The Herman Trend Alert|
August 7, 2002
Competitive Personal Service
We take many personal services for granted. People have been cutting and styling our hair, caring for our yards, cleaning our homes, servicing our cars, and providing other services for years. Our relationships with them are practically transparent. Some service providers, however, stand out among the rest.
These clever folks who go beyond the call of duty recognize that we have choices. They know that we prefer to be treated like we're special. Some service providers now scramble just a little more to earn our business, a tip, or a referral. Other providers operate in a superior way naturally, but we notice their performance more during these hectic times. Superior service, a random act of kindness, a smile-so welcome and so appreciated when we're preoccupied with our own challenges.
We travel quite a bit in our work as we crisscross the country giving speeches and consulting. We encounter many people providing personal service, and we're always delighted to discover people who are a cut above.
Let us tell you about Larry Moore (his real name). Larry drives Checker Cab Number 5136 in Chicago. He made Roger's recent trip from downtown to O'Hare Airport a truly enjoyable experience. It was obvious that Larry is proud of his work and his relationships with his customers. His business card emphasizes "Strictly Business." He delights in serving business customers and has an enviable list of regulars. His selling points on the card: "an excellent knowledge of Chicago and suburbs and the English language. There's an interesting statement in an urban area where so many drivers are from non-English speaking countries.
Roger was served by four other cab drivers during this trip. One had difficulty with English; others did not. All had difficulty with a service attitude. One even griped when asked for a receipt. Larry gave Roger a partially completed receipt as the trip began!
Especially today, extra service can make a big difference. While cost will still be important, a high level of service and sincere caring will be the competitive edge. Watch for smart companies-and individuals-to improve their service.
Comments from our readers:
I read your recent "Alert" about good service, and found it to be mainly wishful thinking, if my experience is any barometer. In recent weeks I have found service in a variety of business environments to be shoddy and on a continual deteriorating trend.
It took me four tries to buy a computer system from Dell, dealing with them both on-line and over the phone. Each time, a slight deviation from what Dell considers the norm caused my order to end up in Cyber Hell. One one occasion, I was put into an endless voicemail loop.
On another occasion, when dealing with Sprint PCS, I had to wait on hold for nearly 20 minutes before I talk to someone who couldn't or wouldn't deal with my issue, and then became surly and deprecating when I asked to talk to a supervisor.
These are but two examples from a list I could provide of companies treating me (and I presume, everyone else) like scum. Is it just me, or does it seem like the more hi-tech a company is, the more difficult it is to deal with them?
It seems that whoever you deal with these days, companies appear to be using their automated telephone systems as a way of keeping customers at bay. They assume that all customers will have standard issues or concerns, and the pushbutton options are set up to handle them. In a growing number of cases, you can't even "zero out" to reach a human being. I am also becoming annoyed at the number of companies that not only answer their phones with machines, but add insult to injury by putting on long commercials before you can even hear the pushbutton options. Many of these same companies are big on telemarketing and will bombard you with friendly salespeople, but once they have your money, they'll keep you way beyond sensor range.
I want a human to answer the phone when I call. If I must be put on hold, give me Tchaikowski, not commercials. On those rare occasions when I can reach an actual human, I want them to be trained, empowered and smart enough to be able to handle my problem, or at least to cheerfully honor my request to speak to a supervisor. And don't even get me started about those companies whose automated systems tell me how important I am to them and then leave me on hold for 20 minutes or more.
Here's my Trend Alert: I predict that it won't be long before people like myself rise up and refuse to do business with techno-savvy but people-unfriendly companies. Smart companies will recognize that what they have to pay in salaries to receptionists and telephone operators will be more than made up in earnings from satisfied customers like me.
I think outstanding service is what sets one apart in a tight market. My clients have freely commented on how I go the extra mile and bring them fresh ideas before they need to ask. When I look for service providers, I try to find people like Larry...who know how to get us to where we are going.
Speaking of Chicago, on the 151 bus, I had a terrific driver one day. He helped every lost passenger down to telling them how to cross the street safely with underground passes and everything. Contrary to the public image of the CTA, he actually dropped off a group of people in between stops, to save them a long walk to see the Sears Tower...and pointed out how to enter the building. It made me proud to be born in this city!
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