Keep me in the loop, and I will forgive you

I’ve had three examples of good bad customer service in the past month that bear out something I’ve always thought: the way companies communicate about their service is as — or more — important than the actual service they offer.

The first example was an office chair I ordered from Atlantic Business Interiors on St. Peters Road. I went in cold one day, and asked for help finding an ergonomic chair. Peter Holland, the manager of the store, spent a good hour with me going over various options and letting me try out various chairs. He was friendly, and good natured, and knew his product line. I placed an order on the spot, and was told that my chair would be delivered to my door in two weeks. Two weeks later the chair hadn’t arrived, and so I phoned Peter. He promised to look into the issue, and phone me back. He never phoned me back. A couple of days later I phoned again, and Peter gave me a fairly detailed explanation of a screw-up by their supplier in Toronto that had seen my chair left on the loading dock in Ontario. A couple of days after that, Peter phoned to tell me the chair had arrived, and 10 minutes later he personally delivered it to my office, unpacked it, and showed me how to use it.

In classical customer service terms, I got bad service from the company: they were late delivering my product, and not good at following up with me. But, ironically for me, the customer service curmudgeon that I am, none of this bothered me because, well gosh, Peter Holland was such a nice guy about it. He shaped the transaction so that it was between me and him, not between me and some large faceless bureaucracy. And it’s hard to get angry at a nice guy who’s maybe a little distracted.

In other words, at least in my world, being nice to me will help you recover from a lot of customer services gaffes.

Case study number two: back in January I ordered an iTrip from Griffin Technology over the Internet. They were quite clear, both on their website and in the email acknowledging my order, that the product wasn’t ready to be delivered yet, and that I was pre-ordering for delivery in the spring. Earlier this week, I noticed that their website had been updated to indicate that the products were shipping now, but I hadn’t received mine yet. I phoned the number they gave me in their email message. The phone was answered on the first ring by a very nice man who took my order number, checked my order, and found that while it should have shipped, it hadn’t. He promised to find the source of the problem and fix it. This morning I got an email with a FedEx tracking number.

Again, the company had “failed” me in classic service terms, but because they answered the phone on the first ring, because they treated me like a real person and took my concern seriously, and because the person I talked to did what he said he was going to do, I leave the transaction feeling like Griffin is a good company with good service.

Final example: last Saturday morning we were sitting on Air Canada 861 at Heathrow waiting to push back from the gate. The flight was running about 2 minutes late. The captain came on the PA and explained the reasons for the delay — a passenger was ill — and promised to keep us updated. And he did. Over the next 20 minutes we heard from the captain 4 or 5 times, each time he gave us complete and helpful information. In the end, the flight left about 35 minutes late, but because we had been kept informed with useful and accurate information, we didn’t mind.

It’s odd that many companies don’t get this simply fact: keeping your customers in the loop will let you keep them as customers. Honest, accurate, regular communications will stave off all but the worst customer service screw-ups.


Rob Paterson's picture
Rob Paterson on May 22, 2003 - 17:20 Permalink

Good point Peter.
Had the same expericnes. 2 winters ago, I was trying to leave Washington in a snow storm — very rare there. Half the air canada flights were canceleld and hundreds were not going home that night. Could have been awful. BUT the gate guy was brilliant and kept us all truthfully in the loop. We could accept taht he could neither control the weather or which planes were flying. But he made sure that each of knew where we stood and why all evening. He never lost his sense of humour or cool.

A Month ago I was leaving from Boston for Halifax. The plane left on time but the gate lady made us all feel unsafe — she was snarky and nervous and did not give a real answer to any question.

On paper the washington trip was a disater and the Boston trip Ok. But as a customer experience they were the opposite.

I think that this is a big idea. Most customer service measure only the process but not the experience. In fact the experience is as you point out more important.