment, and if they would flag my account as to the manner of my paying the matter would resolve itself.

They could not grasp this concept. I was more than a little surprised to discover one evening when I returned home from work that the set had gone, and had been replaced with a hand-written note on a piece of fish and chip paper saying that it had been "recovered." I immediately called the company’s Huddersfield branch, located in Victoria Lane. I demanded the name and telephone number of the company’s managing director.

They tried to fob me off with all manner of excuses, such as, "He lives in Blackpool," and "We don’t give out that information," and it was only when I threatened to involve the police in what had been an unlawful entry into my home, presumably with a set of housebreaking keys, that they folded and gave me the name and office telephone number of their MD.

I didn’t get to speak to the Great Man himself, but to his PA. She had a listening ear, a pleasant manner, and was clearly concerned by the recounting of my experience, and promised to contact the Huddersfield branch and get the matter put right.

She was as good as her word. Two days later, when I returned home in the evening, there on the TV table was a TV set. It was a bigger and later model than the archaic set they had removed. They got in my home it in the same manner that they entered to steal the old one, but this time no incriminating note was left behind.

Not only that, but I received no further dunning letters from them demanding that I regulate my account. That confirmed what I long suspected: that the further up, the executive tree you go, the better you will be treated.

Apart from that instance I have not complained about a company’s products or services other than a few banks, where I have indicated that I was unhappy with the way they were treating my account, and in each case the banks have put into effect the changes I required to be satisfied. In one case, The Sun Bank in Tennessee, they refunded all the outlandish charges they had made for cashing a cheque made out in British Pounds and closed the account.

Otherwise, my intercourse with customer service has been restricted to paeans of praise for products that have surprised me with their outstanding quality. In each case, my compliment has been met with letters of appreciation and included money-off coupons against further purchases.

The best example I know about customer service is the policy that Neil McEwen promoted when he was MD of Neil McEwen Associates. His policy was to "Make the customer satisfied, even if it costs me money." He was as good as his word, and so was trusted in the business community at all levels.

It is a shame that many companies do not pursue a similar course. As Neil often said, "If we do not give the customer what he wants, someone else will." This is true, as is the fact that firms do not receive a great deal of correspondence, whether in praise or condemnation, about their products. The vast majority of customers vote overwhelmingly and silently with their feet, and take their business elsewhere.

Customer service remains the cornerstone of any business that wants to stay in business and build up its customer base through gaining a good reputation from its satisfied customers. There is no other way.

The best businesses care about their customers and their experiences with their products and will do all they can to keep them sweet, satisfied, and coming back for more.

Groucho Marx tells of the time he bought some Cuban cigars whose advertisement promised the smoker "Twenty minutes in Havana!" Try as he could, Groucho could only manage seventeen minutes. So, he wrote to the company and for his pains received a large box of their best cigars. He says he never did manage the magic twenty minutes, but he stuck with the brand because they had treated him right.

Looking for an inexpensive place to stay when Andy, Matt, BobbiAnn, and I went to Idaho Falls to take Andy through the Temple for her first time, I spoke to the receptionist at one large motel complex. Their rates were just a little higher than I wanted to pay, although they did include a proper breakfast. I still felt that it was too costly, so asked the receptionist whether she knew of any cheap motels. I spoke half in jest, but to my surprise, she pulled the phone book and found a couple of motels nearby, checked by telephone to ask if they had immediate vacancies – they had – and gave me the rates. I was so impressed that I booked us in to her motel right there and then.

Despite the quality of your product or service, whether you are selling shaving cream, hiring televisions, or renting rooms to travellers, you will ultimately be judged by the way you treat your customers, whether they are handing you a bouquet or a brickbat.

Perhaps the final word should go to ‘Drop Dead Flowers’ of Sydney, Australia, who, for a mere £175 will deliver a brickbat, a bouquet of wilted blooms, to companies that have ill-treated you, your enemies, your ex-spouse, or your former lovers. For a little extra you can send their ‘Ultimate Revenge’ assemblage of 13 dead red roses wrapped in black paper, and a box of melted luxury chocolates!

Copyright © Ronnie Bray

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