Tag archive for "customer service"

by Richard, Leadership

Customer Indifference is a Real Biz Kill

No Comments 27 February 2014

self absorbedWhat’s more toxic than incompetence? Deadlier than old technology? More surely fatal than being slow to market? It’s the remarkable indifference to customers that we all still see from some service providers, those who were nodding off during the part where the rest of us learned that that just won’t cut it anymore. Remember Eastern Airlines, anybody? In a few years, we’ll be asking the same question about K-Mart. And AOL.

For several years, our company relied on a spam filtering service now provided by Excel Micro. We didn’t choose them; we ended up there after they acquired the little startup provider we selected years before, a company that had a really effective anti-spam system, and responsive customer service. Everything was rocking along fine until earlier this week, while flying back to the US from Canada, I began getting notifications via my personal email that my regular (company) email was bouncing everything back. Because, with this system, all mail goes first through the anti-spam system, Excel Micro was my first suspect. When I tried to log in to the spam portal, I got kicked out – invalid password. No way.

The call to tech support went like this: 20 minutes on hold. Young guy who neither knew nor seemed to care why my email was broken. Finally determined that it was time to pay the annual subscription, but my credit card had a new expiration date, so it wouldn’t go through. Their solution? Suspend the account. They never got in touch with me, despite the fact that this is my email company, and they had my email address! Just cut off my email oxygen. That’s all. They figured I’d call them and fix things. I fixed things alright. The billing department apparently keeps bankers’ hours, so “there’s nothing we can do until morning.” Wrong again. There’s almost always something the customer can do. In this case, I went online, asked a few friends what they used for spam, found something I liked, and installed a 10-day free trial. It seems to be working beautifully.

This morning I called the billing department at Excel Micro to let them know they’d been fired as our service provider. Again, I was smacked to the ground with a wall of indifference, the likes of which we rarely see these days. After talking with several people, I couldn’t find even one who cared one hoot about either my email problem, or their customer retention problem. It was as though I had called to report a change of address.

I’ve never had any correspondence with Joseph Vaccone, Excel Micro’s CEO and Founder, so I don’t know how he feels about customers. But I do know that in most cases, indifference is modeled from the top.

The competitive landscape in your business, just like Joe’s, is probably too unforgiving to survive indifference to customers. There are just too many good service providers out there, hungry enough for a share of your business, that they’ll go to great lengths to astound their customers with great service.

When I can go online at Amazon.com, and click a button, and someone from Amazon calls me, in 2 seconds, then replaces my broken Kindle by next-day air; and when the Delta flight attendant takes the time to place a personalized, handwritten welcome note in my seat before I arrive, the response from the spam company (what’s their name, again?) stands out as particularly old school and unsustainable.

It’s not about your products, your services, your prices, or your catchy ad campaigns. It’s about people. The people who work for your customers. Are you, as a leader, at whatever level, setting an astounding standard to knock your customers’ socks off every day? Are you providing them with the means, the tools, the wherewithal, to do it? Do they know it’s important to you? Are you rewarding them when they succeed? And coaching them when they fail?

Or – are the people in your organization just going through the motions, like those I encountered at Excel Micro, with a remarkable indifference to the very people who enable the organization to exist?

Suggestion: find out. But not the way Eastern Airlines did.



Richard Hadden is a leadership speaker, author, and consultant who helps organizations improve their business results by virtue of a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. He and Bill Catlette are the authors of the popular “Contented Cows” leadership book series, and Rebooting Leadership. Their newest book, Contented Cows STILL Give Better Milk, published by John Wiley & Sons, is now available. Learn more about them and their work at ContentedCows.com.

by Richard, Exemplars, Leadership, Motivation

Enable People With Good Systems

No Comments 19 April 2011

For 15 years, I’ve been getting my cars’ oil changed at a little shop near my home. It’s not one of those 10-minute lube places; but while they do all kinds of car repair, they’ve always specialized in oil changes and related services. Without exception, every visit has been attended by the manager, a fellow named Tim. I had begun to think the guy never takes a day off, or a vacation.

The first time I went, in 1996, Tim took down all manner of information on me, my car, and my fluid preferences. Since then, he’s always greeted me, “Hello, Mr. Hadden,” and then without my needing to tell him or his staff anything at all, serviced my car, and handed me the keys a half-hour or so later.

Today, there was no Tim. “Oh, great,” I thought. “I’m going to have to tell them my name, and I hope they’ve got everything on file, so I don’t have to go through all that again.”

Instead, the counter attendant, who saw me drive up, said, “Thank you. Have a seat in the lobby, and we’ll have you out of here in a half-hour or so.” I kept thinking, “But aren’t you going to ask me my name, or what I want done, or what kind of oil I like?” I fired up my laptop, answered some emails, and 30 minutes later, he said, “Mr. Hadden, you’re ready.”

So I asked, “How did you know me? And how did you know my car? And where’s Tim?”

“Tim’s on vacation,” he said. “We plugged in your license plate number, and I saw that you’ve been coming here since 1996. You’ve had this car since ’08, and I see the kinds of fluids we’ve been using in it. And it looks like your wife’s car should be due for an oil change pretty soon.”

For years, Bill and I have been saying, in books, speeches, and seminars, “Forget about ’empowering’ people; instead, ‘enable’ them to do their best work, and their job satisfaction will go through the roof.”

Pro-Lube, on Library Road in Jacksonville, has done just that. I expect (and receive) this from Kimpton Hotels, for example. But from my neighborhood lube joint? It really is like the theme from “Cheers” suggests, that people like to go “where everybody knows your name.”

Meanwhile, my cable company makes me punch in my phone number twice, and when I finally get a human being on the line (in about the same amount of time as it takes to get my oil changed), that person asks me, again, for my phone number.

The point is simple. Good leaders are constantly looking for ways, through their systems, policies, and procedures, to make their people look good in the eyes of customers.

Right now, stop and figure out a way to this for your business.


Richard Hadden is a leadership speaker, author, and consultant who helps organizations improve their business results by creating a great place to work. He and Bill are the authors of the acclaimed business classic Contented Cows Give Better Milk, and Contented Cows MOOve Faster, and the brand new book Rebooting Leadership. Learn more about them and their work at ContentedCows.com.

by Bill, Management

Just Own It

2 Comments 26 August 2010

We have long advocated that organizations should take great care in the selection, training, and apportioning of responsibility to customer facing employees. And, that the organization should do everything possible to prevent those staffers from being placed in the line of fire of customers who are unnecessarily angered by internal systemic defects. No rocket science there.

Two days ago I sent a problem note to Comcast via their website about our recent experience with extremely slow Internet service. And, as usual, got a note telling me that, “We have received your e mail and thank you for using Comcast’s online email support. One of our Comcast customer support representatives will get back to you, yada, yada.”

A few minutes ago, I answered a phone call from Comcast. It quickly became apparent that the caller knew nothing about my service issue, but was intent on selling me a more “valuable” service bundle. About a half minute into her spiel when she came up for air the first time, I politely cut her off and declined the offer. Then, I told the representative about my service problem and asked if perhaps she could help me with that. “Oh, no sir, you have to call 1-800-COMCAST.” You can’t help me, I asked again? “No sir, you have to call 1-800-COMCAST.” Click.

Here’s a suggestion. Maybe it’s my imagination, but it seems of late that most organizations are heavily in “dumbing down mode” and thus hell-bent on communicating  and managing via an ever-increasing number of internal policies and rules. Perhaps we’re just too tired to think.

Though as recently as this morning, in a Fresh Milk article we have pleaded with leaders to avoid the perils of an over-moderated, under-led workforce, here’s a new policy that I think every (repeat, every) organization should adopt: No matter how it comes about, if you become aware of a customer problem, you own it. Translation: You are responsible for telling the customer that you will help them, finding the right person internally to deal with the matter, and then closing the loop with the customer. My guess is that customer service gets a lot better (from the customer’s vantage point) and the greater benefit just might be that everyone is reminded a little more frequently where their paycheck comes from. What do you think?

Now, as for Comcast, I’m still waiting.

A thought leader in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website at www.contentedcows.com, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows

by Bill, Management

Please, Please, Please Reconsider All Attempts at Multitasking

2 Comments 03 September 2009

Earlier this week, my writing partners and I holed up in a very nice, new, suburban, high end hotel for two days of concentrated work on our upcoming book, Rebooting Leadership. The trip was a success in every way. That said, while on the trip, we encountered two glaring examples of the utter futility of this thing called multitasking.

Upon approaching the hotel’s front desk to check in Monday afternoon, I found myself waiting while both front desk employees completed ‘business sounding’ phone conversations. The check-in process  then proceeded smoothly until the person checking me in found it necessary to stop what she was doing and answer another phone call. My recollection is that it was probably a full 60 – 90 seconds before her attention was again focused on completing the check-in process. As a clear signal that my experience was no aberration, the next morning, the process repeated as my partners checked in.

Upon leaving town, we got another dose of the same, this time at the airport. My partners went into an airline club room and one of them asked about changing her flight to something that was at 4-something. The ticketing agent in the club, who was on the phone the whole time, held her hand out for Meredith’s boarding pass, said “That’ll be $50″, and processed the change. They both commented on the agent’s lack of attentiveness.

The two then sat in the club until it was time for Meredith to board her new flight. Upon arriving at the gate, she discovered that the agent had given her a boarding pass for a flight to IND, not IAD, and that the IAD flight (her intended destination) had already departed.

In fairness, both organizations are known for providing some of the better service within their industries, and indeed, both recovered nicely in these incidents. That said, it didn’t need to happen.

Actually, my concern in these cases isn’t so much that a couple of customers were temporarily inconvenienced. Rather, it’s that, by virtue of some poor systems planning, cutting corners, or bad training perhaps, these two companies are regularly putting front-line employees in a position to fail with their customers. Good service is difficult enough to deliver these days. It is impossible to do it with customer-facing employees who realize that they can’t win, ergo they stop trying to.


A thought leader in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website at www.contentedcows.com, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows

by Bill, Management, Meeting Goals, Motivation, Think About It...

The Customer-Employee Connection

No Comments 26 February 2008

SstarbucksBusiness Week Magazine has just released its 2nd annual ranking of “The Customer Service Champs”, heralding 25 firms which, amidst an otherwise pretty dismal scene on the service front, are doing the best job for customers. Representing a diverse cross section of American industry, including hotels, retailers, airlines (yep), banks, quick-service restaurants, and insurers, the Business Week list includes rankings for both “process” and “people.” In other words, high tech or high touch alone won’t get it. Some observations:

1. Once again, it is impeccably clear that those organizations with a reputation for having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce (e.g., USAA, L.L. Bean, Marriott, Edward Jones, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, Chick-fil-A) stand a much better chance of garnering kudos for delivering higher quality service. A visit to their annual reports suggests that ink from Business Week isn’t all they’re getting out of the deal.

2. These folks are serious as a heart attack about improving (as opposed to maintaining) service. The article details efforts made by USAA to improve software and launch mobile Web service to make it easier for its highly mobile and often forward deployed military customers to do business with them. Starbucks is also taking some serious measures. At 5:30PM (local) this evening, all 7100 U.S. Starbucks stores will stand down, as in close the doors for three hours so that every Starbucks partner (including those who are scheduled off for the day) can get the benefit of “Espresso Excellence Training.” Hint: 9PM this evening would be a real good time to get yourself a latte.

3. Some organizations are starting to use their heads, along with some real cash and creativity to recognize and reward workers who go the Extra Mile for customers. Fairmont Hotels & Resorts has modified its rewards program so that customer service stars actually get something they really want, like help buying an automobile, a trip to places they want to go, and the like. Said, Fairmont’s SVP of HR, Carolyn Clark, “Our guests do not want service that’s cookie-cutter. Just as we’re trying to deliver individualized, personalized experiences for guests, we wanted to introduce a customized, personalized reward program for employees, too.” Yippee!

I decided a while back that life is too short and too precious to waste it by spending time being aggravated over preventable customer service snafus. For that reason, there is an ever growing list of companies (airlines, banks, restaurants, and the like) with whom I will not, under any circumstances, do business. Rather, I strongly prefer to give my business to folks like those mentioned on the Business Week list. It feels better, turns out better, and I’ll probably live longer. You may want to try it.

A thought leader in the areas of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, motivated, capably led workforce. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard, and their work, please visit their website at www.contentedcows.com


Considered thought leaders in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette and Richard Hadden speak to, train, and coach managers on leadership practices for better business outcomes.

OUR PREMISE: Having a focused, engaged, and capably led workforce is one of the best things any organization can do for its bottom line.


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