Improving customer service has to be more than just talk

If you own a computer, there's a very good chance you're familiar with the dark side of customer service. The recording says, "Your business is important to us," but after waiting 45 minutes for someone to pick up your call, you begin to understand just how important.Of course, computer retailers and software suppliers aren't alone when it comes to hard-earned reputations for lousy customer service.

If you own a computer, there's a very good chance you're familiar with the dark side of customer service. The recording says, "Your business is important to us," but after waiting 45 minutes for someone to pick up your call, you begin to understand just how important.

Of course, computer retailers and software suppliers aren't alone when it comes to hard-earned reputations for lousy customer service. The TV ads for airlines always show sleeping passengers stretched out in comfort while a concerned attendant tucks another blanket under their chin. Obviously, those ads are shot in a studio, not a real plane, because they never show seats left over from the Inquisition or imprisoned passengers jockeying for elbow room on the arm rest.

It's unfair to single out the computer and airline industries when it comes to poor customer service. The sad fact is that customer service often fails to satisfy these days. What makes that failure even more frustrating is that our expectations are constantly being raised by advertisements and slogans that tout customer service as a No. 1 priority. When it comes to customer service, there's a huge and ever-widening gap between what companies promise and what they deliver.

Whether it's delivering freight or supporting a mobile work force, trucking is a service business. And for the most part, trucking has a fairly good reputation when it comes to service. But that doesn't mean your fleet isn't susceptible to that gap between customer promises and experiences.

Recognizing a problem in a service business is easy; customers usually aren't shy about telling you. Resolving to fix the problem is also relatively easy. So why do so many businesses blow the most critical step - implementing changes that actually do improve customer service?

The thing is, airlines, computer makers and all those other businesses that routinely disappoint us probably believe that their talk about improving customer service is accomplishing just that. They believe that saying "I'm sorry" and "It won't happen again" effectively addresses their service shortcomings.

What managers at these companies lack is objectivity. They can't stand back and see their service through the eyes of those who use it. They aren't hanging on the phone desperately waiting for technical support, or sitting six hours in a cramped 737 seat. They don't experience their service failures; they only hear about them secondhand.

The next time you hear from someone unhappy with your fleet's service, resist the impulse to apologize. Instead, ask about their service expectations and about the impact of your current service failure. And then apply your experience and knowledge of your fleet's operations to make meaningful changes that will help prevent that type of failure in the future.

It may be harder than just talking about customer service, but it's also a lot more satisfying for everyone involved.

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