Friday, August 26, 2005

Color me crabby

Sheesh. Why do they ask for feedback if they don’t want it? I sent back the customer comment card. No, I was not happy. If I place the call for air conditioner repair for the building I manage, I expect that I will get a call back letting me know what work was done and what followup is required. At a minimum, I expect that if I have to track down the company to find out what was done that I will get an explanation and—perhaps—an “Oh, we’re sorry. We did explain this to the person onsite, but we understand we should have called you back.” And if I have had to provide my credit card to cover payment for the work, I am all the more sensitive to wanting a followup call.

Color me crabby when I make the followup call and get attitude and huff. Surely it is not unusual that a building owner (the firm that employs me) is offsite?

So I filled out the customer satisfaction questionnaire. And I said that I expected to get a call back and I expected that if I had to make the followup call that the information would be courteously delivered. I don’t demand an apology, but I do demand courteous followup.

I believe in customer service. I give a lot of credit to vendors who attempt to improve their service levels. So when someone sends me a customer satisfaction questionnaire, I fill it out, particularly if I think there is some clear step that the vendor can take to improve their service. Seeking disconfirming information is a sign of maturity and good business practice.

But, guys, if I am not happy, you will not bully me into being happy.

It is not my fault that you had trouble finding the building—you had my phone number and could have called me, you had the address and could have used Mapquest, you could see from the exchange that my location was not the same as the building’s location. (Yes, we can still make that calculation in Vermont.) But did you call? No.

It is not my fault that you didn’t meet my expectations of getting a call back. I do expect this of vendors: if I make the service call, I expect to get a call back that the work was done and what followup is required. I accept that I have to educate vendors the first time I work with them that this is my expectation, and I accept that some will not be able to meet my expectations. And in certain fields, demand for vendors is such that I have to put up with behaviour that does not meet my expectations. This is not one of those fields.

It would not have been a deal breaker if, when I tracked you down, you had delivered the information courteously. But instead you gave me a lot of defensive guff about how you had a hard time finding the building and how 99% of your customers have the requesting party onsite. The 99% figure is suspicious, but even if it were true, I am not interested in how things are for your other customers. And if you had a hard time finding the building, why didn’t you call? We cannot take cell service for granted in Vermont, but as it happens, there is good cell service around the area where this building is located. If your service technician could call your dispatcher, certainly one of them should have been able to call me for directions. But nobody called for directions, nobody called me when the work was finished, and when I tracked down someone for information, you took out your frustration on the customer. Way to make sure I don’t want to repeat the transaction!

The vendor called me when my customer satisfaction questionnaire arrived back in their office. I took a deep breath and called back, hoping for an improved interaction, but the pseudo-apology was really just a defensive “explanation” of why they did what they did. In the end, this firm does not offer any advantage over their competitors. In fact, I have existing relationships that don’t require me to pay upfront with a credit card, but I took a chance on them in order to get a quick response. Still there are other options. Smart competitors recognize that there are always other options.

I would have been happy to give them some feedback, would have been happy to provide information rather than simply voting with my feet, which is what most unhappy customers do. I give them credit for asking for feedback, and I wish them well in the future, but I won’t be exposing myself to a repeat of this negative experience. Ironically, it was not the failure to call me that was the negative experience, it was the badly managed customer satisfaction discussion. Perhaps they will get it right with the next customer. I hope so.


Robert said...

Here's one of my least favorite ploys: "The company will be sending you a customer satisfaction survey. If you are unsatisfied, please contact me about it first before you send back the card, and give me the chance to make things right."

zhoen said...

Let the 'net know about it. Make your valid complaint count. Not crabby, basic human response to being treated with contempt. Warn off other reasonable people. Let the BBB know. I would want to know if it was a company I was thinking of dealing with.

Anonymous said...

Sheesh! You ARE crabby, Karen.
Glad I don't have to service your
building today. Hoping that gorgeous pup is putting you in a better mood today!

Love your writing,


Karen said...

Thanks for the compliment, Marci, but it has nothing to do with mood. As a professional manager of real estate, I simply do not have time for nonsense. There are plenty of service providers who don't meet my expectations, but they don't get my business more than once.

The underperformers may get other people's business, and they may be perfectly happy with the amount and type of business they get--bless them!

Thank goodness, there are service providers who do understand the value of fairness and courtesy in business dealings. If it ever happens that there are not any who meet my standards, I will either have to adjust my standards...or quit! But there are many, many exceptional service providers out there, and I intend to stick to using them. If I have respect for myself and for my colleagues, why would I do otherwise?

David St Lawrence said...

I agree with zhoenw. Ranting about an unnamed provider provides no closure for the reader or for yourself.

Publishing the name of the company and the individuals involved insures that there is a record for others to see when they Google that company.

Additionally, when you publish the names of all concerned, you are reminded to keep the account factual so that no one can come back at you for exaggerating the situation.

One more interesting fact. When you give all the details and your observations with a minimum of histrionics, you find that the incident is finished as far as you are concerned. Giving the exact time, place, event, and the parties involved will make the incident subside and it will no longer leave you feeling crabby.

Karen said...

Now this is an interesting comment. I agree with you in principle, and if this were Dell, for example, I would have no qualms about naming names and letting the public judge. Likewise, I have recently been forced to make a complaint to the Vermont Attorney General re JPMorgan Chase, who seem incapable of actually closing a credit card account, even after fraudulent charges were made to the account.

But a small, local company. Well, the truth is that I have become protective of them. As the sole full-time employee of an economic development company in my region, I feel obligated to hold back criticism of local companies, at least in public. I will tell them what I think. But I don’t think it is consistent with my role as developer of jobs and supporter of entrepreneurship to blast local companies in public.

Does this mean that I have accepted diminished “rights” as a customer? Well, sort of.

I always hope that outrageous (to me) stories about bad customer service will have some kind of educational impact on somebody who might read a story and say, “Hey, wait, she’s right. The customer is always right. I do that to my customers, and I will change that behavior today.” But when I write it down, it looks silly, doesn’t it?

You are absolutely right, David and zhoenw. If I am not going to provide a customer alert, I should avoid ranting. It doesn’t do any good for any reader, and it is not even cathartic for me. Point taken.