Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Why Great Customer Service Might Save The World

Readers who know me on Facebook may recall my iPhone did something weird the other day.  I plugged it in to this very computer to 'sync' and instead of the two new photos I wanted to download, the auto-downloader thingy told me it had found in fact 22 new photos.  I clicked 'OK' and watched as 22 entirely random-seeming photos in chronological order spanning the last year or so spooled on down into a new folder.

I wondered if it was A Sign.  And if so, what I might usefully do to reflect upon the Universe's possible lessons for me in this odd occurrence.  So I have decided to base a short (or however long really) blog post on randomly selected photos from this folder, and share whatever transpires from the memories or inspiration therefrom right here.  I don't have a 22-sided die but I do have google, and it showed me this random number generator where you can customize the range.  I selected a randomizer between 1 and 22 inclusive and got.....(would you believe)......


As you can see, this is a picture of a cat (our cat Buckley), and a t-shirt, on a bed.  So here's a story:

Most everybody knows, despite my making very little mention of such rooming elephants of late, that I am acutely aware of my mortality these days, what with it being very likely such an imminent thing.  Even though I'm doing very nicely right now on my new treatment and health regime, thanks.  Still, I will occasionally post FB status updates such as Dying Man Orders New Books Online; True To Form Does Not Pay Extra For Express Delivery.  And being a person, I wear t-shirts.  Actually I wear them year-round, and of course, over time, they wear out or you just want some new ones.  I decided a few weeks back that with summer coming on I'd get myself a few new ones, from an online store we discovered that acts as shopfront for all manner of artists (you can contribute your designs too and see them live online on all sorts of things as well as t-shirts).  Meeta did her thing sometime earlier this year looking for t-shirts that were specifically;

a) good quality
b) had interesting and cool designs
c) reasonably priced
d) reasonably ethically aligned as a business proposition

Meeta is an ace researcher, surfing for both the wisdom of the crowd and the behind-the-websites angle, and came up with redbubble.com which is based in Melbourne, Australia.

They're an edgy sort of outfit (pardon my poor punnery please), with an email avatar called 'Mr Baxter' whose "job is is to show you tees that will please your head" and such not-too-tryhard in-with-the-kids stuff.  Their Facebook persona is an alpaca.  Clearly though, their business model is founded on care for their customers, their contributing artists, and naturally their bottom lines.

So when I unwrapped my eagerly-awaited parcel of 3 new shirts, I was doubly delighted and also....a little nonplussed.  This latter because as you can see even from the badly-lit shot on a woefully inadequate iPhone 3GS 1mp camera that this one shirt IS REALLY VERY ORANGE.  Not exactly what I'd seen on screen at all, actually.  Fair enough, I think, this is the peril of online shopping, and maybe I'll just wear it around the house on overcast days so as not to blind Meeta.  But then I thought to let the redbubble guys know that the screen display is actually very different from the shirt, because I figured if I were them (and I have been a customer service type with - as you'll come to understand if you don't already- a genuine passion for good service) I might want to know.  I mean, they have literally tens of thousands of products, and can't know everything all the time.  Plus maybe the artists cares, because it's the artists who chose what colours their individual designs will be made available on.

To shorten the reportage of what came next, I shall condense the email exchange between myself and their customer relations dept (someone named Adam as it happened) to a simple pretend conversation:

Me: Hey guys, I really like you and the quality of the shirts and your service are great.  I also even like that you manage to be cool without overdoing the tryhard stuff and seem to really care about your artists.  But you've seen the 'but' coming, and, well, THIS SHIRT IS PRETTY MUCH ELEVENTY HUNDRED SHADES BRIGHTER THAN THE SCREEN DISPLAY and I checked it out on a few screens, same all over.  Not fishing btw fyi, just thought you'd want to know because I suspect you give a rat's etc.  Caveat emptor, my bad.  Thanks!
Adam: Oh noes!  Great that you like us, Mr Baxter needs constant reassurance and the alpaca relies solely on FB 'likes' for ego support too, cheers.  But hey, maybe we stuffed up.  Do us a favour?  Send a pic so we can check it was the usual orange we print on.  We will get you a new shirt, as this outcome you got right now is unacceptable to us. Replacement of the 'right orange' or store credit for a new shirt etc you do like. kthxbai.
Me: You do rock, and I shall reiterate the non-angling nature of my boat trip on the emaily waters, but shan't dissuade you from making me an even happier customer.  Here is a pic of the shirt next to a black & white cat so you can gauge the brightness in the shot.  Remember last email I was trying to describe the screen display colour?  The word I couldn't find was 'juicy'.  This to me is plastic orange, not the nice rich trending-to-burnt umber colour I saw.  If this is indeed your range, I'll go the same but in dark red pls, ta.
Adam: Wowee, I have just been checking out the screens of my colleagues computers and the orange is different everywhere, jeepers.  Your shirt is our orange.  Um, but.....the artists doesn't want this design on dark red so.....hit the ball back with a different spin, good sir.  Very happy to make our Customer Satisfaction Guarantee a Real Live Thing, yay. 
Me: kthx super Adam.  Here is a link to this other shirt I saw in dark red with this cool pic of a pigeon carrying a typewriter on it.  It is a tiny bit more spendy so lemme know how y'all would like the difference - credit card OK?

That was the last I heard from them, and I am guessing that a new shirt is very probably coming off their presses for me this evening.  How's this for good service?  It's so good I'm talking them up here!

Why do I care so much?  It's not just the rarity of such great genuine care these days, it's what it signifies.  My take on the customer service vibe in Australia at least these days is that businesses are increasingly moving towards the extremes of the spectrum - there's that 'normal' curve flattening out again - towards either "let's make ourselves legendary, take the occasional hit on profits and create happy, loyal repeat custom" or the other direction of "we got their money once, let's not be letting go of it now".  This latter applies especially to businesses who either correctly (through relative monopoly for example) or otherwise feel they do themselves little harm by having the cheapest possible conflict resolution solutions.  Like a call centre in the Philippines whose unfortunate staff have little knowledge and even less real power to help you.

I've worked in all sorts of customer service roles, and have advised others on such matters professionally also.  I am firmly in the first camp, for some really basic reasons.  Firstly, it almost never costs more in the long run to take a minor hit compared to the new trade you will generate - even if you are a monopoly.  And even if it does cost some, the goodwill adds in to a sort of social buffer over time where your customers will feel well-enough disposed towards you to pay more for things they want should you find yourself in hard times and need their support too.  My ISP is another good example; I pay probably somewhere between 50 and 100 bucks a year over what I could pay elsewhere for my internet connection because I know I'll get proper service if and when I need it; this applies to my home phone line too.  They know this.

Now which company do you want to work at?  Which company do you think has the happier staff, those who can help their customers - who are assisted and supported by their managers to be empowered and proactive in making others happy (within reasonable guidelines of course) or those whose managers insist first and foremost on harm minimization, compliance and cost control?

Culture is the thing we feel in terms of our relations with our neighbours.  that guy on the other end of the email, or the woman on the helpline, they're either our neighbour, or our adversary.  Either they get to be someone we enjoy a human connection with, or a bureaucratic and likely frustrating and unsatisfactory transaction.

The real price is in the human feeling, not the dollars it costs to print another t-shirt, pay a licence fee to an artists, and post it (plus a few minutes' wages to write the emails).  This is a win-win situation.  And there is almost never a reason not to go that way, as a service provider.  So it almost amounts to a crime against humanity, to humanness to be less than wonderful at giving friendly, warm, useful service, especially in cases where something's gone wrong.

Now imagine a world where everyone worked in a place that had a caring attitude towards it customers.  It doesn't even matter if this caring attitude is cynical and simply business-sense based at first (like Qantas giving away these free tickets after its shoddy behaviour of late) because eventually, if this service ethic is maintained in practice, the humans involved on both sides naturally just start to feel good about it.  You know, about their life.  About their job, the thing they do so much of.  And because everybody's doing it, then they're happy when they're not at work, because their commercial transactions at the bank, the grocery store, the telco even, are pleasant and come from a place where people want to make things right and good and.......well, just right.

Underlying all this is an unspoken assumption, that we have in our dealings with one another, with our transactions and exchanges, an innate sense that each party should benefit.  We often think of such an arrangement as being  just, or fair.  We know that fairness does not exist in nature, that we try and overlay some sort of mesh of fairness on all of Creation to try and cope with the horrible chaos and unpredictability of it all: hence religion, democracy, ideas of karma, even this very idea of scientific secularist atheism is in some ways a plea for a sense of fairness.  As fairness does not naturally exist, yet is desirable to us, we seek to create it in our lives, through the trappings of civilization, in the ways we interact.

So if we all worked towards, and reasonably expected to receive, great service in all our dealings with each other, based on a sense of mutual fairness, imagine how we would feel about our fellow man as a default setting.  Would this not, indeed, make for a wonderful society?  Think on how this virus of commonality would inform not just our feeling selves but our thinking selves.  Our perceptive selves in totality, even.  How we'd be likely to view and treat this planet that allows us life.  Imagine.  Maybe we could borrow an African word, originally from the Bantu language I think, as it almost seems to poetically fit - ubuntu.  There is no precise definition of ubuntu, but I think it fits OK and it's a nice word.  Ubuntu.

This is how I suggest that Great Customer Service Might Save The World.
Donations can still be made towards helping Meeta and I pay for my Natural Burial (I'm not dead yet!...but as the time draws nearer.....) via this link here.  It uses Paypal so is free, safe, and can even be anonymous if you wish.  Thank you.

No comments:

Post a Comment