Good customer service deserves a shout out

Rolls Royce customer service is as legendary as the motorcar

OK, the examples I’m about to share do not rival the legendary tales of Rolls Royce. You may have heard the oft repeated tale of the plutocrat whose Phantom develops a transmission problem in the South of France.  He telegraphs Rolls Royce and that evening while he’s sleeping blissfully in his hotel room, the motorcar manufacturer helicopters in a team of mechanics who repair his touring car before dawn and then leave neither bill nor record of the repairs. After all Rolls Royces do not experience transmission problems.

Stories like that live on since they epitomize both the brand and the definition of service.  These days we have come to expect the total opposite. And, in fact, they are the stories that get told. Usually via social media. Receive lousy treatment in a restaurant?  Shout it out on Yelp or Foursquare. Airline refuses to replace your broken guitar? Compose some angry lyrics and post them on YouTube. Comcast doesn’t show up when scheduled?  Rant about it on Twitter.

True, more often than not such condemnation is deserved.  It feels good to vent. And in some cases our outbursts actually yield improved products or services.

But it strikes me that if we can so effortlessly dish out anger and accusations, we ought to, at least once in a while, offer up praise when it’s deserved. Just maybe, by doing so, we’ll encourage other brands and marketers, service providers and retailers to emulate that Rolls Royce behavior – or something remotely similar — that could earn our loyalty.

So here goes, a recap of some good service I recently received on a family vacation in Florida.

Jet Blue is responsive on Twitter

Delayed flights are the bane of every traveler, but when you’re on vacation with your family it’s even more annoying. Worse yet is not having accurate information. The word “Delayed” doesn’t quite cut it when it comes be keeping you informed. But on a recent trip to Florida, I found that all my questions regarding the arrival of my aircraft, accurate departure time, and other updates were delivered in close to real time via @JetBlue on Twitter. I even got more information than was available on the airline’s mobile website and got it fast. Not sure how they do it and if they can do it all the time for their many travelers, but definitely impressive.

Hertz delivers exactly as they said they would

I’ll start with the fact that rental car prices the week of school vacation are nothing short of highway robbery. In fact the sales manager at Tampa International Airport’s Hertz office actually admitted that the company jacks up prices by 15 to 20 percent that week. But I can’t argue with how great the service was. We had a brand new VW Routan that ran fine, but a few days into the trip, when a malfunction indicator light came on and left us reluctant to drive any distance without knowing the cause, Hertz delivered another brand new vehicle to us less than two hours after we called. No insistence that we come to them.  No questions asked.  A pretty good way to assure my next rental will be with Hertz, too.

Tommy Bahama Tropical Café is not laid back when it comes to service

I can honestly say I’ve never had this happen before, and I’ve patronized some pretty good restaurants all over the world. Two days after eating at this popular spot in Sarasota’s St. Armand’s Key, I got a call from the manager asking about our experience. In a brief but meaningful call she wanted to know about our reception, the preparation of the food and the service of the wait staff.  I’m pretty sure she was even taking notes when I suggested the sauce on my grilled Snapper could have been a tad more subtle.  She told me the restaurant calls most of its patrons who make reservations for a quick follow-up. Given that the place did virtually everything right and nothing wrong, one might conclude that they actually listen.

It doesn’t seem it should be that hard to provide great service. Zappos (a Mullen client) does it all day long every day. Apple delivers it in virtually all of its stores. The W Hotel has built a brand around service.

If you want stories told about your brand, perhaps you should forego trying to save money on service by trying to limit the length of phone calls or refusing to treat customers as individuals (Chase, are you listening?) and take a lesson from some of these companies.

What do you think? Is it possible to encourage better service with praise?  Or should we resume venting?

11 comments
Harrison Bailey
Harrison Bailey

I often wonder if there's really a particular "price" one pays for service as many have suggested in the past. Sure, only those dishing out half a million for a car should be afforded a maintenance luxury as exemplary as the Rolls Royce anecdote you mentioned above. Yet, what about the local deli in Manhattan with no corporate oversight? What encourages good service in such a small business with low profit margins? In my opinion, service keeps every small business open - only big corporations can get away with such an atrocity as poor customer service. How counterintuitive: the higher the profit, the larger the corporation, the less important the customer becomes. In the new economy, if corporations truly lose power as their predicted to, I hope we'll see a return to customer service across the board. When businesses are small, they remembers who their stakeholders are; and, in an increasingly interconnected world, that's just about everyone.

Harrison Bailey
Sophomore
Design+Management
Parsons/New School

Arafat Kazi
Arafat Kazi

It all goes down to retail customs--if you have a pleasant experience with a brand, you'll purchase again. Repeat purchases drive the vast majority of revenue. And I think that it was David Ogilvy who said in one of his books that every point of contact between a customer and your brand is an opportunity which can either be taken advantage of or missed. The receptionist at your switchboard, the customer service representative, the waiter: they are entry points to the brand, and they define the brand.

There are some companies that take customer service to an overwhelming level, like Zappos. I can't remember the names of the csr people I spoke to, but the good impression for the brand remains. CVS doesn't have great customer service, but their product and billing design is so smartly designed that it makes it difficult to justify getting my everyday things anywhere else.

I agree with several of the commenters here that it's just as important to communicate praise as discontent. Customer service is often a thankless job, and at the end of the day it's just two human beings interacting!

Bridget Dunne
Bridget Dunne

I believe successful service is a mixture of both positive and negative feedback. This is simply because not all people/employees are motivated the same way. Good service is definitely expected but rarely acknowledged. In those instances, its nice to hear praise. Happy employees + happy costumers =working business. Although on the other side of the coin, venting or discussing disappointment within the company is important as well. I believe there is no right or wrong answer, it just depends case by case.
Interesting post
Bridget Departmental sem.2
tuesdays9am

Rob Loukotka
Rob Loukotka

I often feel guilty when I negatively vent about a company online. I'm sure my experience is often in the minority, but its hard to not to tweet about a problem (or worse, leave a negative review on Yelp when things are really bad).

But rarely do I post a positive review, its as if good service is expected, and you don't think to help out a business you like by giving them a good review.

Maybe I'll start making it a point to write some positive reviews for some local businesses that are always genuinely nice. They deserve some internet love too.

Mike Scheiner
Mike Scheiner

I agree with you Edward in terms of striking a balance between both good and bad experiences. However I do think for the majority, complaining or venting usually overshadows the praise, or a simple "thank you." As you point out, the various feeds available to us know make it even easier and faster to call someone out, as well as amplifying our displeasure across a broad network.

Last spring, I was setting up a large canopy umbrella that I had purchased from Room and Board which had been stored for the winter. I soon realized that a small pin was missing allowing the umbrella to remain open. I contacted the customer service at Room and Board who after sending me a picture to verify the part, needed to then call the vendor to check on the availability. They told me they would call me back in five minutes. Exactly five minutes later I received a call back and they were overnighting me the part. I thanked them, and then I sent the President of Room and Board an email explaining the story and praising the individual who had helped me. He responded with a note of appreciation and that he would pass the praise onto the employee.

I look at it this way. We all make mistakes that need to be pointed out as well as corrected. Companies or brands that aren't living up to their promise, most definitely need to be made aware of an issue. I also believe that a simple acknowledgement or thank you can say and inspire so much more.

Ben Kunz
Ben Kunz

Two thoughts:

1. While all this good service is commendable, *customer service* is only one way companies can compete. *Product innovation* and *lowest operational cost* are also areas companies can focus on (thanks, Treacy) -- and often focusing on them precludes good customer service. This is counter-intuitive for many marketers, who live near the customer side of the competitive world, but a paper manufacturer might do well to focus on low prices and less on listening to customers. Super service is a feel-good tool not right for all business dynamics.

2. I have to wonder, in particular about Jet Blue, if these firms used a social media monitoring tool to score you, Edward, as an influencer -- and then gave you special service. A guy who works in marketing with nearly 10,000 Twitter followers could easily be tagged as the equivalent of a first-class passenger (even if you flew coach), and thus your tweet requests might go to the top of the queue. Even if this were not the case with your incident, it will happen eventually. Consumers could be scored by both their lifetime value to businesses and their respective influence networks, and those with the most power to drive future revenue will get the best service. The power laws that guide our current CRM programs could be moved into prospecting. Chris Brogan upset? So sorry! Joe Schmoe? No response!

It is an interesting concept, isn't it, that the democratizing power of social media could be used to segment and then stratify how consumers are treated. It feels unfair, but businesses may gain a competitive advantage if they learn not all human networks are created equal.
.-= Ben Kunz´s last blog ..Beyond sentiment analysis =-.

Mark Harmel
Mark Harmel

I had both great and terrible service from Wells Fargo this week. I needed a mortgage interest statement for my taxes. This was a little complicated, we refinanced twice this year following the interest rates down. The old B of A statement came in the mail. There was nothing from Wells.The Wells website wanted me to call an number first and the service rep didn't help AND then hung-up on me!

My loan rep (who I didn't want to bother) though was great. He emailed me the forms in 10 minutes.
.-= Mark Harmel´s last blog ..something went up today =-.

edward boches
edward boches

It's funny that I just posted this and today have spent hours on the phone with Chase, which has to have the worst customer service in the world. Though for some reason I don't think venting about it will do any good. I did give them one hell of a profanity-filled rant that I'm sure they captured on tape, so at least they have something amusing for teaching their service people what to expect from other customers given the way that Chase insists on treating them.

edward boches
edward boches

Agree. I now try and go out of my way to acknowledge good service in hopes that it will encourage more. And I try and restrain myself from farting out how pissed I am at some brand on Twitter when they screw me over. Better to deal with them from a perspective of reason than anger. Except in those cases where it is totally justified and death by Twitter is the only option.

edward boches
edward boches

Ben,
Yes, on 1. Though the three brands and categories I referenced are all in the service business in one way or another. Didn't mean to suggest that every company's financial success is best derived by improving service, though you could argue that for a paper company lower prices is better service. As for 2. I hope you are wrong. Compared to the Gary V's the Ashton's the Chris's, my 10,000 followers is not all that significant. But presumably I can make more noise than some. (Think Garfield and Comcast, I suppose.) But from looking at their feed, that's not the case. Also, one thing I have noticed about the smart brands (Comast, Jet Blue, Best Buy) on Twitter: they follow you if you @ them with a request or a problem. That allows both of you to take the conversation out of the public stream which is as good for the user as the brand.

At the same time, the idea of any brand influencing the influencers makes perfect sense. We help our clients do that all the time, with both bloggers and Twitterati. If you assume that the individual is the new journalist and that social media is the new medium that matters, then such a tactic is just smart marketing.

You've given me motivation to increase my followers now. If it means better service or the ability to influence it, why not?

edward boches
edward boches

You would think that all brands would start to get it an be more responsive in an age of social media. Someone needs to start a social site that is nothing but real time reviews of customer service in a way that aggregates all of them and becomes the definitive site. I am sure there is something like that now, but it's not centralized enough. Maybe that would get more brands to pay attention.