Blue Ribbons for Police

So this is one of my rare off topic blog posts that could borderline political for some people, but it is a cause that I want to make as many people as possible aware of.  About a year ago I started a facebook campaign called Blue Ribbons for Police, this campaign is encouraging people to tie a blue ribbon around a tree (or if you lack trees somewhere that can be seen) to indicate your well wishes toward police officers and your hope that they return home safely after their shift.  The group is here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/BlueRibbonforPolice/ and while it is a closed group I only do that to prevent the many spam bots and such on Facebook from attacking the page, so if you are interested just request membership and you will be approved.

So the group quickly grew to over 1000 members from all over the country, others have even begun copying what I have done, which creates some mixed feeling for me, on one hand I am glad to see the idea propagate and it is, for me at least, about the police officers and not about getting the credit, but also it does irritate me a little bit to see others willing taking credit for my idea.  I am very proud of what I have done, I would like to see it become even bigger.

Customer Service

This isn’t exactly a technology related topic, but it was due to technology that got me thinking about this.

My cell phone (LG G4) died yesterday, it is less than a year old, so it is still under warranty so I called AT&T expecting to have to jump through all sort of hoops to prove to them that my phone was dead and then have to argue with them about replacing it.  I was very surprised and happy to say that my experience was quite the opposite.  The lady who answered my call was very nice and friendly, after explaining my issue and the steps I took to troubleshoot, instead of asking me to go back through the steps or try additional troubleshooting steps she took my word for what was going on, had me verify the moisture sensors were not triggered than ordered the replacement phone.  After she finished with that she asked me how the battery was on the phone, I told her it is acceptable but has lost some life from when it was new, she responded by saying “you only have 45 days left on the warranty so I am going to mark your battery as bad too so they will replace that free of charge,” an extra step that she did not need to take but was more than happy to, and this small gesture really resonated with me.

This is an example of good customer service, a representative going out of their way to not only resolve an issue for a customer, but to show the customer value in doing business with their company.  This is also something that is lacking from many companies.  I work as a department manager for an IT service provider, and as such I need to provide customers with valuable service, as well as deal with vendors who have to provide both the end user and myself with service so I have a lot of experience in this matter.  I can tell you from personal experience typically the bigger the company the worse the service is, but with good leadership and a customer first attitude even the largest of companies can prevent poor customer service.

Employee’s attitudes truly come from the top down (sure there are some people that no matter how miserable they are they have an incredibly happy outward appearance and vice versa, but those are the exceptions) and if the work environment is enjoyable for the employee then that will typically show in their attitude to the customer.  If management is constantly bean counting and interrogating an employee when a call goes longer than their matrix says it should than you are creating an environment where employees are less likely to feel capable or willing to go the extra mile for a customer.  This approach may look good on your metrics, but if you aren’t giving the customer the level of service they expect they will go elsewhere, and it is far cheaper to keep an existing customer than to find a new customer.  That extra 5 minutes of time that the AT&T rep took to ask about and order a replacement battery is 5 minutes she could have spent with another customer or waiting for her phone to ring, but it has guaranteed AT&T a customer for a longer period of time.  It is also positive experiences like this that can help overcome a negative experience that may happen in the future, after all there are times when you just simply cannot make a customer happy. However, if they have 1 negative experience for every 10 or 20 positive experiences that goes a long way toward not having the negative experience drive them off.

As a manager I have a delicate balancing act that I need perform, I need to monitor my employees to ensure they are not unnecessarily taking up time that could be spent helping other customers, but I also cannot be so over bearing that they start to lose their desire to help resolve an issue, or feel that any deviation from the norm is unacceptable.  I want my employees to feel free to speak to a customer, get to know the customer and make the customer feel valued, because my customers are what makes the company money, and without that none of us would have jobs.  If that means answering an occasional question about a customers home computer, or their iPhone then so be it.There is, however, a thin line between friendly answering an occasional question and provide free support (after all businesses exist to make money) and that is where the balancing act comes into play.  Telling a customer you can’t help them with what they think is a small problem on a computer that isn’t covered by their support is not fun, and needs to be done with a great deal of tact to prevent them from being upset and learning how to have that level of tact is another key skill to providing good customer service.  All too often managers get lost in the numbers and the metrics about an employee and forgot to actually look at how that employee is servicing customers and if the customers are satisfied with that employees service.

Good customer service is something that seemed to be heading toward extinction for a while, but as competition is becoming tighter in most industries, companies are starting to realize that customer service is the single biggest key toward winning and more importantly keeping customers.  With that realization more and more companies are starting to work on revamping their customer service strategies with a customer first concept.  They are also starting to realize that while price is a huge factor in a consumers purchase, good customer service is something many people are willing to pay a little extra for.  I hope this trend continues and customer service continues to improve across all industries.  A happy customer is a loyal customer, and a loyal customer is a profitable customer.