Sunday, May 20, 2007

Customer service tales

Rick Segal is a Canadian venture capitalist who writes a blog called The Post Money Value, which is a Canadian's take on the high tech industry. It's an interesting perspective from an industry veteran.

Rick is also an airline junkie -- he's forced to fly all the time. Lately, he's been using Air Canada's unlimited North America pass.

In this post, he offers an intriguing view of Air Canada - everyone's favourite airline to hate (as I can attest to). It's called A Tale of Two Airlines - Air Canada. But it's not really about the airline. It's about what makes great customer service, and how important it is that companies understand what it takes to make them great.

Air Canada does know what it takes to give great customer service - as Rick can attest. But all too often (as his daughter points out in the other "tale") Air Canada fails to deliver. And what's worse, they don't seem to give a damn.

Rick wraps up his post with three points that every company should ask itself about how it deals with customers (these make more sense if you've read the whole post):
Are you paying attention to who you think matters to your business? You can say, everybody is equal, we strive for it, etc, but every person out there has, at one time or another, received amazing service over somebody else because of price paid, section of the venue, etc. Rachel would fly on WestJet in a second if they flew in/out of LA. Could AC doing anything to make her loyal? Should they? Again, I offer the questions not my opinion as my opinion doesn't matter in running your business.

Are you setting tone? The right tone? What struck me about the 'pillow lady' was her smile and her genuine, no problem, attitude. It was so easy to give me that pillow with, here you elitist, make 10x more money, drive nicer car, eat better cat food, than me attitude, but she didn't. It was genuine, here you go, thanks for your business. That attitude should be present for the $99 (or less) air fare. Just because I'm a Super Elite, that is not a license to dump on others. For your start up? Set the right tone with your folks. Encourage and embrace those that go the extra mile for customers. The Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA) sends an acknowledgement when you file your taxes. The letter notice starts off with Thank You. I know, there are a billion smart ass remarks you want to say, but the point is tone/attitude.

Are there lots of stories out there that mention your company? I'd probably be laughed at if I said the Air Canada pillow incident was a purple cow for me. I suspect that is a reach but my point is how many amazingly good stories are coming out of your team? David Sifry, (CEO, Technorati) many years ago, when I just fired up the blog, personally called me after I emailed in a random tech support question. Home email, cell phone, nobody blogger. He didn't know (or care) I was a VC or that I knew the toll booth lady on the GG bridge. He just dived in and answered the question. Purple Cow. How many stories about your business are being created this week? Today? An hour ago?

I've written about customer service - good and bad - before but I don't think it ever gets worn out as a topic. Think about how often you come into contact with a company via their front lines - a receptionist at an office, the ticket agent at the counter, the voice on the other end of the phone. Those are the contacts that will make or break the relationship. They have to be good.

Seth Godin is another marketing guru I quote often. (He's the guy that coined the "purple cow" term that Rick Segal mentioned in his post.) Last week, he had a post that talked about how to be a great receptionist. The advice works for a lot of positions. And it brings up two challenges for today's corporations. First, how to get your managers to buy into this concept? And the second is how to get employees to feel the same way? Hint -- They're not different answers.

Got any ideas? Use the comment button below to share your experiences.

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