Customer Service Stars

superstarIn my last post, Unsucking Customer Service, I tried to lay out steps for improving the customer service experience.  In the spirit of fairness, here are three that get it right.  Even though I know a little bit about customer service, this is from the customer’s point of view.  To me, it’s the ONLY view that counts and something most companies just don’t get.  Here are my personal top 3:

  1. AMERICAN EXPRESS (CREDIT CARD DIVISION):  I have two AMEX accounts and recently paid the wrong one (the downside of online banking when you are undercaffeinated).  So, I called to see if they could correct my error.  I’ve called AMEX many times over the 30 some-odd years I’ve had a card and this interaction was just like the others.

“To whom do I have the pleasure of speaking.”  Most CSRs say “Name, please” or just “Name.”  She even sounded like she meant it, too.  Make your customers feel like you are grateful for their business as early in the call as possible.

I explained my problem, indicating it was my error completely and she told me “Oh, that happens all the time and I can DEFINITELY fix it for you.”  Empathize with the customer’s problem, and give them confidence that you can help them.

After a brief time on hold (she asked very kindly if she could put me on a short one), she came back and said cheerily, “You’re all set. I’ve applied your payment to the correct account and you won’t see as much as a blip on either of your statements. I just made like it never happened.  Is there anything else I can help you with today?”  Nice close and offer.

After I said no, but thanks for helping with this one, the big surprise.  “It was my pleasure to help you and on behalf of the thousands of American Express employees I want to thank you for your more than 30 years of cardMEMBERSHIP. We are very grateful for your loyalty and hope you will feel free to contact us whenever you have a question or a problem in the future.”  Even if it was scripted, she delivered it with complete sincerity and it made me feel that my business was appreciated.

BREAKDOWN:  A bright, personable CSR (good hiring by AMEX), well-trained who had the INFORMATION and AUTHORITY to complete the handle in one call.  But she went over and above in making me feel like a valued customer (even though I know I am small potatoes.)

2.  CHARLES SCHWAB BANK – We always have to contact our banks, for a variety of things, so see how your bank stacks up here.  (Not a plug for Schwab, but if they don’t you should consider changing because you deserve better.)  My calls are always answered:  “Thank you for calling Charles Schwab Bank.  This is NAME in CITY and how can I help you today?”

I like this – delaying the information request.  Most institutions with fiduciary responsibility place their security above your service.  Not that I want any to be cavalier with my financial information, but at this point in the call they don’t need my Mother’s Maiden name.  So why make that a barrier to NAME opening up a dialog or trying to build rapport with a customer?

Normally my issue is handled by NAME in one call.  But every so often, additional assistance is required.  With most companies, the CSR  just tells you that’s handled by another department and transfers you where you sit on another hold queue listening to Yanni for 20 minutes.  But at Schwab, the CSR says “I’m so sorry, but I need the assistance of another department.  May I place you on a short hold, but I will stay with you until we are connected to the other department?”

BREAKDOWN:  A personal greeting, with their location give the interaction set a warmer tone right from the beginning.  This is especially good when the nature of the conversation is something personal, like your checking account.  Combining this with highly-regulated security issues is difficult, but Schwab makes it look easy.  (Another good hiring process.)

For 90% of my calls, they are completed in one handle which shows Schwab CSRs have all the information and authority they need for 90% of the cases they are going to handle. When that is not possible, their hand-holding ensures that I won’t have to retell my story several times to every new person to whom I’m tossed.  By the way, when I do get handed off, NAME comes back and says “I have NAME2 on the line with us and I’ve briefed her/him on your issue and s/he will be able to help you.  Is there anything else I can help you with before I leave you with NAME2?”

3.  ENTERPRISE – I’m Platinum status here and rent a lot, and you’ll see why.  I’ve had 3 different Manager/Rep combinations at my local office and the service I get improves with each new team, which is exceptional considering the high level of service I began with Andre and Bill, through Scott and Jill and now to Alicia and Pete.  They keep finding ways to get me out faster, go above and beyond to make it easier for me.  They know I am renting for work and am always on a schedule.  Here’s just one example (and the names are omitted because I’m SURE they broke rules for me).

I had to leave at 6am on Monday for a 10am meeting in Connecticut.  Normally, I would pick up the car on Saturday (they are closed Sundays), but I was on vacation, returning on Sunday.  Since Enterprise advertises “We’ll pick you up.” I wondered if they would drop off too.  So I asked if there was any way they could leave the car at my house on Saturday, so that I could leave in it at 6am Monday.  (My other alternative was to leave at 5am and pick up a car at Newark Airport – a bothersome complication.)  The two talked for a minute and figured out the paperwork, but were concerned about where to leave the key, especially if it were an electronic key.  So, I left a plastic bag in my barbecue and that’s where the keys were when I returned on Sunday.  (And they left me a really sweet Grand Cherokee because they knew I had a lot of material to bring with.)

But it’s more than the local rental agents.  I had a little fender bender in one of their cars.  When that happens, Enterprise charges your credit card $500 (a normal insurance deductible), which you get back later from your carrier or the fault party’s.  My corporate credit card comes with a rental insurance benefit, so I started all the paperwork through them.  They needed, of course, quite a bit from Enterprise and a claims processor in the Loss Division was extremely helpful through this process.  She got me all the necessary paperwork, usually in a matter of hours, not days.  After a few calls, as soon as I said my name, she greeted me and had my file open to get me what I needed quicker.

My corporate card company eventually paid the claim, but instead of crediting me the $500 Enterprise charged against the deductible, the paid it to Enterprise, over-paying them by $500 in the process.  So, I called the nice lady at Enterprise and she got my credit card company on a concall.  However the credit card CSR just didn’t get it, no matter how she tried to explain it.  Finally, she said “We’ll take care of it.  This is an imporant customer of ours.”  She told me she didn’t want to waste more time and although it might take a week, she could put in a check request for reimbursement, which would be much faster than it would take for the credit card company.

BREAKDOWN: Enterprise does ALL the right things – hires smart, customer-centric people, gives them the information and authority to solve the problem, but with Enterprise it is SYSTEMIC.  You expect that customer-facing staff is going to be trained for this, but even their back-office people are taught to understand that without customers there is no job.  Their customer-facing staff (the people at my local office) are comped on their customer service ratings, which are generated from 3rd party after-sale research on a monthly basis.  It’s like Enterprise’s version of HCAHPS and it works.  I was treated to donuts and coffee one morning when the trophy for highest customer service score in the region was on display in the office.

The moral of this long story is that Customer Service doesn’t have to suck.  In fact, when done right it enhances and cements key customer relationships.  Failing to invest in Customer Service is false economy, which will cause a company to have to invest more to capture new customers to replace the ones it loses.

Why corporations cannot see that simple math is beyond me.

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