How to deal with Unreasonable Bastards

I admit it. I’m an unreasonable bastard.

I expect great customer service as a matter of course.

And I demand exceptional customer service when I give a company a disproportionate part of my business. If I don’t get it, I walk out – either metaphorically or physically. But if I enjoy an outstanding experience, I’m equally unreasonable in return… unreasonably loyal.

This past week, I experienced both ends of the service spectrum, and in so doing, came up with some rules for dealing with unreasonable bastards like me.

Firstly, I switched mobile phone carriers. Initially, after over an hour waiting online, I let my old telco know I was disconnecting. They replied that I was on “very old plans” and they could suddenly vastly improve the service and the deal. Too little, too late. Too annoying.

Next I took my business – four mobile phone plans, a home phone and broadband connection – into another carrier’s retail store. I struggled to get assistance. When I did, I was served by someone who could not speak very good English (not their fault, but there is nothing more frustrating than not being able to communicate.) Eventually, I left and found another store in the same chain that could help and would treat me as a potential high-value customer.

At the same time this week, I received an unprompted direct mail package from the airline I use regularly. They reminded me of the privileges my travel status affords me, told me of a new service which would speed my time through the airport and gave me two electronic gift tags for my luggage. Nice. Thoughtful. Appreciated. (As an aside, I always note that flight attendants from the same airline welcome me by name when I board the aircraft. Simple but powerful stuff.)

In terms of my negative experiences, Neil Stollznow of Stollznow Research informs me that they’re nothing new.

In a survey conducted earlier this year, Stollznow discovered that the level of customer dissatisfaction in the general community is alarmingly high, and particularly so with telcos.

“Consumers are often despondent about their chances of ever getting good service and only stay because they believe the alternative will be just as bad,” says Stollznow. What Stollznow calls “brittle customers” eventually do break their relationships though. All it takes is something to tip them over the edge, such as a promotion that makes a special offer for “new customers only”.

Positive customer service experiences are equally rare. Graham “Skroo” Turner , CEO and founder of Flight Centre, commented in his book “Skroo the Rules” that even though “good service is not rocket science… (it’s) as rare as hen’s teeth.”

Turner believes that lack of service “common-sense” is a motivational, attitudinal and systems issue. Inc Magazine in the US concurs, writing in a recent article that “a culture of customer service must be codified.”

So what are the rules for dealing with unreasonable bastards? US outdoor apparel merchant L.L.Bean, who was recently voted the top-rated retailer in Bloomberg Business Week’s list of “Customer Service Champs” puts it very simply: “We treat customers like we’d want to be treated.”

My sentiments, exactly. To which I’d add these five “unreasonable bastard-handling” tips:
1. Smile and be friendly (these are the basics).
2. Learn and remember my name (it’s a fundamental sign of respect).
3. Connect and communicate with me (that means the person serving me should mirror me).
4. Whenever you can, save me time (it’s often more important than money).
5. Send me flowers sometimes (little unexpected “thank you” rewards).

Is that too much to ask?

Jon Bird is an unreasonable bastard and CEO of specialist retail marketing agency IdeaWorks (www.ideaworks.com.au). Other unreasonable bastards should email jon.bird@ideaworks.com.au.

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