Editor’s Note: I asked my friend Sarah to write this post as I heard about this experience on Twitter and felt that it was paramount to the things we all talk about within the Customer Service arena. Sadly the first company set and delivered on hesitant expectations. …And probably lost future business.
(Used under creative commons, thank you Metro Transportation Library)
I’m a busy woman. I’m the secretary and the bookkeeper for over a dozen ministries at our denomination’s state headquarters. There is no time for inefficiency or incompetence. I’ve spent the last half dozen years honing and refining the processes that make my department work. That includes finding the perfect vendors from whom to buy our supplies. If I use a vendor once and they impress me, next time, I won’t waste time with other vendors. Similarly, if I use a vendor and they waste my time, money, or energy, they don’t get a second chance.
For six weeks of May and June, I administrate a youth camp for our denomination. With anywhere from 700 to a thousand kids from the age of 6 to nineteen, I don’t have time for games or hold-ups. The first of May, I pull out my old-fashioned Rolodex and pull out the cards for my tried-and-true vendors and begin ordering supplies.
At camp, we make name badges for each of our kids and staff. It’s usually somewhere around a thousand name badges, lanyards, and inserts that I have to order each year. I’ve used the same company for three years and never had a problem. I have a personal rep that works with me and on her Rolodex card, I’ve written the exact item numbers of the products I order. But this year, when I called and asked for my rep, I was told that I had been assigned a new rep. I wasn’t happy about that, but I knew exactly what I needed, so I didn’t think it would be a problem.
I was wrong.
My new rep was obviously a new guy. I say it was obvious because he seemed to be slightly hesitant and tentative throughout our conversation. I told him who I was and gave him my product numbers, expecting him to respond as his predecessor always had, thanking me for my order, telling me my total, asking me if he should process the credit card on file, and telling me how soon my order would arrive.
It didn’t happen that way. The new rep explained to me that they didn’t have my products in stock. I needed to choose another product. I wasn’t happy about that, but I was willing to discuss other options, so I asked him for suggestions of alternative products.
For a moment, there was silence on the other end of the line. Then, there was a little stuttering. And then, he offered me a product that was outside of my price range. I knew that my boss would balk at spending more money unless I gave him a very good reason and a great deal of assurance that the new product would be worth the extra money. When I asked the rep about the quality of the new product, he couldn’t tell me anything about it. When I pressed him about it, he got defensive and said, “Do you want them, or not?”
My first impulse was to tell him to keep his products and I’d find another vendor. But reality (and the calendar) told me that I didn’t have time to find another vendor. So, against my better judgment, I said yes.
It was a mistake. First, there was a significant error in my bill. Then, I received the email telling me that they didn’t have enough of the new product to fill my order. They would need to substitute yet another product for a third of my order. I called and grudgingly gave my permission for that. Three weeks later, when the final third of my order still hadn’t arrived, I called and learned that my new rep had neglected to place the order.
My personality is such that I won’t call the company and complain. And I didn’t. But the day I received a Customer Satisfaction Survey by email, I was brutally (but tactfully) honest and told them I didn’t ever intend to use their company again. Within an hour, they had called to apologize profusely. By the end of the day, the old rep I’d worked with for the last three years had called to apologize and given me her cell phone number so that I can call her personally for future orders.
I tentatively told them I would give them another chance. I hope I don’t regret that decision.
After camp ended, I received a phone call from another vendor. This one is one that I’ve worked with for all six years that I’ve been at my present job.
Pam asked me if I was going to need anything for a large event for families in August and I told her that I would. We discussed the materials I would need and I asked her when I could expect them to be shipped to me. Her response startled me.
“Actually, if you’re going to be in the office around 10:30 on Wednesday morning, I’ll drive down and bring them to you.”
I was stunned. And I was even more stunned on that Wednesday morning when she drove halfway across the state and arrived at my office ten minutes early with more materials than I had even requested. And the extras, she threw in for free. She spent about thirty minutes with me, answering questions and discussing the event so that she could see if there was any other way she could help me.
After Pam left, I thought, “THAT is the kind of service I want. THAT is the kind of professional I want to deal with. And THAT is the kind of professional I want to be.” She went out of her way to do her job with a personal touch and a professional flair that reflected well not just on her, but on the company. Next year, instead of wondering what vendor to use, I’ll look forward to pulling out my Rolodex and calling her. Actually, she will probably call me first, because she’s just on top of things like that. And that’s what makes the difference.