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Is it Irrational? Who Cares?!?

A Tale of Two Customer Service Experiences

What a morning! After watching a webinar on the critical importance of customer experience, I got the pleasure and pain of seeing that importance played out in real life.

This is not a Yelp!-style company review (I’ve done that elsewhere), so I’ll withhold the names of the organizations to protect the innocent. And the guilty, too, I suppose.

The story: last week, while paying a credit card bill online, I noticed a pending charge of $500 from a rental car company I had just used for the first time. I had returned the car a week before, and had paid the full rental fee (which also appeared on the same bill). Why was this pending charge still on there?

First, I called the bank. They said that they needed the charge to be removed by the rental car company. So I called the rental car company. They told me that it could take 3-5 days for their systems to clear such a charge. I pointed out that it had been five business days, but the rental car company is based in Canada, and that Monday had been a holiday.

Fine. Why, in this amazing electronic information age, it takes 3-5 days to clear a pending charge, I simply can’t understand. But whatever. No big deal. I waited through the weekend, and even gave them the next Monday to clear it. And when I checked on Tuesday…the pending charge was still there.

I called the rental car company. After my experience with them, I concluded that their customer service training consisted of telling staff to repeat “I’m sorry, but I can’t help you” until the customer goes away. Well, actually, that’s not true. They tell the customer that until they hang up on the increasingly angry customer. Now, to be fair, my rising anger and frustration got the best of me, and I said one of George Carlin’s seven words that you can’t say on television (the one beginning with “s”). But hanging up on an irate customer is not going to solve the problem, and it's certainly not going to make the customer less irate.

After calling back, I was told that I could speak to a manager, who would be in the office “in about an hour.” Or I could call the bank and give them a code number of some sort and try to straighten it out myself. Telling customers to go away and fix problems themselves, or to wait until some mystical “manager” comes in, is not going to earn any good will for your organization. Especially when the customer knows in their heart that the manager isn't going to do diddly to actually help resolve the issue. They will simply say "I'm sorry, but we can't help you" again, only louder.

Then I called the bank. A one-hundred eighty degree turn-around. The customer service person was polite and empathetic. The first thing he said to me after I told him my problem was “I can understand how frustrating that must be.” And he said it sincerely. I felt my blood pressure come down about fifteen points almost instantaneously. He looked into what he could do. Unfortunately, he was not authorized to fix the problem.

But instead of chanting the “there’s nothing I can do” mantra, he said “I will connect you with someone who can help you.” And he did. And that person did. And the problem was resolved.

Guess which company is the one that I will keep doing business with?

Note that I have no idea what caused the problem. Nor do i know who was at fault. It could easily be 100% the fault of the bank that this situation arose. I have no idea. But this experience with them will keep me doing business with them. As for the rental car company? I got a good car at a great price. And I will NEVER go back. And I'm willing to warn everyone I know not to go there, either.

Is that irrational? Perhaps. But I’m human, and humans don’t make decisions rationally. We make decisions emotionally, and then justify them rationally. That’s true whether we are renting cars, deciding what beverage will quench our thirst, or purchasing industrial equipment for our manufacturing company.

Keep that in mind when you hire people to be facing your customers in any capacity. Keep that in mind in deciding what level of skill to require, what level of training to provide, and what kind of compensation they will receive. They are as much a part of the experience your customer will have with your organization as any products you may sell them. Maybe even a larger part.

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