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July 2010
Take Advantage of Customer Feedback!
By John Paul Galles

     Making a move from one office to another is not a simple or easy task. Relocating people, furniture, wiring, telephones, Internet service, copiers, printers, and all the paper and “stuff” accumulated over 11 years in the publishing business is not as easy as just moving it from one space to another.

     As any enterprise does, we engaged a number of service providers to assist us in the transition and to provide continuing service, taking advantage of the relocation opportunity to lower costs and upgrade services. By the way, we moved our offices for Greater Charlotte Biz to 7300 Carmel Executive Park Drive, Suite 115,  Charlotte, NC 28226-1310. [Phone numbers and e-mail addresses remain the same.]

     We had planned for everything to go smoothly thoroughly and well in advance, were avid in communicating all necessary information to all parties (in writing with charts and technical information as much as possible), and kept in touch on a constant basis to monitor transition activities. Overall, we are delighted in our new digs and very happy with our service providers.

     One of the most unexpected aspects of the experience, and one that we found amazingly perplexing, were the reactions of some of our service providers to customer feedback.

     In the case of positive feedback, some providers made the initial presumption that any feedback would be negative and were reluctant at best to engage in dialogue. Others received positive feedback but either made no note of it, had no “system” to record it, or did not even acknowledge it (returning e-mails or phone calls).

     Likewise, in trying to resolve problems or inconsistencies, we encountered numerous difficulties in communication and resolution.

     Some providers wanted to sell or perform their services quickly and leave so that invoices could be sent the following day. While it may have been that they were busy and had other business activity, it often resulted in a job halfway done or incorrectly delivered.  More often than not, people had not listened well, assumed that they knew the answers without even asking the questions, not communicated appropriately with team members, and/or figured someone else on their team would cover any oversights or concerns (i.e. “clean it up”).

     As a good consumer and wanting to be a good customer, we were just as quick to bestow accolades as we were to call mistakes, oversights and incomplete services to our providers’ attention. Uncomfortably, in a couple of instances, we did have to refuse to sign or pay for services until they were completed to our satisfaction.

     We made a point to accurately describe the difficulties that we encountered so that the companies involved could resolve them quickly and without further complications, and so that they could improve their performance and avoid similar situations in the future. We were determined to get things right instead of just letting go. Unfortunately, more often than not, we found that it takes substantial time and effort to even reach someone who cares and is willing to do something about the problems.

     In most cases, I was impressed when I got the attention of a person in charge, but it usually took a senior executive to listen and take action. I suppose it takes someone at that level to be able to focus on problems and get them fixed. The whole relocation episode has been a reinforcement of how building a quality team and having an effective customer service approach is necessary to ultimate business success.

     And good customer service does not end with initial installation or servicing, but continues beyond that point to following up to assure that customers are fully utilizing the services, not getting caught up in automatic billing snafus, etc. Significantly, good customer service can be a relatively inexpensive way to market your products and services, as it can lead to increased utilization of products or services and testimonials to potential prospects in the marketplace.

     We are determined to maintain strong working relationships with all of our service providers. In fact, we expect to extend a testimonial on behalf of each of them to support their business growth. We are good at referrals, but we don’t just hand out testimonials willy-nilly. We want to contribute to their success.

     In that regard, and in testament to my practice of providing referrals, I do have one suggestion across the board…

     Probably the most common failure we experienced in services being provided was team failure. Whereas procedures had been put in place for successful delivery, it was individual team members—often “invisible” (behind the scenes/behind the 800 numbers) that dropped the ball. Often, these individuals were never identified; nor was any attempt made to hold them accountable.

     It is hard to imagine a team performing their best when there is no measure of their own performance nor accountability.

     One great experience that can improve a team’s performance is PIT (Performance Instruction & Training) run by a fellow named Breon Klopp, who helped build 5 Off 5 On Race Team Performance, a pit crew training school in Mooresville. PIT helps business teams work more effectively together to reduce the time spent collectively by the team on a customer by clearly defining and improving the accuracy of the performance each individual team member to the benefit of the customer. It requires that each person contribute in a highly effective environment so precisely, that collectively they deliver confidently on each of the important tasks to its proper completion.

     I think this type of team-building exercise would have resulted in better performance in some of the snafus we experienced and saved valuable time (and energy). It is critical in this increasingly competitive world that we all evaluate the “efficiency” with which we receive services as well as provide them on a regular basis, and providing and paying attention to customer feedback is the most direct way to do that!

John Paul Galles is the publisher of Greater Charlotte Biz.
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