If you do something for a customer, do it happily

(MoneyWatch) I recently had the displeasure of dealing with a major national wireless phone carrier with a history of giving me (and many others) horrible service. Ironically, one of the things the company did to upset me in this latest — and inevitably final — interaction was… to give me money.



The company had made an error, and made me jump through hoops for hours with multiple representatives before acknowledging it. But even after admitting their mistake, instead of apologizing — much less offering a gesture of goodwill — a very short-tempered “supervisor” defended the company by saying it had corrected the error and gruffly telling me, “I don’t know what else you expect us to do.”


I remained calm and friendly, and explained that though the initial problem was indeed resolved, it required me to spend a ridiculous amount of time, go through the small hassle of re-packing and shipping a phone, and be rudely treated by three people with no interest in helping me. I said, “Sure, the problem is technically resolved, but at the expense of inconveniencing and annoying a good customer. So since you’re asking, if we switched places I’d make the gesture of a courtesy credit to make up for your trouble… but that’s just me.”

You would have thought I called her baby ugly. She said she had no idea why I would expect that, and that she couldn’t do it anyway. I said I didn’t expect she would, that I was just responding to her question. But I did point out that she could do it if she wanted to (I happened to know this for a fact). Fast forward through a bunch of BS, and she said, in the most condescending voice imaginable: “Alright, listen. I will give you a one-time customer inconvenience credit of $25, but you get one of those a year and that’s it.”

I replied (still managing to be calm and polite) that the experience was enough to make me move my number to another carrier, so no need to bother with the credit. She said she’d put the credit on anyway and that I could do what I wanted, but reminded me sternly that the “offer” was a one-time thing.

In other words, this company grudgingly gave me 25 bucks for a big chunk of my time and a hair-pulling experience, lost my business anyway, and didn’t even care to try to stop me from leaving. And it all could have been avoided and dealt with satisfactorily in a fraction of the time.

There are, of course, loads of customer service lessons in here, but the one I want to focus on is this: If you’re going to give something to a customer:

1. Do it quickly. As I’ve said in past articles, if you know where a conversation with a customer is likely to go, get there fast. This supervisor knew she had the ability to give me a courtesy credit, yet went so far as to outright lie about it. Had she started the conversation with, “I see we did make an error, and I’ve put a $25 credit on your account to make up for your time and trouble,” it would have been case closed, and I’d still be a customer still annoyed, maybe, but defused). Instead, she chose to drag it out, rejecting the easy resolution either out of some warped sense of protecting her company or simply having a bad attitude (probably both). She created a lose-lose situation when a “win” was so easy.

2. Never insist you can’t if you can. As I’ve also written beforecan’t usually means won’t. If you know you have the ability and authority to do something, don’t dance around it or lie to the customer by claiming you can’t. Take your chances with “won’t,” if you think that’s appropriate, but never lie to a customer or insult her intelligence.

3. Do it happily. To tweak the adage “anything worth doing is worth doing right,” if you’re going to do something to make someone happy, do it with pleasure. Giving a customer a “make-good” is great, but giving it with obvious reluctance and passive-aggressiveness is like a child throwing a toy at a sibling and saying, “Fine, just take it!” Either do something for a customer or not; but if you do, do it graciously. Anything else dilutes or defeats the purpose — it might get an angry customer to calm down, but won’t win hearts and minds.

4. Don’t qualify it. Again, if you’re going to do something for a customer, do it enthusiastically. Don’t tell the customer all the reasons you shouldn’t be doing it or that it’s the first, last, and only time you’ll help them, or that you can get in trouble for doing it, or anything else to water down the gesture or the spirit behind it.

It comes down to this: You have a choice about whether to do something for a customer or not. Once you’ve chosen to do or offer something, do it immediately, happily, and unequivocally. Take out the passivity and just be “aggressively helpful;” There is absolutely no reason to do it any other way.

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