Customer service and the occasional nightmare

By
Industry Observer

Most businesses either provide or claim to provide great customer service, and real estate professionals are no exception.  We all have our own conception of just what constitutes great customer service, and most of us strive to do our best to constantly improve.  Lots has been written, and lots of dollars have been spent with the goal of being the best we can be.

The most common and possibly the most effective way to improve one's customer service is to observe businesses that are really great and try to adapt their style and execution.  A second, and probably less effective way is to do exactly the opposite of a business that is outstanding in their poor service.  Enter newspaper circulation departments, specific to me the Minneapolis Star Tribune.  Follow the opposite of these steps and you could be outstanding in the service area.

  1. Fail to provide the product you promised.  In the case of my newspaper subscription, that means failing to deliver one in four times.  I subscribe to the Sunday paper and have experienced about a 25% failure to deliver rate.  Of course, that means I spend one in four Sunday mornings on the phone with them.
  2. Provide a customer service phone line that usually "answers" with a busy signal.  Once a customer actually reaches the line, be sure that they are faced with the voice response system from hell.  That will get some customers to give up and end the call.
  3. When they finally navigate the voice response successfully, put them on hold.  Play really bad music on hold, and play it really loud.  This itself may cause some customers to give up and end the call.  The loud and strange sounding music may cause some customers to think they will be talking to India if and when someone actually answers.  That could also cause some to end the call and solve this particular customer service incident.
  4. Once one of those pesky customers actually reaches a human, ask to answer all the same questions that they had to punch in to their keypad in order to get through voice response from hell.  Then offer to correct the deficiency.  When asked how you plan to correct the perennial problem, shrug shoulders over the phone and "explain" that the persons responsible for delivering the paper don't actually work for you, and you cannot control their behavior.
  5. Finally, promise to have a paper delivered in an hour or two.  This will usually end the call.  No delivery is actually necessary, as your shift will end before the customer realizes that there was nothing delivered.   

While there is only one major newspaper in this area, there are thousands of real estate brokers and salespersons.  Survival in this business means that I either have to eliminate everyone else in the business, or I have to do as much as possible to be the opposite of the newspaper.  While it would be great if things moved along smoothly all the time, stuff happens.  The way one behaves when something unplanned occurs is what separates the bad from the good from the great.

The newspaper has emphasized that I have to do a few basic things.  When the phone rings, answer it now.  When a client or customer identifies a problem, fix it now.  If appropriate, explain to the client or customer what steps are being taken to prevent a recurrence. 

Posted by

 Mike Carlier  Lakeville, MN

 

612-916-3033

 

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Rainmaker
1,025,537
Tim Lorenz
TIM LORENZ - Elite Home Sales Team - Mission Viejo, CA
949 874-2247

Customer service is a serious part of our business.  Thank you for the blog.

Nov 24, 2013 01:00 AM #1
Rainmaker
208,060
Peggy Wester
Realty Executives Integrity - Grafton, WI
Real Estate Agent Ozaukee & Washington County

A great analogy, and I feel your pain. I discontinued my Sunday subscription years ago for the reasons you outline. How some places (and real estate agents) stay in business is simply beyond me.

Nov 24, 2013 01:00 AM #2
Rainmaker
522,322
Mike Carlier
Lakeville, MN
More opinions than you want to hear about.

Progress report: I am on step five, round two.  I waited a little over two hours and there was no paper yet.  Called and was again promised a paper in an hour or two.  Two hours from now, when I call, the following two hour window will end after the "customer service" office closes.  Like I said...

Nov 24, 2013 01:47 AM #3
Rainmaker
3,985,513
William Feela
WHISPERING PINES REALTY - North Branch, MN
Realtor, Whispering Pines Realty 651-674-5999 No.

If we would just remember to treat people like we want to be treated all would be much better.

 

Nov 24, 2013 05:11 AM #4
Rainmaker
522,322
Mike Carlier
Lakeville, MN
More opinions than you want to hear about.

Step five, round three.  Called after another two hours and was again promised a paper in an hour or two.   I protested and demanded to talk to a supervisor, who admitted to me that I was not getting a paper.  She said that the people who deliver the missed papers go home at noon, and nobody was going to do anything today.  I am now promised that the Sunday paper will arrive on Monday.  Remember, when you want to really impress a customer, first overpromise and underdeliver.  Then lie.  Then just refuse to do anything.  If I didn't need to wrap fish once in a while, I'd give up on the newspaper.

Nov 24, 2013 06:28 AM #5
Rainmaker
522,322
Mike Carlier
Lakeville, MN
More opinions than you want to hear about.

Step five, round four.  It is now Monday and the promised paper has not arrived.  I am on hold waiting to speak again with customer disservice.  This challenge is turning out to be considerably more difficult than expected.  Hold time of over ten minutes for a flyover country newspaper is hard to imagine, but it's happening. 

Nov 24, 2013 11:04 PM #6
Rainmaker
522,322
Mike Carlier
Lakeville, MN
More opinions than you want to hear about.

Step five, round five.  Spoke to the customer disservice agent who said that she was unable to send a Sunday newspaper today.  Moved up the ladder to a supervisor who said that the disservice agent was mistaken, that the policy has recently changed and she would request delivery of a Sunday paper within, you guessed it, one to two hours.  When asked how the agent could have not known about the "new" redelivery procedure, she said that the agent had been on vacation for a couple weeks and had not been updated.  Right.

Sent emails to the VP of circulation and CEO relating the above experiences.  I received a call from someone who said she was from the VP of circulation's office.  She is going to call the carrier and try to get an explanation for the missing newspaper.  I could save her the call by letting her know that the carrier is going to say one of three things, "I delivered the paper.  It must have been stolen,"  or, "I forgot,"  or "I don't know,"  Why bother?

 

Nov 25, 2013 12:58 AM #7
Rainmaker
522,322
Mike Carlier
Lakeville, MN
More opinions than you want to hear about.

Step five, final round.  Apparently the emails had an effect.  I received numerous calls from people with various titles, some probably wearing suits, and my Sunday newspaper. 

Nov 25, 2013 10:02 PM #8
Rainmaker
522,322
Mike Carlier
Lakeville, MN
More opinions than you want to hear about.

Not so fast, Mike!!  There was supposed to be a Thanksgiving Day edition delivered to Sunday subscribers, and it was a no-show.  Replacement did arrive a couple hours after reported.

Another Sunday, another missed delivery.  I'm just over the two hour mark for the promised one to two hour replacement paper.  From the last week's episode, I now have the phone number of the route manager, and his voice mailbox is full.  Figures.  I also have the phone number of the person who brought the replacements on Monday and Thursday -- voice mail but not a full mailbox.  Still hoping for a miracle.

Dec 01, 2013 12:18 AM #9
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Rainmaker
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Mike Carlier

More opinions than you want to hear about.
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