Contracting Business.com magazine has spent bucket loads of ink over the years on the topic of customer service. Success in the contracting industry certainly is attributable to a myriad of factors — from financial considerations to training, from management to technical expertise. But in the end, I believe that the ultimate success or failure of any contracting firm can boil down to its customer service.
So it amazes me when I experience poor customer service. I guess you can say that I've become a bit persnickety when comparing retail experiences. Especially when it involves inconvenience and cost. Like when I travel.
As the editorial director of this magazine, I do travel quite a bit and have found the vaious airlines to have a great deal of differences when it comes to dealing with passengers when things don't go to plan — like weather, equipment malfunctions, scheduling issues, overbooked flights, etc. But the absolutely worse customer service isn't something that I've experienced — it's something I read about in the Sunday morning edition of my local newspaper, The Cleveland Plain Dealer. It really got my blood boiling and is a perfect case study on what NOT to do as a service provider.
First some back ground information: the story was written in a column called "The Travel Troubleshooter," by Christopher Elliott. Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of an organization called the Consumer Travel Alliance (a non-profit group that advocates for travelers). His article, "Passenger is grounded by airlines' shared booking," is the tale of a Dayton woman who booked a flight from Dayton, OH to Shanghai, China and how, due to an airline mistake, she got stranded in China.
The problem was that the airline, US Airways, booked the woman's flight on several of their codeshare partners and one of those partners (Air Canada) refused to honor the reservation on her return flight home. For those who don't know what a code-share partner is, Elliott defines it in this way:
"Airline codesharing is a common practice with questionable benefits to the passengers. Basically, it allows a carrier like US Airways to sell flights on another airline while claiming them as their own. Some might call that dishonest, but that’s a discussion for another day."
The woman was forced to purchase a new ticket that cost her in excess of $2400 and when she tried to get a refund after returning home, she met with a tremendous amout of pushback and runaround. Each airline blamed the other and none was willing to own-up to the problem and resolve the issue to the woman's satisfaction.
Does this impact convenience and cost? You betcha!!!!
Is this how you would handle a residential service customers who had a problem? I cerainly hope not.
The Dayton woman contacted Elliott who writes that it took him WEEKS to finally get the issue resolved. Weeks! That is incredible to me. What a terrible customer service black eye to both US Airways and Air Canada. The story alone is enough to make you NOT want to ever fly either airline, even though, in the end, the situation WAS rectified.
I'm sharing this with you to illustrate a worse case scenerio and ask how well your employees, deal with customers when something goes wrong. Are they empowered to make decisions quickly to resolve problems or are they quick to blame someone or something else for the problem and refuse to help as was the case with US Airways and Air Canada?
Again, if your firm's reputation is important to you, then your success depends on the type of customer service you provide. Not that it is the panacea to all of the issues for operating a profitable and successful business, but customer service certainly is the foundation upon which that success depends. As our 2008 Residential Contractor of the Year Tim Croppe says, you have to make customers your raving fans.
Shame on US Airways and Air Canada.
As HVACR contractors, I hope you can take a lesson and hold your head high and be proud of how you handle customer problems in your business.
I'd love to hear from you about how your company turned customer service lemons into lemonade.