I have blogged before about the fun and not so fun parts of travel for business. Over the past few weeks I have combined business travel with some mini-vacations.
Standup comics like to make fun of the airplane safety lectures and airplane food (airplane food, what is this 1973?). I won't try to match the clever punchlines of Ray Romano or Jerry Seinfeld, but last week in Ft Lauderdale I had my own Seinfeld moment. My wife and I were visiting Miami for a conference at the historic Fontainebleau resort, to be followed by a few days with my parents in Del Boca Vista. We got our luggage at the airport (2 rolling suitcases, Lowel lighting kit, blue Porta-Brace gear bag, tripod tube and the trusty Rock-n-Roller hand truck, not to mention carry on bag containing two Sony cameras, digital still cameras and laptop. Went to the rental counter. I made a reservation weeks in advance to rent the car at the airport and return it in Miami. Sounds simple enough.
Apparently a reservation need not mean "reserved car." There were no cars available, and no idea given as to when there might be cars available. "It's Spring Break, sir, and people do not return cars on time." Mmm, hmm.
After about 35 minutes of waiting, along with about 20 other disgruntled renters, I approached a local non-national-chain counter. Royal Rent-a-car had cars available. Lots of them. Weird. I took one, a Dodge Charger, and we were off.
Later in the week I thought about writing an e-mail to the rental company, but many times, these customer service e-mails are dead letters. The company's website had no phone numbers listed aside from the reservation line, and no mailing address. I found it hard to believe that this international rental agency could not be contacted. Fear not, we now have a service, freely available, for finding the kind of information that does not want to be found – the internet! Too bad Tommy Lee Jones didn't have access to the internet back in 1993 – he would have found Harrison Ford in a heartbeat!
A quick search on my favorite search engine revealed the phone number for the executive offices of the elusive rental company. I called, left a message, and within 24 hours received a call. I explained my situation, and rather than a heartless apology, I received a $75 credit towards a future rental and a number to call before I rent a car with them in the future, to ensure there are cars available. This is great customer service. Or perhaps the executive office understands that customers need to be treated with respect. You never know when one of your customers might blog about a bad experience on the so-called internet!
The conference went great and my wife and I had some time to get to know each other again. We then proceeded to Del Boca Vista, slept not on an old sofa bed but on a new pillow-top mattress, enjoyed some early bird specials and had some good conversations with my folks.
When reservations work well, life is good. When things go in another direction, you need to have a backup plan, and don't let bad experiences deter you from future travel. Indeed, inefficiencies seem to be part and parcel with air travel. Things are getting better, as you will read in a future post entitled "Welcome to St. Louis Spaceport. Please maintain control of your gravity boots."
This is a well-used phrase, but in my experience, an underused skill. Any business or website should have a level of customer service - that is, showing signs that the customer's needs are most important. A happy customer is a repeat customer.
In my daily life, I am a stickler for expecting good, or at least adequate customer service. I have learned not to expect much from the youth dominated retail industry. Aside from the odd store manager who is of legal drinking age, most of the retail clerks and sales people you encounter are very young and clearly not trained in customer service. Indeed, minimum wage barely puts food on the table, let alone encourages a smiling face.
Recently our 10 year old Proscan 37" TV exploded. Well, my wife claims there were sparks and smoke, but the unit was intact, aside from its inability to function. I was waiting for the day when I would have an excuse to get a new HDTV. I first looked online for reviews, then visited my top choices for a local purchase - the two warehouse clubs and both a local and a national electronics retailer. The warehouse clubs offer low prices and not a single human being within earshot. Thus one makes a first recce to write down model numbers and prices, then you do research online, then return for another look.
The local retailer perhaps had the best service - knowledgeable staff, albeit with a used car salesman attitude, and the highest prices. Finally the national electronics chain gave both sides of the coin. The first kid more or less told me that unless I wanted the latest features at the higher price, I was not welcome there. A few minutes later a young lady gave me a completely different story. She told me the benefits of both the latest and the less-new models, and let me decide. Clearly there is no uniform strategy for the sales force at this branch - it is a free for all full of good cops, bad cops and detectives. I happened to have some gift cards for this store, so I ultimately made my purchase there, thanks mainly to the young lady with a sense of customer service.
In my own business dealings, the moment I hit "reply" to an e-mail or pick up a call from anyone from my banker to my best client, my own adherence to principles of customer service apply.
Speak with a smile. This sounds like a cliche, but people can tell if you are having a bad day. Never be rude to anyone. I read somewhere "be as nice to your janitor as you are to your stockbroker." In other words, treat others as you wish to be treated. Although I guess it depends upon who your stockbroker is!
The customer is always right. Even when they are wrong, treat them like they are right. Let's say a client calls to say the DVD you sent does not play. You could find out or you may already know that their DVD player or computer is old. But you need to tell them the remedy with respect. "Hmm, it sounds like your computer is a piece of crap," is insulting, true or not. In other words, give people the benefit of the doubt.
Educate your customer. If you are asked for specific information, be forthcoming. Don't worry about giving away your trade secrets, unless you are being asked for the specific herbs and spices you use, or so to speak. Your customer is giving you their business and their trust, respect that fact and realize this trust is earned.
Manage expectations. A customer may ask for something ASAP. It is an emergency. It may well be, but be sure they know what to expect given a short time line, incomplete resources or inadequate attention to detail. I once had a client who was so meticulous in reviewing our project, it made me realize there was room for improvement in my own methods.
"Just be the ball, be the ball, be the ball. You're not being the ball Danny." This classic line from Caddyshack may be paraphrased as "Be the customer." Put yourself in your customer's shoes / walk in their moccasins. However you want to say it. Look at the end goal from your customer's perspective.
"Quality is Job One." This cheesy Ford tagline from the 80's rings true in any business. Only sell a product you yourself would buy. Would you send your grandmother a birthday card with typos? Would you send your kids to school wearing ripped jeans? Ok, maybe you would if they were supposed to be ripped. But you can be sure those rips are in the right place on every pair of jeans. Do the best job for your customer to meet the customer's needs.
In summary, do a good job. However a "good job" seems to vary among different business sectors. You need to define for yourself what constitutes a "good job", deliver this to your customers, and demand the same level of "goodness" from others.
Thanks for reading. How may I be of assistance?