During a recent visit to the doctor, I was reminded of just how poorly the medical profession treats its customers.
I arrived on time to find no one was at the reception desk. Five minutes later, someone came out, took my insurance info, and told me they would be with me shortly. I waited 20 more minutes before I was led into an examination room.
The whole process should have taken five minutes, and yet I was nearly a half-hour into what was supposed to be a 1 p.m. appointment. It made me want to change physicians…and I had yet to even see mine!
Such deplorable treatment isn't limited to the medical profession, of course: Car dealers and service shops, airlines, hotels, and restaurants are notorious for missing the customer service boat. A few get it right, but most, sadly, do not.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have Ritz-Carlton. The company has a very effective policy in place for dealing with customer problems: Whoever in the hotel is made aware of a problem owns it. This goes for everyone that works in the hotel—from maids and bellmen to general managers. It's no secret Ritz-Carlton has a stellar reputation for customer service.
Assuming your business isn't Ritz-Carlton, never fear: There are countless service mistakes that can be made when dealing with customers. The following seven top the list:
1. Don't greet your customers when they arrive at your place of business. Ignore the fact people want to be acknowledged, and that the longer someone stands there waiting, the more aggravated and agitated they will become.
2. Neglect to clearly communicate. Don't tell customers what will be happening, how long it will take, and how much it will cost.
3. Take your time responding. When a customer calls to schedule an appointment, don't rush to answer. Better yet, put them through a five-minute voice prompt only to have them end up leaving a voicemail message anyway.
4. Charge them for your process problems. Make sure that if your customers make any changes to their orders, they are hit with additional fees for not meeting your service and delivery protocol.
5. Be patronizing. When your customers have a request, tell them you are sorry, but nothing can be done about their problem…especially when they can clearly tell that isn't the case.
6. Make your call centers work against your customers. If you outsource your call center operations, be sure to have agents who speak English poorly. Better yet, make sure your agents lack access to information about the customer who is calling.
7. Keep them waiting. Tell the customer they will be helped or served in 15 minutes, then make them wait much longer.
Sometimes the perception of your customer service can be shaped by someone outside of your company. I was at the airport recently, and the line for security was out the door. After waiting in line for 30 minutes we were nearing the security gate. A woman in front of me was aggravated and concerned she and her daughter were going to miss their flight.
The TSA employee on duty told this woman the airlines say to be at the airport two hours before a flight, there was nothing that could be done, and she might miss her flight. There were no reps for this woman's airlines to be found, so TSA had become the de facto customer service representative. The woman muttered that she would never fly that airline again.
Where were the airline employees? Why didn't they have people out there helping assuage the fears and agitation that all the passengers were feeling once they walked into the airport and saw a huge line? Instead, they left a non-employee to represent their brand and level of service.
Think about all the people this woman will tell about her less-than-positive experience with that airline. The old adage states a happy person will relate her experience to three people. An unhappy person will tell 3,000. And if they're on Twitter, add a zero.
Mark Kolier is president of the direct and digital marketing agency CGSM.