At Your Service

While facing an impossible to-do list this week, I ran through a drive-thru for some much-needed caffeine. I yelled my order as a male on the other end of the speaker asked me to repeat “Medium Diet Coke” several times. When I pulled up to pay, a female stood at the window, talking on a headset, chewing gum, and taking another person’s order. She continued talking on the headset as I grabbed the drink and a straw, swapping it for $5. She reached for my change, turning her back to me and saying something to her male coworker, who was also wearing a headset, taking orders as he poured fountain drinks. As he asked the person on the other end of his headset to repeat themselves, the cashier at the window where I was waiting watched him and laughed while simultaneously digging change out of the cash drawer. Turning back in my direction, she handed me a receipt with a few bills and some change, and clicked her headset to take the next order, turning back to the register, indicating the transaction was complete.

Grunting, I drove off with the window still down, saying, “You’re welcome!” loud enough for her to hear, but knowing she wasn’t listening anyway. Unfortunately I do this fairly often. I find myself sarcastically saying “you’re welcome” in customer service settings because more and more frequently, the person taking my order doesn’t say thank you at all.

I pulled over to unwrap the straw and toss the change in the console. As I absentmindedly shoved the bills in my purse, I noticed the customer service survey, offering a chance to win $5,000 to share my feedback. Had I not been in such a hurry, I would have called the 800 number to let them know that I had just been through an entire drive-thru transaction without exchanging a single word with the cashier. I would let them know that the transaction required the efforts of two employees; the first one wasn’t paying attention at all, the second ignored me completely.

Yet, when I consider the situation further, here is what also happened: Within less than five minutes, I pulled my gas-guzzling SUV through a convenient window, got a Diet Coke in less time than it would have taken me to park and go inside, and received the proper amount of change. Ultimately, I got what I wanted. Right?

But is this what today’s customer service is all about? Is expecting eye contact, acknowledgement, a salutation, and a simple expression of gratitude for our business asking too much? Even if our business is only $1.62?

Consider another recent customer service situation. My job requires that I’m a heavy user of Salesforce.com. For those of you who don’t work in sales, or those of you in sales who have been living under a rock and still use a Rolodex, I’ll do my best to explain. Salesforce.com is customer relationship management software. Its most basic function is to offer salespeople a place to document the goings on with their customers and prospects. The vast majority of our day is spent there, and if we’re without it for any reason, we’re virtually useless people. Salesforce.com is a beast, raking in a staggering $2 billion a year in annual revenue.

Last week, something went very wrong with my Salesforce.com main page, so that when I logged in, the top of the screen where the tabs normally appear was all jumbled, and part of what I needed to see was hidden from my view. It was terribly distracting, and because some of the screen was hidden, made me feel like something magical and important was hiding there. I don’t like missing out on magical and important things.

I began troubleshooting in the only way I know how, clicking and right-clicking around while cussing like a sailor under my breath, impatient with my inability to achieve a quick fix. From there, I turned to the “help” window, baffled that I got zero results from typing in the following:

Defeated, I turned to the last resort, the “Contact Support” page. The customer care you receive as a Salesforce customer has to do with  all sorts of factors: the level of service your company has purchased/how many licenses you have/Lord knows what. Only because I’m not a designated administrator, determining what level of customer service my company has would have required another two hours of research. All I wanted to do was call a number and get some help, but as we all know, it’s never that simple. I forced myself to be patient (when my husband reads this he will howl with laughter), and submitted an online trouble ticket, taking great pains to explain my situation without including expletives.

Immediately, an automated email came back to me letting me know my issue would be resolved within 2 business days.

My head nearly exploded with frustration. I have a coworker who smokes, but also eats boatloads of nicotine lozenges, which is really hilarious to me, because at one point, the lozenges were purchased to help him quit. Now, he uses them to supplement his smoking. At the time I received this infuriating email, my coworker was downstairs smoking an actual cigarette,  so I sat at my desk fantasizing about pilfering through his desk and eating his entire stock of nicotine lozenges in an effort to calm myself down.

A few moments later, another email arrived. I was addressed by name, and was instructed to provide my phone number so the customer service representative could call me. I typed in my number, sent the reply, and waited. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t optimistic about what would happen next.

Immediately, my phone rang, and on the other end of the line was a woman calling from India.

Don’t expect a tirade here, because I’m not that girl. I’m one of the rare Texans who actually enjoys conversations with representatives from Indian call centers. It goes back to when I was an exchange student in Germany some 20 years ago, and several of the students in my program were from India. My Indian friends were awesome, knew more about the history and political landscape of my country than I did, and were from hardworking families who struggled to provide their children with an opportunity to study in a different country. We shared great laughs together, especially when making fun of each other while trying to learn German, or when they would beg me to speak with their accents (I’m actually really good at speaking English with an Indian accent, but I don’t get to bust that out often since I risk offending people). It’s amazing how getting to know people from other countries really helps a person be less of a jerk about other cultures. But I promised, no tirades today.

So when the Indian call center representative called my desk, I was cool with it. Right away, we engaged in a Join.me session where the woman was able to quickly view my screen to diagnose the problem. The representative efficiently and patiently solved the simple fix — I needed to clear my cookies, not shocking news given that I need to clear the cookies out of my kitchen as well.  Evidently, I have a little bit of a cookie problem.

The entire transaction took less than five minutes. But compared to my recent drive-thru experience, the woman gave me her undivided attention. At least that’s how I felt. For all I know, she was troubleshooting my silly little cookie issue while applying glitter nail stickers and eating a samosa. But I don’t think so. She thanked me several times and even told me to have a nice weekend. I was so pleased, I actually asked her for a survey so I could document my satisfaction, adding,

“If you were here, I would hug your neck.”

I’m from East Texas, and we’re big huggers (even to perfect strangers). But since this exchange took place over the phone, it was the only way I knew how to express my sheer delight that this kind woman had saved the day. She laughed uncomfortably (I doubt she gets hug offers from her customers with regularity), and we ended the call.

Comparing the two customer service scenarios I just detailed begs the question: What constitutes excellent customer service? Is it all about how quickly you get what you need? The initial Salesforce.com trouble ticket promised a 2-day delivery, but I got a response much faster. The result: expectations were exceeded. In comparison, the drive-thru scenario service was even faster, but I was ignored completely.

A friend of mine, Ray Seggern, does marketing, advertising, and branding consulting for businesses. One of his clients is a car dealership in Canada called Jim Gilbert’s Wheels and Deals. If you check out their website, one of their goals is to make the customer feel like they are doing business with family. Now, I have a few relatives that I wouldn’t buy a scented candle from, much less a car, but that’s neither here nor there. Jim Gilbert is doing something right. His dealership has won customer service awards for the past seven years.

Considering that car dealers often battle negative stereotypes, when I look at Jim Gilbert’s website, it makes me want to buy a car from him. It’s testament to the good work my friend Ray does as well. But my favorite thing about Jim Gilbert, a man I’ve never met? He’s known as “Canada’s Most Huggable Car Dealer.”

So perhaps hugging and business aren’t such a bad combination after all! Personally, I go in for hugs at work all the time, and get really cracked up when the result is that half-assed wimpy hug, the hugging equivalent to the dead fish handshake. But I get it; not everyone is open to workplace hugging. I’m all about it as long as the person on the other side of the hug has the wherewithal to wear deodorant.

So do me a favor. The next time you’re breezing through a drive-thru, and the multitasking teenager chewing gum and taking orders ignores you, offer to hug their neck, and let me know if THAT gets you the attention you deserve.

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