Not so long ago, within the memory of most of us, when you called a business or office someone, a real person, answered the phone. He or she would warmly answer along the lines of, “Thank you for calling Our Company. This is Chris, how can I help you?” Chris would listen to your request for information or find out with whom you wished to speak and efficiently reply to your inquiry or send you on your way down the line to the proper person. Operative word: “person”. This personalized process was formerly standard operating procedure, de rigueur for businesses. It was the frontline of customer service. First impressions were and still are critical for first-time interactions.
The early days of telephony (Tele-fony) spawned the telephone switchboard. Initially “call centers” were operated by the telephone company. As demand for telephone communications increased, businesses set up their own switchboards so they could control the calls, messages delivered to callers. Control was important. It was still the first impression. Depending upon the size of the business a private branch exchange (PBX) might require a single operator or many as shown in the attached photo.
Technology eventually reduced the size and increased the functionality to a desktop PBX. A receptionist could easily connect callers with a dozen or more employees. So we continued to move forward with the front line receptionist personally answering incoming calls. And then it happened. An inflection point. Interactive Voice Response (IVR). The ability for computers to handle incoming phone calls without human intervention locking callers into Voicemail Jail or Telephone Hell.
Great customer service, for the most part, has gone the way of the PBX operator. Vanished, perished.
Prior to joining INGATHER I conducted qualitative and quantitative research projects all over North America and found most facility operators to be cordial, supportive and having my back. But so many of the facilities I visited were kind of like a hotel, or in some cases more of a motel. “Motel” was coined in the late 50s or early 60s to designate a motor-hotel where travelers would crash for a night or two on their way to their next destination. Their business plans were based on low rates sustained by reduced human resources. That’s how a lot facilities felt to me. Nice folks, clean rooms and a meal. Of all the facilities I visited one stood out above and beyond the others (except INGATHER, of course. I was initially a client). Not wishing to express any favoritism I won’t mention this particular California facility by name. However, every time I showed up I was greeted by several of the staff as if I was a family member who’d been away for a long time. Warm feelings and friendship extended to a revered traveler, me. They were special. Their client service was normally exceptional. Then one day they went over the top. The first evening of a qualitative study my clients were setting up in the observation room while a client assistant was putting out dinner. He asked what we wanted the next evening and we settled on Thai food. In a joking and tossed-off voice directed at no one in particular, especially not the client assistant, I mentioned Singha, a well-known Thai beer. The next evening as the food was set out the client assistant came up to me with a chilled bottle of Singha in his hand. “Here ya go,” he said with a smile on his face. I was not only quite surprised but actually delighted. This person was so sensitive to his customer that he picked up on a tossed-off comment and acted upon it. I didn’t drink the beer since I was on duty, but my clients sure did.
We had a recent incident at INGATHER that demonstrated a high level of customer service that moved me to write this blog. We ordered some advertising specialties that would be given away at some upcoming events. Unfortunately, a new employee provided an old version of our corporate logo for imprinting on a fun lip balm. Upon receiving the lip balm with the wrong logo we contacted the vendor to reorder with the correct logo. Even though the error was ours the vendor offered to redo the order at no charge and suggested we give the incorrectly printed balms to a homeless shelter. WOW! Remember, this was our mistake and 4imprint.com went so far over and above in customer service I just had to write about them and suggest you consider them the next time you are in need of promotional materials.
Lesson learned: There are still companies out there that value their customers and prove it by providing exceptional customer service.
By: Bob Chapin