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Healthcare Call Centers

Go Beyond the Call  

Seek Ways to Solve Caller’s Pain Points

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

As a medical call center your job is to answer healthcare-related calls and respond to each one efficiently. Yet what if this isn’t what the patient needs? To paraphrase and old saying, sometimes we can win the battle but lose the war. That’s why we need to go beyond the call.

Being efficient sometimes gets in the way of truly winning. Call centers have a lot of metrics to track. These help us quantify results, but they may not measure outcomes. We need to find a balance between efficiency and patient-centric results.

Here are some ideas:

Offer Empathy

Sometimes callers need to know you heard them just as much as they need their issue addressed. This requires listening and offering empathy. Correcting a caller’s issue but doing so abruptly or without listening to them leaves the caller more frustrated than satisfied.

To you, they are one more call in a busy day. But to them you may be the most important call they’ll make all day.

Pursue Resolution

Other times what a patient asks for isn’t what they need—not really. Yet a passive-aggressive response results in answering the question, while not resolving the problem.

For example, a patient might ask for the web address of your online portal so they can check the results of a recent test. You give them the address because that’s what they asked for. Yet you know the results they want won’t be available for at least another day. Do you tell them that, even though it’s not what they asked? Can you suggest a different method for them to get the results quicker?

Anticipate Problems

Let’s say a patient calls to verify the location of where they need to go for an appointment with a specialist. You give them the address.

They didn’t ask about parking, but you know that’s an issue that frustrates many people. So, you can go the extra mile and let them know where they should park and how much time to allow themselves so they can arrive at the specialist’s office without being frazzled or out of breath.

Stay on the Line

Back to our caller who asked for the web address. You can give it to them and get off the call. Or you can give it to them and stay on the line to see if they have any more questions. Maybe they wrote it down wrong. If you’re still connected, you can clarify it, instead of making them call back a second time.

Or you can help them navigate the site, offering a quick tip that will save several minutes of frustration on their part. The point is, don’t end the call prematurely. If you think they’ll need help, the best approach may be to stick around.

Putting These Tips into Practice

You may acknowledge that while these are insightful ideas, they’re not practical for your busy call center and that you can’t afford to implement them. But recall the concept of winning the battle and losing the war.

That means the better perspective is that perhaps you can’t afford not to.

Think about it.

Read more in Peter Lyle DeHaan’s Healthcare Call Center Essentials, available in hardcover, paperback, and e-book.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D., is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat and Medical Call Center News covering the healthcare call center industry. Get his book, Sticky Customer Service.

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Business

How to Deal with Difficult Customers

A Personal Note to Frontline Customer Service Staff

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Anyone who’s worked in a support role knows how difficult it can be. Yes, some customers—hopefully most—are easy to work with and appreciative of your responses. They may even thank you for your help. Celebrate each one of these wins and use them to shape your outlook for the day.

Yet other customers, hopefully a minority, are challenging. They’re agitated before they even reach you, and if you don’t provide the answers they seek, their ire escalates. Even though you aren’t the cause of the problem that prompted them to contact you, they dump their frustration on you anyway, sometimes erupting into a personal attack. This isn’t fair. It isn’t right. But it happens.

First, know that everyone who contacts you makes a choice in how they treat you. They can choose to interact with you in a respectful and humane way. Or they can choose to let their emotions control the words they say and how they speak to you. This is on them, not you. This explanation doesn’t excuse their behavior, but it helps us better understand it.

Next, your responses to these difficult customers can defuse the situation or worsen it. Just as their decision of how to treat you is within their control, your reaction to them is within yours. 

Here are some tips to defuse difficult customer service situations.

Remain Calm

It’s hard to maintain your composure amid confrontation. Yet this is key to successfully dealing with challenging people. Don’t mirror their unruly behavior and reflect their negativity. Instead, counter their inappropriate conduct with an appropriate response.

If your interaction is over the phone, don’t forget to breathe. This will help you relax. It also releases tension. Remember to smile. A smile on your face will ease helpful words out of your mouth. Some reps place a small mirror on their desk to remind them to smile. Callers will hear your smile. Also be professional, treating them as you would want them to treat you. 

Though not as critical when you’re not on the phone, these tips to breathe, smile, and be professional also apply to online interactions, such as text chat, email, and social media.

Pause

If you feel emotion building up inside of you that might cause you to say something that’s not helpful, pause. If you’re on the phone, you can ask them to hold while you “look something up.” The same applies to chat. You can also introduce a pause into email and social media support without the customer even knowing it. 

When receiving an emotion-filled email, I make myself wait an hour before responding, sometimes even waiting until the next day. My delayed communication is always more constructive than what I would have typed at first.

Regardless of how you pause a customer interaction, the purpose is for you to refocus your attention on producing a positive outcome and to ensure you don’t respond negatively and escalate the situation.

End Positively

Regardless of the customer service outcome, make sure you conclude it positively. You can thank the customer for contacting you—even if you don’t want to say so. Or end by telling them to enjoy the rest of their day. 

This accomplishes two things. 

For the customer, it may cause them to rethink what just happened, hopefully putting their day on a different trajectory. 

For you, it helps set the tone for your next customer interaction. It signals to your mind and body that the difficult interaction is over, and it’s time to embrace the next one with a fresh outlook.

Take a Break

Sometimes after you complete a negative customer service interaction, you need time to move past it. This makes sure you don’t carry the unpleasant situation you just endured into your next call. 

You may need to take a break. 

Most employers understand this and allow their customer service reps the latitude to take this step as needed. This action, however, should be rare and not the norm. If your employer doesn’t allow this, then do what you can to interject a short pause into your workflow after a difficult call.

Customer Service Success Tip

Work to make every customer interaction produce a positive outcome. Celebrate your successes. Learn how to better deal with difficult customers. Don’t let one rude customer ruin your day.

Working in customer service has many rewarding moments. Don’t lose sight of them.

Read more in Peter’s new book, Sticky Customer Service, to uncover helpful customer service tips, encouraging you to do better and celebrating what you do best.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his carer. Recurring themes included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management. He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insghts through his books and posts.

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Business

Frontline Customer Service Staff

Work to Make Your Support Staff’s Job Easier

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

A common thread throughout these posts is that a person—not a department or an organization—provides customer support. The two exceptions are self-service and automated bots, but even these often require—or, at least, should require—an actual person to back them up.

This means that your frontline employees are key to customer service success. You play a role in their work, their workload, and their associated attitude. Look for ways to make their jobs easier. Here are some actions you can take to better support them, to increase positive outcomes, and to improve their job outlook.

Review Policies

Look at your organization’s procedures and rules. Do these help your customer service staff do their job better or do these items make their work harder? Balance your policies between business acumen and customer service workload. Often, well-meaning business directives subject your staff to unnecessary customer complaints and workplace frustration. 

For example, one employer I worked for had an internal policy that all payments were net 45, instead of paying within the standard thirty days, which most every company expects. This caused me to spend way too much time fielding calls from frustrated vendors about delayed payments.

Empower Staff

Give your employees the authority to do the right thing for your customers. This is especially true in situations where managers have the latitude to make these decisions. Forcing customers to escalate their concerns causes more work for managers and diminishes the customer service personnel in the eyes of the caller.

Provide Supervisory Support

You can help customer service employees with wise supervision. This isn’t to monitor their behavior but to assist with difficult interactions. Sometimes a customer and an employee will not mesh, no matter how hard the employee tries. Doing a handoff to a supervisor (or even a seasoned coworker) can turn an ill-fated contact into a successful one.

Fix Problems First

How much of the customer service work that your staff does results from problems your company caused? This can result from an email sent too soon, a letter mailed to the wrong customers, or a website that contains misinformation. Avoid or fix these issues to keep customers from contacting support because of your company’s self-inflicted problems.

A confusing or hard-to-navigate website is another unnecessary source of customer service work. Even worse is a website that’s broken. I once tried for three days to update my credit card number on a vendor’s website, only to receive an error message each time. When I finally reached someone in support, she immediately understood the situation. “Sorry, but that section of our website isn’t working correctly.” I wonder how many needless chat sessions she, and her coworkers, endured because of this website problem.

Celebrate Their Work

Always do what you can to acknowledge the efforts of your customer service staff. Celebrate their positive outcomes and excellent work. Say, “Thank you.” 

This occurs directly with your words, both in person and written. Notes, emails, and memos of heart-felt appreciation go a long way to affirm the work of a too-often underacknowledged but essential part of your operation. Acknowledging their work also occurs tangibly with their paychecks and compensation packages. 

I once had a boss who combined these two elements. On Fridays he would deliver our checks. He’d walk into my office, hand me my paycheck, and say “thank you.” Then he’d leave to deliver the next one.

Never lose sight of the critical role you play in thanking your customer service staff for their work. This isn’t a once-and-done action, but an ongoing initiative.

Customer Service Success Tip

Make your support staff’s job easier by removing roadblocks that impede them from doing their job.

Read more in Peter’s new book, Sticky Customer Service, to uncover helpful customer service tips, encouraging you to do better and celebrating what you do best.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his carer. Recurring themes included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management. He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insghts through his books and posts.

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Business

Good Customer Service Keeps Its Promises

Say What You’ll Do and Do What You Say

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Repeated stories in these posts relate to cell phone companies. It’s a sad commentary on the industry, yet these lessons apply to all businesses. 

For cell phone companies, a disregard for existing customers and preference for new business drives existing customers to their competitors every two years. I have ample stories to share, none of them good. 

What’s interesting is that each switching cycle starts online and may shift to the telephone before moving to in-person to finalize the transaction. Once completed, interaction may move back to the telephone for a time before reverting to online for the long term. There is a significant disconnect between these channels. 

Through the decades of the every-other-year carrier switch, I can recall none that occurred as expected. None ingratiated me to my new provider, and each one took too much time. Most incurred unexpected charges or hidden fees. Hidden is a generous word. Lied to is more common.

No carrier stands above the others in treating customers right and attempting to hold on to the ones they have rather than continually churn them.

A New Twist

Though our existing carrier was content to continue service under the terms of our original agreement, they took no steps beyond that to keep our business. It was only through the work of an independent sales unit that we learned of a plan that worked for us and would not force us to switch providers.

Key to this was a generous trade-in allowance for our existing phones. Factoring the credit into our calculations would allow us to upgrade our phones at no cost and enjoy a slight decrease in our monthly rate. It seemed too good to be true.

We scrutinized the fine print in their offer and found no flaw. The decision to upgrade service was easy. After confirming the details of their offer, we committed to move forward. Switching took much longer than it should, which happens each time we upgrade. But we walked out of the store with our new phones and began transferring information so we could use them and then return the old units.

A Shocking Development

After wiping the memory on our old phones and shipping them in to receive our trade-in rebates, we encountered a shock. They reviewed our working phones, listed made up problems, and downgraded our promised rebates to less than 10 percent of what we expected. The carrier was unwilling to discuss this. The discrepancy between their promise and their reality was a couple thousand dollars.

An online search for resolutions revealed many people who felt similarly duped. The only successful recourse was to wait three months for the final determination and then reporting them to the Better Business Bureau. Once aggrieved customers filed their complaints, the carrier made good on their promise.

That’s not a wise business strategy. 

Customer Service Success Tip

Uncover times your customers may have felt tricked by your marketing promotions and customer retention initiatives. Eliminate these disparities between fact and fiction.

If you don’t address these issues, you’ll alienate customers. And they’ll tell everyone they can, further hurting your chances of gaining new business.

Read more in Peter’s new book, Sticky Customer Service, to uncover helpful customer service tips, encouraging you to do better and celebrating what you do best.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his carer. Recurring themes included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management. He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insghts through his books and posts.

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Business

The Name Game

Use Names to Facilitate Effective Communication and Not Obscure It

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

In “The Perfect Answer,” we talked about using your name when answering phone calls. This makes a personal connection with the caller and facilitates productive communication to result in positive outcomes.

Besides phone calls, names are equally important for online and in-person communication. Here are some further thoughts on names.

The Alias

A friend once worked for a collection agency. All day he placed calls to people who owed money to his clients. Since he was attempting to contact people who didn’t want to be found, he often met with opposition and even threats. Because of this, he never used his actual name and adopted an alias for his work. 

This was a company policy to protect employees from reprisals by those they pursued. Since he presented himself as a named person, he met with more success than he would’ve had he been a nameless voice from the dreaded collection agency.

As a side effect, assuming a new name enabled him to adopt a different persona at work. Contrary to his mellow personality, his collection agency character allowed him to become a determined sleuth unaffected by avoidance tactics and threats of retaliation.

In this case, using an alias was both safe and effective.

The Switch 

While attending a banquet, it surprised me to see a friend working there as a server. Chloe shared that she took this occasional part-time work to earn extra money. After chatting a while, I glanced at her name tag. It said “Jennifer.”

She smiled. “They make us wear name tags, but they never said we had to wear our own. So, we all switch.” Her eyes twinkled with excitement. “Sometimes I swap with Jeremy.”

Though Chloe could pass as Jennifer, she certainly didn’t look like a Jeremy.

This was a fun way to add some variety to a fast-paced and demanding job. Yet her admission gave me pause. I wondered what else she and her coworkers were doing, contrary to the expectation of management. The staff’s reaction to their employer’s name policy hinted to workplace problems. I wondered if these issues affected their patrons in a negative way. 

If your staff engages in passive-aggressive behavior, look for the underlying cause and then fix it.

The Alternate

I once had an employee with an unusual name: Johnene. When answering the phone, she always gave her name as trained. Too often, however, callers asked her to repeat it. Growing tired of this, she tried a shortened version, Johnnie. Callers now understood her name, but many repeated it with a question in their voice to confirm they heard right. She then tried John, but that made things worse. Next, she even used Joan for a bit, but it didn’t feel right and confused her coworkers. She reverted to Johnene.

Sometimes names can impede communication, delaying the resolution that callers seek. It may facilitate customer service to use an alternate, more common name. But not always. 

Multiple times I’ve called companies and had a heavily accented representative—who I suspected was halfway around the world—tell me his name was Jeff or Mike. I seriously doubted that. I realize he did this because I was unlikely to understand his actual name or be able to repeat it. Yet with such an obvious mismatch between his accent and stated name, I felt duped, distracting me from accomplishing my goal.

A better solution than to adopt a common American-sounding name might be to use a nickname or the first syllable or two of his actual name. These options would better bridge the culture implied by his accent and the goal to facilitate quick caller resolution. 

The Bot

More companies are using bots for customer service. Guided by artificial intelligence, bots are computer programs that communicate with customers in a way that mimics human interaction. The goal is for people to never know they’re chatting with a computer program and not an actual person.

Though I have no way of knowing how many times a bot has fooled me into thinking “Larry” was real, I know that sometimes the person I assumed I was chatting with turned out to be fake. The tipoff comes as our conversation progresses and the bot becomes less helpful. Then the bot types, “Let me get someone who can help you with that.”

I recently reached out to a tech company for help. I knew the initial interaction would be computerized, but they pleased me when the chat window listed the agent’s name as “Bot.” This left no doubt that I was interacting with a computer program and they weren’t trying to deceive me. Bot understood what I needed and routed me to the right person. We’ll call this a customer service win.

Does your company use bots to trick people or help them?

Customer Service Success Tip

Consider how your employees—and apps—use names when interacting with customers. Remember that the goal is effective service. Make sure your policy on using names keeps this in mind.

Read more in Peter’s new book, Sticky Customer Service, to uncover helpful customer service tips, encouraging you to do better and celebrating what you do best.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his carer. Recurring themes included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management. He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insghts through his books and posts.

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Business

Provider-Inflicted Pain

Balance Business Needs with Customer Impact

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

It’s a hassle when our credit card changes. We must track down every business that has our credit card number on file and update it. If we miss one company, we risk service interruptions or delivery problems.

Sometimes we decide to switch cards, but what about when our credit card company makes this change? Through no fault of our own, they force us to use a new card with a different number. This doesn’t happen often, but I have experienced it with both my personal and business accounts.

The most recent occurrence happened to me with the branded card I used for all my business purchases. They aligned with a different credit card provider, and I paid the price for that decision. I’m sure it made sense for them, but did they consider how this would affect their customers?

The Personal Impact

The first to update were the companies that automatically charged my card each month. The process to correct this was straightforward, albeit time-consuming. I looked at last month’s statement and listed everyone I needed to contact. Then I went online to provide my new credit card information. Though time-consuming and tedious, this step wasn’t hard. Some sites made updating my credit card information easy, but other sites buried this information or made the process more challenging.

But what about all the companies that had my credit card number on file, but I hadn’t bought from them in the last month? This list was much harder to compile, and I overlooked a few. But I didn’t know I had missed them until I attempted to place an order and had my card denied—all because I forgot to update my number. This produced both frustration and embarrassment.

Business Decisions

Don’t just evaluate business changes from a financial perspective. Consider how this will impact your customers. Will your decision inconvenience them or damage your relationship with them?

Though this example is about credit cards, the lesson applies elsewhere too. Other considerations include updating software, changing password requirements, and migrating from one system to another. Before proceeding, consider how these changes will impact your customers. Look for ways to mitigate their frustration or minimize their inconvenience.

Customer Service Success Tip

When you make a business decision, consider how it affects your customers. Seek ways to ease the transition for them. Consider what you can do for them so that they won’t have to do it themselves.

Read more in Peter’s new book, Sticky Customer Service, to uncover helpful customer service tips, encouraging you to do better and celebrating what you do best.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his carer. Recurring themes included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management. He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insghts through his books and posts.

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Business

Available and Accurate Support

Minimizing the Need for Customer Service Is the Best Support Option

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

As an author, I upload my books to over a half-dozen online stores and distributors, using their respective portals to enter each book’s information and files. The interface for each one differs, with some being easy to use and others being more cumbersome. Sometimes it’s clear what information they seek, and other sites provide on-page tips to answer essential questions. 

Each one of these online destinations offers a degree of customer support. 

Questionable Results

One online bookseller, the oldest of them all, has a confusing-to-navigate website that leaves users questioning what information to enter. They offer both email and telephone support, though experience encourages me to use these options only as a last resort—and then to question the results. Given the quality of communication that occurs through both options, I assume these reps are in a different country, one far removed from mine. 

I’d be fine with this if they were easier to understand, and I trusted what they told me. Too often, however, I wonder about the accuracy of their answers. And when I really question the validity of their advice, I contact them a second time and receive a contradictory response. I don’t recall ever getting the same answer twice.

Unavailable and Delayed

Another publishing vendor offers email and text chat support. They used to be most helpful and responsive. However, in the last year this has changed. Their text chat option is unavailable most of the time, turning on and off throughout the day. Checking during posted times of availability, I’ve twice seen that chat was online, but before I could enter my question, it went off-line. 

I’ve now given up on even trying chat and use email instead. I measure their response time for email requests in weeks, not hours. The good part is that I respect their answers—at least most of the time.

Professional and Accurate

The other companies all offer just email support. 

Two of them surpass all others—not only in the publishing industry but for all e-commerce companies. Though they don’t meet my hope for a quick response, they do respond, usually by the next business day. What makes them excel, however, is the professionalism of their communications and the accuracy of their answers. 

I fully trust what they tell me.

Follow the example of these two booksellers. Make sure that your online presence is easy for customers to use and offers accessible, helpful, on-page support. If you have customers or vendors who upload information to your website, make sure the backend is equally easy to use and helpful.

Customer Service Success Tip

Make your e-commerce store easier to use, for both customers and vendors. Each improvement you make online will lessen the work your customer service support staff must do later.

Read more in Peter’s new book, Sticky Customer Service, to uncover helpful customer service tips, encouraging you to do better and celebrating what you do best.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his carer. Recurring themes included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management. He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insghts through his books and posts.

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Business

The Trials and Triumphs of Telephone Support

Phone Interactions Can Save or Ruin Your Business

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

A lot of customer service occurs over the telephone. This growing trend leaves me concerned about some things and excited about others.

A Shortsighted Attitude

On the negative side, consider a large telecommunications company that provides cell phone, internet, and long distance. Or a large national banking institution. You’ve heard of them both. And they’re notorious for their abysmal record of poor customer service. 

If I shared their names, there’s a good chance you or someone you know has had an unpleasant experience with them. To call it unpleasant is kind. Uncaring, unconscionable, and unethical are more accurate characterizations.

With these companies, once a nontypical problem occurs, there’s a strong likelihood they’ll never resolve it. This isn’t an overstatement. People have only so much patience. Then they give up. Excessive runaround, time spent on hold, and limited energy to pursue a satisfactory resolution end up overwhelming frustrated customers. They accept the problem or switch providers.

Although some of these companies’ frontline staff care and try their best, too many do not. Regardless, there seems to be cumbersome bureaucracy thwarting every move and complex support systems that make no allowances for nonroutine problems.

A Solution for Success

There’s an opportunity awaiting these two companies—and others like them—if they can just provide effective telephone customer service. With best-in-class phone support, their cancellation rates would plummet, and customer satisfaction levels would skyrocket. They’d receive a lot less negative press.

Are these companies simply too big or do they offer too many services to be effective? Are their help desks mismanaged, bogged down by bureaucracy, or smothered with complexity? 

I suspect the underlying reason is that upper management treats support as an expense to minimize. But exemplary customer service is good business. Investing in customer support is an investment in your future.

A Positive Outcome

I experienced the trials and triumphs of phone support after my house took a minor lightning strike. The surge affected our phone, internet, and entertainment services. I called my satellite provider and spoke with Beth in the Oklahoma call center. This was the first time I encountered a call center agent telling me her location. It seemed hokey and an overreaction to the backlash against offshore call centers, but it helped me establish a personal connection with Beth from Oklahoma. 

While waiting for various diagnostics to run, we had time to chat, which I enjoyed and found preferable to sitting in silence on hold. She soon scheduled a service call for the next day. The technician fixed the problem fast and restored service.

I wish I could say the same for my phone and internet service providers. They both required multiple phone calls. Then there were the missed commitments, wrong instructions, and conflicting information. 

That’s no way to run a business.

Customer Service Success Tip

Listen to what customers say about your service. Then do one thing to improve it. Once complete, fix the next item on the list.

Read more in Peter’s new book, Sticky Customer Service, to uncover helpful customer service tips, encouraging you to do better and celebrating what you do best.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his carer. Recurring themes included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management. He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insghts through his books and posts.

Categories
Business

Consistency Matters Most

Tell Your Customers What to Expect and Deliver it Every Time

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Moving required finding a new place to service my car. A well-maintained auto repair business sat just down the street from our home, less than half a mile away. A neighbor, though he had never gone there, said they had a reputation for providing great service.

An Unexpected Twist

Before I could try them, however, another garage in the area mailed me a welcome-to-the-neighborhood coupon for a free oil change. This was a brilliant marketing move on their part. I figured I’d use the coupon and then try out the closer business, hopeful for them to become my provider of preference.

Though the second facility wasn’t as near, they were still only a couple miles away. They, too, had a nice facility—newer, larger, and more impressive than the one down the street.

I called for my free oil change, and everything proceeded as expected. New filter, fresh oil, and no bill. As a bonus, they performed a courtesy check of my car and offered a few suggestions for recommended maintenance. Their explanation of the additional work sounded reasonable. 

I later dropped my car off for part two. It cost me a couple hundred dollars this time, but I accepted it as normal for an aging car.

They impressed me with how they integrated technology into their operation, not only to service my car but also to interact with me. Despite having paid them over $200 for what I had planned to be a free oil change, I left pleased with their service and the outcome. In short, they delighted me.

Inconsistent Service

When our other car needed work, it was easy to return there—albeit not as convenient as going down the street. Again, they did their work as promised and met my expectations. Again, they had a list—this time longer—of additional work that they deemed urgent. This time the estimate was much higher. The explanation seemed less convincing. I walked away, not as happy, with the bill of several hundred dollars and only half the recommended work done.

Yet I returned the next time I had an auto-repair need.

They allowed me to schedule my appointments online, an option I appreciated given that I seldom remember to make my car repair appointments during business hours. Each time I booked my appointment, they asked for my preferred contact method: phone, text message, or email.

The first time I selected text message, but they called me instead. I figured it was an error on their part and overlooked it—mostly. From then on, I always selected email, but they persisted in calling. Once, when I didn’t answer, they followed up with a text. Never once did they email me as requested.

Another time I dropped my car off for repair and, not needing it back for at least a month (and causing me to wonder if my family really needed a second car), I told them there was no rush. “Just email me when you’re finished.”

A week went by and then two with no email (or phone call or text). Then a third week with no communication. Then a tersely worded letter arrived. If I didn’t pick up my car within 24 hours, they would charge me for storage. I went in, paid my bill, and retrieved my car. 

I asked why they never contacted me about the completed repair. Their aloof customer service person offered no explanation, only a shoulder shrug.

I grew tired of going there. My first concern was that they always found something else to do. Too often I questioned the validity of their recommendations. Though they delighted me at first, they never repeated that feat. Instead, they provided mediocre service. This produced disappointment, such as not calling me in the manner requested or threatening to charge me to store the car I didn’t know was ready for pickup.

Aside from aggressive recommendations for additional work on my cars, their actual repairs were good. But the inconsistent nature of our interactions led me to seek a different alternative. Not knowing what to expect each time I interacted with them led me to disappointment most of the time. I knew they could delight me because they did once. Why couldn’t they accomplish that every time?

I gave up on them and, after much too long, contacted the garage down the street for my next oil change.

Consistent Service

Upon arriving, the customer service manager greeted me with an engaging smile. She entered my information in the computer and made my appointment. I dropped the car off as planned, picked it up when promised, and paid the bill I expected. 

Though nothing was exceptional with our interaction, it was decidedly better than average. After my recent experiences with the other garage, above average excited me. I returned. Again and again. 

Every time I had an above average experience. Each time I looked forward to my next visit. They were that good. They provided me with consistently above average interactions. I appreciated knowing what to expect and receiving it every time.

Their predictable service pleased me. They didn’t delight me just once and then disappoint. They thrilled me on every visit.

I still take my vehicles there. I know that each time I take my car in I’ll receive quality work, a fair bill with no surprises, and reasonable recommendations for possible additional work. I rate my interaction with them as consistently above average—and that’s high praise. 

I don’t recall another auto repair facility ever being this predictable. With certainty, none were consistently above average. Even a garage consistently average would surpass most of my combined experiences at other service facilities, where they seldom followed one good encounter with a second. 

Too often my auto-repair experiences were like a roller coaster: up and down. I never knew what to expect. And unlike roller coasters where surprises thrill riders, being surprised doesn’t bode well for car repair.

Consistency is the key for ongoing success. This will earn you repeat business, time after time, year after year.

Customer Service Success Tip

Before you strive to improve your customer service, first aim to be consistent. This means uncovering the experiences that disappoint and eliminating them. Continue to address the low outliers to increase consistency in the remaining interactions.

Read more in Peter’s new book, Sticky Customer Service, to uncover helpful customer service tips, encouraging you to do better and celebrating what you do best.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his carer. Recurring themes included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management. He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insghts through his books and posts.

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Business

Penny Wise and Dollar Foolish

Customer Service Failure Exists in Both Big and Small Ways 

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

After moving from one town to another, I continued working with my long-time business accountant. Though most of our interactions occurred over the phone and through email, I persisted in making an hour-long trek to his office each tax season.

This was in part because of loyalty, but also my enjoyment in working with him. Another issue was inertia. Would searching for and finding a local replacement be an arduous task? Would the results be better or worse than my current situation?

Assets

On the plus side, my accountant was always available to answer my questions without charging me. I liked him as a person, identified with him as a business owner, and respected him as an accountant. Over the years, we had gotten to know each other, approaching a basic friendship.

Liabilities

The negative side of the ledger contained a few items as well. Besides handling my annual corporate and personal tax returns, one of my accountant’s associates also processed my payroll. Though my requirements were as simple as possible, my needs sometimes caused my assigned contact to stumble. 

I’d catch her errors. She’d apologize and correct them. But it’s worrisome when the untrained person who doesn’t do payroll uncovers a mistake made by the trained professional who does. These problems occurred each time a new person began working on my account, which happened every few years. Occasional issues popped up in between. If I changed firms, would my new selection be better or worse?

The second frustration, although trivial, caused more irritation. As companies migrated to emailing invoices and statements, my accounting firm persisted in mailing them. As the number of mailed invoices decreased, I ended up with only two folders in my accounts receivable file. One was for my accountant and the other for the United States Postal Service, which has an understandable interest in persisting to mail documents. 

If my accountant missed this simple business trend, were there other things he was out of touch with too? This question gnawed at me, reinforced by each quarter’s mailed invoice.

The third and most trivial issue shouldn’t be worthy of mention, but I couldn’t let it go. Each year, after completing my tax return, I’d receive a call from his office to come and pick up my forms and records. If I wanted them mailed, there was an additional charge—first six dollars and later ten. 

Though my accountant said he would mail it at no cost, this information never made it to his frontline people. Each year when I complained about the fee, they’d sigh and place me on hold to confer with him. They’d return to the phone sometime later to confirm they would waive the charge. This came forth as a resigned concession, as if I were taking money out of their own pocket. Never once was there an apology. Never did they show respect for me as their customer.

After a few years of this, I grew tired of asking and paid the fee, albeit with growing disdain. 

Since I was driving an hour to see them and an hour back home just to continue using their services, I felt the least they could do was mail my paperwork to me at no cost. They could have even padded my bill by ten dollars, and I wouldn’t have cared. But to announce the cost with a separate line item every year rumbled in my gut.

I paid them well over $1,000 each year. Charging me $10 to use their services was an insult. As I considered the rates I paid, I often wondered if they were competitive.

Restore the Balance

After six years of this long-distance accounting arrangement, it was time to change, to find a local provider, regardless of how difficult the transition might be. Turns out it was quite simple. My daughter-in-law recommended the firm she used for her business. Though her line of work is quite different from mine, our accounting needs are identical.

Based on her recommendation, I interviewed her CPA and hired him. Currently, he handles my taxes, and a junior CPA in his firm does my payroll. I’ve never questioned her work, and, as a bonus, she’s easier to work with and provides a higher level of service than my prior accountant’s associates.

The overall service level with my new accountant is higher, and the rates are lower. And there are no more mailing charges to irk me. Though my former accountant may have had a business reason to bill and track mailing fees as a separate line item, it served as an irritant that drove me away. 

Customer Service Success Tip

Search for business practices that might make sense from your standpoint but alienate customers. Eliminate those items to better keep their business. You’ll come out ahead in the end.

Read more in Peter’s new book, Sticky Customer Service, to uncover helpful customer service tips, encouraging you to do better and celebrating what you do best.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his carer. Recurring themes included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management. He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insghts through his books and posts.