Author: Campbell, Bruce

Customer Service - A Lost Art?
 

Most old guys like me view the past through a gauzy rose-colored lens. Food was better, the sky was bluer, nobody ever really got hurt, politicians were honest, nobody ever locked their doors, and so on and so forth.

I also think of customer service in this way. Part of it is pure economics. When I was a kid, when Dad pulled the family station wagon into a gas station, the tires ran over a hose that caused a bell to ring in the station, and somebody would scurry out and ask “Regular or Ethyl?”. Then, while the gas was chugging out of the pump into our tank (at a quarter per gallon), the guy would also wash the windows, and check the oil.

As gas got more expensive in later years, stations began offering a “self-service” price and a “full service” price, and as we learned that pumping gas is NOT difficult, we felt it was silly to pay the extra just to have some skinny gap-toothed greasy guy do the honors. We voted with our wallets, and now it’s truly rare to see a full service gas station.

I know that rosy view of the past had every service person in every industry providing cheerful, attentive service, too. But I wonder how accurate that is. Even as a kid, I could that some of the guys pumping gas were really just criminals between crimes. I heard a recording recently of a car salesman in the ‘50’s absolutely going bonkers with obscenities. That wasn't good customer service, right?

Part of the perception is a shift in nomenclature. It used to be when you thanked someone for providing good service, the response was a cheerful “You’re welcome!”

The modern response, well intended, but grating (to me) is “No problem!” As a customer, I don’t feel relieved that my request was not a “problem” for the service provider. I want them to express gratitude for my business, and “No problem” simply doesn’t convey that. The kids don’t mean any offense – it’s just the modern vernacular.

Recently, I had a chance to work with a person who understands customer service – Carolyn Faubel. From five years ago, to just a few days ago, she was the CBA Membership VP. I offered to take over those duties when she indicated she’d like to “retire” from that position, and she’s been showing me the ins and outs of the job.

Much of it is purely clerical – receive membership signups, deposit membership fees, keep track of expiring memberships, mail renewal notices, mail membership cards, and a surprising number of other things. But a couple of things about Carolyn’s methods struck me.

One was the meticulous attention to detail. Keep track of everything. Save copies of everything. Be consistent and sensible in all record-keeping. All of these things help prevent errors, and make it easier to find what happened when occasional human errors occur. Is Carolyn just a detail freak?

Nope. The other thing that struck me was Carolyn truly cares about the experience she provided to people when they signed up for, or renewed, their CBA membership. It guided her decision-making process at all times.

She knows what aspects of her methods produce the most positive experiences for members, and every part of her intricate system is designed to do that. There were a number of “outside the box” exceptions to the Big Process, and in every instance, Carolyn did not hesitate to make an extra effort if it meant another happy customer. And she didn’t do it because it was “No problem” – in many cases, it WAS a problem, but Carolyn did it because she’s grateful for each and every CBA member. This is the most daunting part of the job I am now undertaking.

I hope to preserve her attitude – the CBA members deserve it.

 
Posted:  10/19/2011



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