I've got it all wrong...

I’ve been listening to the audiobook version of Hit the Ground Running by Mark H. McCormack, founder of IMG, an international sports marketing firm.

The book, which is subtitled “The Insider’s Guide to Executive Travel” is a rambling series of tips and anecdotes from McCormack about business travel. He covers hotels, airlines, taxis, expense accounts and more. He’s repetitive, and in some places confusing, but all and all it’s an interesting listen with some potentially useful information.

The greatest insight I’ve gleaned from the book, though, is McCormack’s approach to service, something he encapsulates as “the personal touch.” His explanation of this approach has made me think I might have it all wrong about customer service and, indeed, that I might have been digging my own holes for a long time.

My approach to customer service is based on a notion that people offering customer service should always be honest, genuine, hard working, well paid, and supported by the resources and management they need to get their job done. It’s also based on the notion that companies should want to give me good service, and that when they do not do this, it is my duty to inform them, sometimes in public, sometimes very loudly.

In some particularly dire situations — like those I’ve found myself in with Island Tel/Aliant over the years — my approach has been extended to include not only public complaint, but also an attempt to extract good customer service, or at least some customer service, from where ever I can get it.

And I think I’ve got it all wrong.

Here’s the anecdote McCormack offers to describe “the personal touch:” you’re in a restaurant and they have a special on, say it’s a ham sandwich and soup for $5, with no substitutions written in big letters underneath it. If you take my approach to customer service, you approach this caveat as an affront, and so when ordering you ask the server if you can get the special, but with turkey instead of ham: “I’d like the special, but could I get the sandwich with turkey instead?” Nine times out of ten, the server will say “sorry, there’s no substitutions” or “I’m afraid not.”

The McCormack suggestion is to take a different approach: make the server feel as though if they are able to achieve the miracle of getting you the sandwich with turkey, you will think very highly of them. He suggests asking something like “do you have enough influence over the chef to get me the special with turkey instead of ham?” My gut tells me that this will actually work much better most, if not all of the time. I know if someone asked me this question in this way, I’d probably take it as a personal challenge to get them turkey.

Indeed I know from my own working with clients that when clients phrase requests like “I know this is probably impossible, but could you…?” I’m usually quick out of the gate to prove to them that it is possible. And, conversely, when clients say “we need this by Monday at the latest, and it has to work like this,” I’m just as likely to slide the project to the bottom of the pile.

My one Big Success with Island Tel was getting them to install DSL service to our old World HQ in Kingston. Our house in Kingston was about 1km beyond the normal limit for DSL installations, but by working with a sales rep who I knew otherwise, the situation was turned from that of a demanding client into a challenge for the engineering team to see how far they could push the technology. And they rose to the challenge and provided me with the service I was looking for.

And so I’m starting to think that I’ve got it all wrong. Rather than taking bad customer service as some sort of bubonic insult that must be trumpeted and extinguished at all costs so as to not lessen human perfection, perhaps I need to become more Machiavellian and use social engineering to shape the world, or at least my little corner of it, into a place that naturally molds good customer service around me.

More thinking needed on this.

More Island Tel Fun

Here’s a special “Guest Note” from one the readership, Craig Willson:

Monday evening September 16th

7:30 pm my dial-up lines goes funky with static and what sounds like wailing banshees in the background. My connection to ISN is dropped.

7:45 pm I check all lines and devices in house - all is in order and line is still not usable. Bless ISN for using USR modems because my USR can at least connect at 12000.

7:50 PM to speak with nice lady at customer service. I call on the bad line so that she will hear the problem. Yep, she gets it. (I have always encountered pleasant and helpful CSR’s)

7:51 PM (we are shouting at each other to speak over the static) - she says she will be right back as she will give me a time that the repair person will come.

7:53 PM She is back and says she can have someone here on THURSDAY! (not possible to give a time)

7:54 PM I explain the importance of having a reliable access for the internet access - and that THURSDAY is far to long.

7:54:30 PM She calmly explains that I am not deemed urgent as we can still hear each other. Yup, that is what she said. (Remember, we are shouting to speak over the static.)

7:55 PM Thank you I reply - gently hanging up the phone in wonder.

Now walking around the house staring at the ceiling wondering when someone will figure out a way to do something about these incompetent morons. Do they actually think that going from Monday to sometime Thursday is acceptable? Jeeze, this is 2002 I think. For what it is worth, the last time this happened the telcoheads were at my home 9 times before I called Fred Morash personally.

Craig is right: the front line people at Island Tel are good. Indeed the techs at Island Tel are good too: I’ve received some of the best customer service ever, period, from Island Tel installers. This leaves me thinking that the company is under-resourced and/or poorly managed.

Turmoil in the world of children

CBC Radio is reporting that Santa’s Woods in North Rustico burned down this weekend.

This, on top of the ongoing shifts at Blue’s Clues must make it particularly hard to be a child this week.

Santa’s life in turmoil, Steve off to college and replaced by his seedy looking brother Joe… what’s a kid to think?

For those of you confused by the big “Steve out, Joe in” movements at Blue’s Clue’s, here’s some helpful information from the official FAQ:

Why does Joe wear a different outfit than Steve did?
Blue’s Clues with Joe will be both the same and different as it was with Steve. Blue’s Clues will maintain the same structure and game play but will incorporate many new songs, educational concepts, and locations. One of the things that’s changing is Joe’s clothes. While Steve had a multitude of identical shirts, pants, and shoes, Joe wears shirts in multiple colors to reflect his whimsical nature.
And they said that after September 11 whimsy was dead!

La Stampa comes to Charlottetown

La Stampa CoverLa Stampa and Corriere della Sera are two of the most influential papers in Italy. They are controlled by the same Agnelli family that controls Ferrari. And they are coming to Charlottetown. Maybe.

The chichi cruise ship Silver Shadow is coming to Charlottetown as part of a late summer New York to Montreal cruise. The cheapest room on the 11 day cruise goes for about $13,000 CDN, or about $1200 a day (this includes North American airfare). This seems a somewhat expensive way to spend less than two weeks. It’s also a down payment on a very well-equipped house.

Apparently one of the perks of shipboard life on Silver Shadow is access to a wide variety of reading materials: during my weekly stop at Tweel’s to pick up The New Yorker the cashier showed me a fax from a cruise organizer containing a long list of newspapers they want to have available to their guests and that they want Tweel’s to procure. On the list were such papers as the Financial Times and Le Monde, as well as the aforementioned La Stampa and Corriere della Sera. They also wondered if “any Japanese papers” might be available.

The cashier’s reaction to this? Well, after wondering with me whether La Stampa was Mexican or Spanish (neither of us are well-travelled or all that literate, obviously), she remarked “well, we can get them, but it will take a month, not a week.”

So if you find yourself in mid-October at Tweel’s and see some exotic looking newspapers on the rack, now you’ll understand where they came from.