Due to several recent encounters I’ve been thinking a lot about customer service…or disservice. Once I started thinking about it, I noticed how many companies tout their customer service and even have people with odd titles such as Customer Service Officer or Chief Customer Officer. Cisco has a Director of Customer Listening which I find particularly intriguing. I suppose they must appoint these people because everyone else at the company is running around irritating all the customers and ignoring what they say.

My first encounter was with a physician’s office. I arrived a bit early to get all the paperwork completed and then took a seat in the waiting room. I immediately became engrossed in checking my email and answering some things that had sat quietly waiting for a reply.  Suddenly I realized I had been sitting there for quite awhile, checked the time, and discovered it was well past my appointment time.

I walked over to the receptionist to ask how late the doctor was running since I could not wait around due to a client meeting that I was leading. The receptionist first told me that “the doctor is on time.” Confused by this, I pointed out that it was well past my appointment time. This was met by a surly look and the comment that “she always runs very late” as though because the doctor sets appointments she knows she can’t keep it is somehow my fault for expecting timely service. After all, everyone in the office knows that appointment times are meaningless. Why don’t I?

When I tried to get my co-pay returned and a new appointment scheduled for a day I could waste sitting in the waiting room, it turned out to be a problem. I finally left with a credit for the fee but no new appointment.

I was not happy about the experience but at least I left with this wonderful story about poor service.

My second encounter was with a US Airways customer service agent. On this occasion I was trying to buy a ticket from Philadelphia to Boston. It was $804 via the website which I found ridiculous so thought I would call and see if there was some way to get the price down to a reasonable fee.

I explained my situation to the agent and to my amazement she commisserated immediately and said she was going to do her best to find me a better fare. After a quite extended conversation while she tried all her tricks it turned out that nothing she tried led to a better fare. She was pleasant, shared what she was doing, chatted amicably about airfares and how weird they are, asked a few questions about a few of my recent flights and a few to come she noticed in my record, and was clearly very unhappy that she was unable to find a better fare.

I actually ended the call feeling bad for her and not particularly annoyed at US Airways in spite of knowing I was going to pay such a ridiculous fare to fly 280 miles each way.

Later, when I thought about these two experiences which happened on consecutive days the power of excellent customer service jumped out at me. A delayed doctor appointment met with no attempt to explain or even care that I was inconvenienced leading to an annoyed and irritated patient versus an airline agent who exhibited such interest and compassion for my problem that even without solving it she left me calm and thanking her profusely for her efforts. And paying an extortionist amount for my ticket.

It’s not having someone with an odd title that makes for good customer service. It’s having an organization where each and every single person really cares about customer service. Part may be training but a good bit is hiring people who really care. Saying it doesn’t make it so. Living it does.

Starting from the top.


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