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VOL. 126 | NO. 92 | Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Susan Drake

Service Slips Destroy Confidence


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Important moments in life can sometimes be fraught with difficulty. My daughter, Colleen, last week engaged a department store to outfit my grandson, Gabriel, with a suit for his eighth-grade dance. Now this is not just any moment in life; it is a big deal. Because Gabriel is tall, she had to leave the jacket for the sleeves to be adjusted. Not a big deal, right? Until the phone call.

Someone unidentified called to inform her that some tailoring obstacle meant they (the alterations people, whoever they are) could not perform the task. The man’s comment was, “Sorry about that.” And he hung up. No alternatives offered, no return phone call promised. Nothing. It was unclear whether the man worked for the department store or an outside alterations contractor.

Colleen redialed and insisted on a solution. He told her they were going to try to get someone else to do it, and that person would call her by Friday. The event was Saturday, and Colleen was not willing to be left up in the air until Friday when there might be no other options. Eventually, with prodding, they told her, yeah, they would get it done.

That’s all well and good, but what happened is that in the process of this somewhat uncertain resolution, her confidence was shaken. No matter what they promised, she would never feel sure they’d fix it until she had the suit in her hands.

This is the stuff cranky customers are made of. When employees do not understand the proper procedures to follow in defining expected outcomes, in reassuring customers – gosh, even in simply identifying themselves and their contact information – customers tend to get a little testy and can become demanding. But, of course, you don’t want to be too pushy, because then the person who is holding your son’s suit captive could take drastic measures. You could end up with sleeves that skirt the elbow instead of the wrist. Restraint is the better part of valor.

Unfortunately, at the end of the day, the customer never feels truly happy, just relieved. Colleen will never put one of her “precious moments” in that store’s hands again.

Chances are, Mr. Alterations had no idea what it felt like to be on the receiving end of his ineffective communications. I’ll bet he wouldn’t even be able to tell you what he did wrong.

When we have onboard employees or hire independent contractors, we have to define the rules – but also to help the person understand how it feels to be left hanging. It’s essential to make clear the full extent of communications failures. Role-playing ensures the dialogue runs smoothly. And follow-up guarantees consistency of performance.

Like last week’s column said, we have to master the basics. And these basics also require we do so with a smile.

Susan Drake is president of Spellbinders Internal and External Marketing. Contact her at susand@spellbindersinc.com.

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