Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Customer Service Conundrum

The Internet is a powerful tool, and nobody could disagree that it has revolutionized the way we live; the way we seek and give information. The benefits are huge for those buying, selling or earning a living; for keeping in touch or making new connections, for managing our finances, recreation and keeping abreast of current events.

It also plays a part for those whose primary intent is to disrupt online discussions in chat rooms, blogs or message boards in order to provoke other users into an emotional response. Commonly known as 'trolls' they delight in posting controversial, inflammatory, irrelevant or off-topic messages.

Way back in February 2008, I'd been with Adorama just 2 months, and was still finding my way around the message boards and forums.

A 'delightful' character known as 'Rita Berkowitz' took it into his head (apparently, 'Rita' is indeed a man - 'though in my experience, not much of a gentleman....) that I was not who I claimed to be and posted a 'scam warning' about me on one of the boards. The responses from other forum members came thick and fast:

"Is nobody else seeing the irony of the fictitious Rita character
questioning Helen Oster's credentials?"

"Put up or (preferably and) shut up, 'Berkowitz'."

"'She' called someone an idiot earlier as well. It's been
a tough day for Irony Meters all around."

'Rita' has an interesting style; he changes his name frequently and prefers to post anything contentious on boards where he can ensure that his postings are removed within a short time - He also appears to antagonize people on a regular basis.....

"So Rita (aka Digital Soft Paw on flickr) is indeed a liar. The type
who stoops low in any attempt to discredit."

"Your reputation dumbo ...is that of a loud mouthed braggart with a
habit of yelling down anyone who disagrees with you. Hardly something
you can tarnish."

"We all know your a liar and a troll Rita, but if you must keep proving this
in the other groups why not start your own shit fight there instead of
hijacking other threads in a childish attempt to discredit Mark and anyone
else who see's through your bullshit and lies."

In his latest incarnation as 'Larry Thong', he took me to task for responding in a forum to a customer's legitimate concerns about an aspect of Adorama service:

"Funny how the 'Customer Service Ambassador' comes out of the woodwork when
there's a publicly posted complaint about Adorama's business practices.
This practice of public apology is commonplace with politician and criminals
such as Michael Vick that only apologize when they get busted. Your
apologies only mean you're sorry you got caught. What about the other souls
that didn't complain in public? A hint, instead of trolling the internet
for complaints, simply adjust your business practices and level of ethics so
that damage control and false apologies wouldn't be needed."

As many of our customers know, I don't just respond online to complaints, I also thank our satisfied customers for their feedback and recommendations.
I also respond to complaints well out of the public eye, if that seems more appropriate in the circumstances.

But, I began to wonder; what is Customer Service?
Customers and managers frequently discuss what good customer service is (and isn't); I like this definition which I believe sums it up: "excellent customer service (is) the ability of an organization to constantly and consistently exceed the customer's expectations."

Good customer service means thinking laterally about customer service; in order to exceed customers' expectations consistently, first we have to recognize that every aspect of our business has an impact on customer service, not just those aspects of our business that involve face-to-face customer contact.
Over time, good customer service attracts - and retains - more new customers than promotions and price slashing. A satisfied customer will return to buy more, and will recommend new customers - a customer whose complaint is not addressed, won't.

I addressed the complaint that brought 'Larry Thong' out of the woodwork - BUT - I didn't address HIS complaint, that I exist at all!

Who am I here to serve....? My employer? The customers whose complaints & queries I resolve? Or actually myself, because I'm paid for what I do - and in truth, I really enjoy being able to turn a dissatisfied customer into a customer who will come back to Adorama again and again, not only for our extensive inventory, our competitive prices and speedy shipping, but also because the customer service they will receive is so special.

As it says in our Mission Statement: NOBODY DOES IT BETTER

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