CUSTOMER CARE: It’s Not Just WHAT You Do, It’s HOW.

Expecting customers to already know how to do business with you, is not good customer care.

I had an interesting–no, make that incredibly frustrating–exchange with the post office awhile ago. It got me thinking about customer care.

We may have different ideas of what giving good customer care is, but we all recognize when we’re not getting it.

If you want to read the conversation, I put it at the end of the article. If you’re in a hurry, here’s my point:

Nobody knows your business like you do. Nobody knows better than you how you prefer people to order, pay or ask for more information. Nobody knows better than you what your return policy is.

Yep, nobody knows better than you–not even your customers.

Nor should you expect them to.

Expecting people to know the ins, outs and idiosyncracies of your biz, and treating them like they’re stupid when they don’t, is not good customer care.

We all have unique ways of running our business. We have our policies and procedures for handling orders, mistakes, returns, questions and repairs. We know our hours of operation, our location, our inventory. After all, we deal with our business every day.

But our customers don’t.

We should keep in mind that our customers deal with many, many other businesses, every day–not just ours.

They deal with schools, banks, insurance companies, hospitals, shoe stores, hair salons, pharmacies, baby sitters, auto dealers, telephone companies, banks and post offices. They order online from Amazon, Blockbuster, Borders, eBay and Medco.

Each of these businesses does things a little bit differently. Each asks its customers to interact with them slightly differently. Each one has their own hours of operation, procedures, policies, forms, payment methods.

As wonderful and distinctive as I’d like to think my biz is, to my customers–even my loyal, loving, regular customers–it’s just one more operation with its own hours, procedures, policies, etc., etc.

Very few people want to expend a lot of brain cells memorizing all the nuances of each business, especially if their interaction is infrequent. After all, how many insurance claims have you filed in your life? Should you be expected to know the name of the form, the supporting documents you need, and the deadline for filing it? Especially if the procedure was updated since you filed your last claim eight years ago?

Even “standard procedures”–say, writing a check for cash at the bank–is tricky if we only do it once every few years. Do you make it out to yourself, or to the bank or for “cash”? Which method do you have to endorse? Which method does the bank prefer??

If we work at a bank, it’s obvious. However, if we rarely even visit the inside of a bank anymore, it’s not so obvious.

Remember–We are just one more business our customers deal with. There’s nothing “more special” about us that would lead us to expect they should memorize how we want things done.

We may think our website is easy to navigate. We may think our return policy is hard to miss. We may think it’s obvious how to use our product. But maybe it’s not. Or maybe it just gets lost in the shuffle.

It’s even worse when policies are non-standard or downright odd. I bet we all know businesses that are closed Sundays and Mondays. Or Mondays and Tuesdays. Some are only open 4-7 on Tuesday, 12-3 on Mondays and Wednesdays, closed Thursdays, and open Friday 10-3. Saturdays and Sundays by appointment only (but no phone number is given and they never answer the store phone.)

Am I really expected to remember that? Maybe for one biz. But for two? Six? Twenty???

Even something as supposedly stable as location can get dicey. Some businesses around here have moved three, four, even five times in the 20 years we’ve been here. Once I sent my husband on an errand I usually take care of. He called me fifteen minutes later–no store. Where the heck were they?, he wanted to know. He’d gone to their address from five years ago. It was already two addresses old.

It’s bad enough to assume people will remember all our quirky hours, or that we tend to move every three years. It’s bad enough to assume they know all the proper terminology, or are familiar with all the forms they need to do business with us

But it’s even worse to treat your customers like they’re stupid when they don’t know. (Hence my post office story.)

We can tell them, we can show them. Signage in your booth helps. (“We accept all major credit cards.”) But you’re still going to get asked, “Do you take credit cards?” After the fiftieth time you’re asked that, saying, “Read the sign!” is not good customer care. (Unless, of course, it’s the same customer asking fifty times. If that’s the case, I give you permission to say, “Hey, no, I don’t, but that artist (insert the name of your least favorite artist) over there takes credit cards.”) Saying cheerfully, “Yes, we do!” is smart.

Clear, accessible policies on your website helps. (“Custom orders are not returnable.”) Telling them helps. (“If this doesn’t work out for you, you can return this pin for exchange or credit towards another piece within 10 days.”) Putting it in writing helps. (“Items can be returned for exchange or credit ONLY with 10 days of purchase.” on your invoices.) Usually, terms such as your return policy must be posted visibly in your store/booth or printed on the receipt.

Clarity helps. Ensure your website is ridiculously easy to navigate. Redundancy helps. Make vital information incredibly easy to find, posting it in several places if necessary.

But most people (me included) simply let all your information leak into “overflow parking.” It’s human nature: Too. Much. Information. Making them feel stupid when they realize the bracelet is too hard to put on by themselves will put the kabosh on future sales. Offering them a different clasp when they complain, or offering the option of an exchange, will help.

Patience will go a long way when hiccups occur. Yes, some customers ramble and have to be gently reined in. But good listening skills, asking good questions, and simply being professional, courteous–and kind–will help you target what your customer needs from you.

And your customers will appreciate it.

THE CONVERSATION

In this case, I was out of the country for over a week, and it took me a couple of days to get through my mail. So almost 10 days had gone by before I found the a form notice that my mail carrier had attempted delivery of a registered item that needed my signature. It said the item was being held for me at the post office.

I know that some kinds of mail get returned if not claimed within a certain time, but I wasn’t sure if this would happen with my item.

Form in hand, I called the phone number for the post office on the form and spoke to an employee there.

The ensuing conversation read like Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” routine.

PO: “Post Office.”

Me: “Hi, I’ve been on vacation for a week, and I got a notice that my carrier had tried to deliver registered package, but no one had been home to sign for it. It’s dated over a week ago, almost 10 days. Is it still at the Post Office, or had it been sent back to the sender?”

PO: “What’s the address?” (Spoiler: She probably should have asked if I had the form.)

I give it to her, she disappears, comes back on line.

PO: “There’s nothing there for that address. What’s your name?”

I tell her my name. (Spoiler: She probably should have said, “What’s the name of the addressee on your form?”) I start to ask if providing a tracking number would help, as there are a couple of numbers on the form, but she puts me on hold again before I can say anything more.

PO: “There’s nothing here under that name.” (silence)

Me: “Oh. Was it sent back already? Is there any way to track it? I have some…” (I was going to say “…numbers on this form” again but she says, “Hang on” and dashes off again.)

PO: “I’ve looked at all the packages and boxes, I looked in x, y, z places and it isn’t here.”

Me: “Oh, sorry, it says here that it’s a ‘large envelope, catalog or…”

PO (very exasperated): “Why didn’t you say so?? Hang on.” (Puts me on hold again, returns.) “Nope, nothing.”

Me: “Is there any way to track it? If I give you the number on the form…”

PO (interrupts): “You have a form?? Why didn’t you tell me that?!”

Me: “Well, I thought I did. Let me read you….”

PO (interrupting again): “Give me the number.”

Me: “Okay, there are several numbers on here, which one…”

PO (interrupting again, speaking louder and faster): “The (indistinct) number.”

Me: “The ‘what’ number?”

PO (angrily): “The (indistinct) number! On the back!”

Me: “Look, I can here you say ‘something number’ but I can’t hear what the ‘something’ is.” (silence)

Me (trying again): “I can’t tell which side of the form is the back or front, there are two numbers, one starts with…”

PO (interrupts again): “The (indistinct) number! On the BACK of the form!”

pause…. (I’m trying to stay patient.)

Me: “I can hear you say it’s a number and that it’s on the back. My confusion is it’s not very clear which is the front and which is the back of the form, and there are several strings of numbers. Is it the number starting with RF…”

PO (interrupts again): “No, no the number on the BACK!”

Me (cautiously): “Is it the bar code number?”

PO: “That’s not it! The BACK of the form!”

My tongue is now bloody from biting it so hard. I read her one of the other numbers, which thankfully is the right one. She puts me on hold again, and comes back.

PO: “Are you by any chance also known as ‘Durable Goods’?”

Me: “Yes, I….”

PO (interrupting): “Why didn’t you say so?? It’s right here. You can pick it up anytime.” (I refrain from telling her I answered every question she asked me, but she hasn’t answered any of mine yet.)

Me: “Well, actually, I’d like to have it….”

PO: “YOU CAN PICK IT UP ANYTIME!”

Me: “I’d rather….”

PO: “What else do you need??”

Me: “I’d like to have it delivered.”

PO: “You have to sign the form to have it delivered.”

Me: “Yes, I understand, I can sign the form, I just didn’t know if it were still at the post office…”

PO (interrupting, angrily): “Yes, I SAID it’s RIGHT HERE, you can pick it up anytime. If you sign it, you won’t get it til Friday.”

Me: “Friday is fine…Look, I…”

PO: “We’re busy, is that all?”

At this point I asked to speak to her supervisor.

PO: “Why? She’s not going to get that package to you any faster.”

Me: “Look, this is getting out of hand, I…” and she puts me on hold again.

Supervisor: “Your package is right here, you can pick it up anytime.”

Me: “I know that, I want to let you know how rude….”

Supervisor: “Hold on, the other phone’s ringing.” (puts me on hold) “Look, we’re pretty busy, you’re package is here and you can pick it up anytime.”

Me: “I know that, I’ve been treated very rudely by your employee. Don’t you care about that?”

Supervisor: “Well, I can’t help you with that. Goodbye.”(hangs up)

Now, I usually don’t engage in Post Office bashing. I think they move an incredible amount of mail at reasonable rates. And usually I am treated with courtesy in my interactions with them. Although I noticed the last time I was there that all the nice people have retired….

But if there were another option for mail service, I would have seriously considered it after this little incident.

All this, just because this person assumed I should know their procedures for registered mail. Which I get about once a year. And let me know how dumb she thought I was because I didn’t know.

If all queries are handled like mine was, I have my suspicions about why they’re so busy.

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12 Comments

Filed under art, booth signs, business, craft, craft shows, customer care, selling, selling online

12 responses to “CUSTOMER CARE: It’s Not Just WHAT You Do, It’s HOW.

  1. Wow, Luann. I think you should write a letter of complaint to the local Postmaster. Both of those people were incredibly rude and, possibly worse, the first was inefficient. I am thankful that the postal workers at the branch I visit are still the unretired nice people.

  2. Sounds about right. I thought I was so much more clever than you and went to the post office to pick up my registered mail. Stood in line for 20 minutes. Got to the front of the line. Clerk took my license, not the form, so I couldn’t leave. Came back, no package. I asked what do to and was told, “it’s not here, what do you want ME to do?” Turns out I was at the wrong post office, which I noticed while trying to figure out what part was the back of the form. Whole transaction: 2.25 hours, one package.

    It’s not just the post office. I had a similar experience at PayPal. It’s so frustrating. All you want to do is be heard.

  3. Awwww, Luann, I’m sooo sorry!!! We have such a nice Post Office here. Holmes, NY, everyone, nice PO! And the neighboring ones in Patterson and Brewster Mt. Ebo are nice too! I guess most of the quiet little PO’s are nice. And it’s extra frustrating over the phone because you can’t even roll your eyes at the next person in line for sympathy.

    We should all send happy-face postcards to you or something.

  4. During one of my trips to South America (where I’m originally from), I had similar experiences at the bank, the post office, pretty much everywhere. All my exchanges became exact replicas of Catch 22. During those moments, I would always be glad that the technology in the US could make such exchanges pretty much irrelevant.
    Until I found myself at my local USPS after my trip – in those agonizing 30 minutes, I realized that there is very little difference between third-world and first-world: in the end, you still find yourself dealing with a human being who either doesn’t want to be there, could care less about being helpful, or really does think you are an idiot and will treat you as such.
    In the end, all we have control over is our response and who we do business with next time.
    As a business person myself, I always listen to someone’s question as it is the first time it is being asked, because for them, it is. Thank you for reminding me to keep doing that always :)

  5. Wow. I guess I’m lucky that the people at the Ann Arbor post office are so nice.

  6. Tammy

    There is just no need for this foolishness coming from our neighbors here at the post office. I want
    you to have justice for this poor treatment.
    I could find very little info, but I believe this guy is the current postmaster, Leo W. Marshall Jr. Postmaster Keene, NH since 04/30/2005. This is from the USPS main website.

  7. Your post office horror story is so riveting, I can see why you put it at the end of your post. You make a very good point and it should not be lost in the drama of the PO incident.

    I think a lot of us instinctively treat each customer as a new individual who knows little or nothing about our business. Remembering this when you’ve gotten the same question 50 times from 50 different people is the challenge. At least at an art fair there are sympathetic neighbors with whom one can vent.

    As far as the post office goes, I’ve long said they need competition.

    • I think that the FAQ section is the most under-read part of any website. This, however, is the most important area for customers to seek out answers for questions that others have obviously asked before. If the answer is there, then more-than-likely you have been asked something enough times that it warrants being on the FAQ page. I constantly research what others have on their FAQ or policy pages to make sure that I am addressing the same questions and concerns customer might have. If you spell it out clearly and concisely it doesn’t always mean that customers will understand and this is where a little patience comes in handy.

  8. OMG! I haven’t laughed that hard in so long. I wasn’t laughing at you but at the weird coincidence of being like what I have gone through. We just moved to another state and the postman is really nice. On the other hand, we got one of those notices and we still aren’t clear as to whether we pick up the document from a sender we don’t know or will they be back on Monday. I was here when he delivered the mail and he didn’t even knock on the door; he just left the “LITTLE” slip in amongst the rest of the mail. Customer service is so important to me that no matter how I am treated somewhere, I always make a note to say “Thank you for treating me so wonderfully” or “Thank you and you really need to work on your customer service skills”. It works too as I got my stove that my mom bought us on the day she was promised it would be at our house, not the seven days later that the manager of the company kept insisting that she was told. Corporate didn’t agree with him and I hope he learned a valuable lesson about customer service. I love your article and agree with you 100%.

  9. I don’t know whether to be relieved other people have been treated the same way by the Post Office, or shudder in horror. But it’s good to know many of you have already learned how NOT to treat your customers the way you were treated–good on you all! :^)

  10. Lotta

    The story of the PO resonates around the world :) I am in a (day) job where the people around me lose sight of that simple understanding of not everyone knows your job inside out. And I cringe when they speak in that arrogant condescending tone.

    You handled it very well – and it is a timely reminder to be conscious of customer care.

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