Improve Customer Service

Water Pump

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If you want to excel in customer service the first thing to do is try to understand the customer. What people say is not always what is really bothering a customer when they contact a company about a problem. I recall a story about one of the great catalogue companies, although I do not remember which one. It took place back in the times before catalogue buying was really fully established. I believe it was about a farmer who needed a new pump to water his herd. He could not find what he wanted locally at a price he could afford so he ordered one from the catalogue company. When the pump arrived he hooked it up to his system threw the switch and nothing happened. So he wrote to the company and told them that their pump did not work, his neighbors were making fun of him for buying from a catalogue and he still had to haul water by hand for his cows.

The company wrote back saying that their pumps were quality tested and inspected before they were shipped. They further said that they farmer had probably not installed the pump properly.

What is the real customer service problem that the company needs to address

  • The pump might be defective
  • The farmer might need installation instructions
  • The farmer needs reassurance that buying from the catalogue was wise
  • All of the above
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What is of the most concern to the farmer is that he feels embarrassed with his friends and neighbors for having made a bad decision in buying from the catalogue company. In other words his pride is hurt. The company has to not only satisfy the complaint and see that the pump is fixed but assure the farmer that he had made a wise decision to buy from them. I don’t recall how it was settled but if I were doing it I would have sent out a technician to fix or install a new pump. The company would have lost money on the pump, but made it up in additional business. By telling the farmer that he was too dumb to install the pump properly only heightened the blow to his pride and he would have bad mouthed the company to everyone. By fixing the problem in a positive way the farmer could brag about how great the company was.

Lesson learned: determine what the real problem is.

2. Don’t ignore customers

Back in the 1960’s our family delivered a newspaper motor route. My mother was delivering the morning papers and found she was getting low on gas and took time out to fill the tank. This was before self-service gas stations. She noticed that the attendant was serving another driver before her and questioned the attendant about it. “He told her that the other driver had to get to work.” Now why had he thought it important for the one driver to get to work but not for my mother to get going on her work? In those days it might be because she was a woman and he figured she didn’t have a job. Whatever the case, it was discourteous to ignore a customer in order to serve another one. What he might have done was ask her if it would be an inconvenience to her if he waited on the other car first because the driver had to get to work. He should not have assumed she had nothing better to do than wait around.

3. Address people by the way they prefer.

For some reason back in the 1950’s it became common to address people by their first names. My mother found it very disturbing to have complete strangers address her in such a familiar fashion. I imagine other people did as well. I found it disturbing when neighborhood kids called me by my first name and wondered if the parents ever taught them any manners. So as not to make similar mistakes with customers, find out how they prefer to be addressed. My first name is Don. It is not Donald, yet I constantly get letters and such addressed to me as Donald. A rule of thumb I follow is to address people they way they sign themselves. If someone signs their name as Robert, I address them as Robert, not Bob. If they sign as Bob, then I address them as Bob. I find it insulting that people don’t think I know my own name.

A variation of this is the advent of the term Ms. for women. I use it if the woman uses it. However, while some women insist on using it, others want to be addressed as Miss or Mrs. It is best to know the preference or try to avoid it altogether.

Another situation brought up in a writing course concerns how to address people in letters. The teacher told about an office where the secretary was sending letters to the sales staff with the salutation dear Mr.____. The teacher said that was wrong, it should be Dear Bob, or Ray. Salesmen don’t have last names, he said.

It all comes down to knowing your customer and how the customer feels. Try to treat them the way that will make them feel best about themselves so that they feel good about you.

© 2012 Don A. Hoglund

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Comments 18 comments

MarleneB profile image

MarleneB 4 years ago from Northern California, USA

The video is hilarious and sad at the same time. It's sad that managers don't always use common decency when dealing with customers. Your hub is excellent in providing additional advice about having respect for the customer.


verygoodservice profile image

verygoodservice 4 years ago from London, UK

Totally agree that customer focus is absolutely key to deliver a good service


Larry Wall 4 years ago

I hear every word you say and you are right on target. It is easy to blame the customer, when the instructions for using an item are impossible to understand.

Regarding the first name issue, I am with you 100 percent. If I get a telemarketer call, and they say "Hey Larry," I reply, "Mr. Wall." Throws them off their game. I do not know them. I do not want to talk to them. I sympathized they they have the job they have, but by buying a time share is not going to make their life better.

My son had an orthodontist who called everyone Mom and Dad. He was about half my age. One day, he was telling me something and said, "Dad, we have to get you son to do ..." My response, "Ok Sonny, what do you suggest."

I was Mr. Wall after that.

I do not mind being called Mr. Larry by children whose family I know, but unless someone introduces themselves with only a first name (and that is done for security reasons) I will use Mr. or Miss, or since I am from Louisiana, I use sir and ma'm a lot.


grinnin1 profile image

grinnin1 4 years ago from st louis,mo

Great article making some very good points about a crucial aspect of customer service. I like the survey, makes you think a little. Nice hub!


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 4 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

MarleneB, Thanks for reading and commenting. it is easy to forget that we are dealing with people who have feelings, attitudes and opinions. The more we relate to them, I think the better a relationship developes for a business relationship.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 4 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

hi verygoodservice. Thanks for reading and commenting.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 4 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Larry Wall, the teacher I had in a letter writing course was from the "old school" where even best friends called each other Mr. last name. Then, he said, he had to start going to business conferences and meeting with name tags and total strangers were calling him by his first name. He said it took getting used to.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 4 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

grinnin1, Thanks for the comment. I thought the survey would help me see how many thought the way I do.


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 4 years ago from North Carolina

Excellent points made here, Dahoglund. Loved the video too.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 4 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks Denise. I'm glad that you found the hub and video worthwhile.


drbj profile image

drbj 4 years ago from south Florida

I agree with your customer service points, Don, especially #3 - address people the way they prefer. When I first began training sales associates in customer service - later called customer satisfaction - we used to stress use the Golden Rule and treat the customer the way YOU would like to be treated. Now we use the Platinum Rule - treat the customer the way THEY would like to be treated. Makes sense.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 4 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

And I agree with you about treating customers the way they want to be treated. I think this is especially true with the diversity of people in today's world. Thanks for commenting.


William Young profile image

William Young 4 years ago from Eaglle Grove, Iowa

Excellent Hub! Everyone could sharpen up their customer service skills! I once saw an interview with Michael J. Fox. He is well known for having always been very nice to fans, he almost never refuses to sign an autograph. He said, "I meet so many people in the course of my work that unfortunately I'm not going to remember meeting that fan a week from now, but meeting me is a moment that person will never forget, and I want to leave them with a good impression of me." That is a lesson customer service people should learn!


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 4 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

William Young, you cite a good example. Fox knows that his fans are his livelyhood. But it is just courtesy to treat your customers right. Thanks for commenting.


Angela Blair profile image

Angela Blair 4 years ago from Central Texas

Super timely Hub and advice -- truth is, I've not experienced customer service in such a long time I've nearly forgotten it did -- in the far distant past -- exist! Best/Sis


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 4 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Hi Sis. To be fair I do think that things have much improved in terms of being able to return merchandise and having warranties that work. I remember the old warranties in the 1960s when there were so many ifs and buts, that it was a waste of time. Thankks for commenting.


Lipnancy profile image

Lipnancy 4 years ago from Hamburg, New York

In business, I was taught that one happy customer can bring you 10 more customers and one unhappy customer costs you at least 100 customers.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 4 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Hi Lipnancy, makes sense to me. people will tend to do business with those that treat them right.

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