'Matter of Laugh or Death,' a humor column
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
(appearing each week in the Republican-American newspaper, Waterbury, CT)
PUTTING THE ‘SERVICE’ INTO CUSTOMER SERVICE
Imagine this scenario: One of my customers calls me to set up a meeting to review a new project. I tell him, “I’ll stop by your office sometime on Tuesday, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Sit at your desk all day long waiting for me.”
He says, “That’s dumb. Why don’t you call me on your cell phone when you’re on your way over here?”
I reply, “No, I can’t do that. Company policy. Just be at your desk between 10 and 4.”
Then he says, “You know what? Don’t bother stopping by. I’ll use a different supplier. Good bye.”
Of course I would never say that to a customer, unless my business goal for the current fiscal year is to have no customers. (On the plus side, there would be much fewer complaints to deal with, but on the negative side, I suspect having zero customers would impact my sales and commissions somewhat.)
There’s a sign posted in my office: “Rule #1: the customer is always right. Rule #2: if the customer is wrong, see Rule #1.”
Obviously my customers are not always right—and they become even less right when they don’t pay their invoices on time. But the point is, in a competitive marketplace, the idea of customer service is not an unfathomable concept; it simply means you “serve” the “customer.”
Amazingly, there are some business operations which do exactly what I described in my fictitious scenario. They tell their customers, “We’ll send a guy over on Tuesday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Be at home during that time.”
When the customer reasonably asks, “Can’t he call me from his cell phone when he’s on his way over, and I’ll make sure I meet him?” the answer is, “No. Company policy.” So the customer has to use up a personal day at work, and waste the whole day waiting. And sometimes the guy never shows up at all!
There is a simple reason why these folks continue to stay in business, while people in my industry would be bankrupt in a week if we treated our customers that way: they don’t have any competition. The customer cannot choose to do business with a different supplier. The customer is stuck. Take it or leave it.
By now you’ve probably guessed which business operations I am referring to: utilities, especially cable TV, and any product or service provided by a government agency. When you are the only game in town, when the customer has to take it or leave it, there is no incentive to put the “service” into customer service.
I wish everybody in the whole country got paid on commission. No more hourly wages. No guaranteed salaries. Just straight commission. If a customer is satisfied, you get a percentage. If not, you get squat.
Any chance this arrangement would put a smile on the faces and a spring in the step of the people behind the counter at the DMV? How about the scowling teenager at the doughnut shop? How about the snotty college professor? If you provide good service and satisfy the customer, only THEN will you get a paycheck. Wow, imagine the change in attitude and work habits of our entire nation.
I admit having everyone in the country work on commission is impractical. So I guess we’ll continue to wait around for hours and hours. But wouldn’t you love to see politicians work on commission? They get paid ONLY when voters are pleased with their job performance—and ONLY when there is a budget surplus. I’d gladly wait around from 10 a.m. till 4 p.m. hoping to see that happen.
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