Customer Lip Service

February 1, 2006 By    

As I travel around the country talking to retailers, most are quick to mention that customer service and loyalty are what set their business apart from the competition. But, much like safety, I have to wonder how many offer only lip service.

 Patrick Hyland
Patrick Hyland

A friend in the industry sent me an audio clip of a voice mail message left for a propane retailer by an irate customer. In a deep, Southern drawl sounding like country music star Toby Keith, the customer begins calmly. But the mercurial caller gets more incensed with every sentence, his decibel level building to a crescendo until he is screaming at the top of his lungs. His tirade, punctuated by vulgarities that would make today’s rap musicians blush, ends with a pointed threat before he slams down the phone in disgust.

Here is a transcript of the 52-second message:

“I received an invoice yesterday that says I owe you $538. My customer number is . . . and I turned my tanks in back in April. I was supposed to turn them in in January, but it took you until April to come out here and get them. Then you have been sending me a letter in the mail saying I owe you $14, which I don’t. And now I get a letter saying I owe you $538! Well, you all are out of your %!@*!!*$ minds, because I don’t owe you nothing! I don’t have your tanks; your driver came and got them in April! Do you got that? My name is . . . and I better hear something back from you %!@*!!*$! You got that?!!”

Sound familiar?

Everyone in my office got a good laugh as the message was replayed a half dozen times for sheer entertainment. We have that luxury; the propane retailer who took that call does not.

I couldn’t help but wonder how – if at all – the retailer responded. It would be easy to write the caller off as a whacko who isn’t worth the time and energy it takes to resume the fight.

Was the caller right? It’s not about proving who is right and wrong. Maybe it was a simple billing error. Maybe he’s a price-shopping, deadbeat pain-in-the-butt who gets his jollies berating and bullying good people. It doesn’t matter.

What does matter is that someone from the gas company reach out and show enough concern to salvage a working relationship, if not the account. Failure to extinguish the caller’s rage does much more damage than lose any future business with a one-time customer. It guarantees that he spreads his poisonous message to other propane customers.

How does your company handle complaints? Are you and your sales staff as courteous to the complaining customer as when they first signed up?

Take the high road; treat all customers well even when they don’t deserve it. It’s what separates real customer service from lip service.

Patrick Hyland

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