Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A New Level of Customer Service

For the past few years I have been dismayed at the level of customer service.  You see, for the most part my career has been in product development of one form or another - mostly entertainment or services.  While products have been getting pretty cool in the past 10 years - think of all the innovations from Apple, Microsoft, the Hybrid car, etc. - service has been falling into a pit of despair I never thought it could recover from.

The call center is a prime example.  The idea behind the product improvement/process improvement, to a point, with the initial contact (Tier 0 in call center speak) primarily handled by a speech recognition software was to make it easier for a client/customer/member to reach the correct Tier 1 agent quickly and with a minimum of fuss.  That hasn't worked so well, and not just because the software isn't perfect.  Rather it hasn't worked because the call centers using the software want to replace human contact with the software.

A frustrated human wants to talk to a fellow human, not a computer.

And yet for the past few years as companies have become more and more enamored with computers they have tried to replace people with them, or outsourced the work.  We've all seen how well that's gone, right?  Thus my frustration.

But in three days I have been more than pleasantly surprised by the service I have received from 3 different companies.

The first - a car company.  We have to buy a new car.  Well, new to us.  It has to be done quickly - but we are trying to be as careful about it as possible.  We are lucky enough to be members of USAA and found a company that sells nothing but used cars in an area that is a bit of a drive for us, unfortunately.  However - the sales man has been incredibly considerate.  He called to make sure we were feeling better (we had illness in the house that week) and to also make sure that his sense of humor, which is close to mine, hadn't offended.  If they were closer or had a car that was perfect for us I could see being a loyal customer of this particular salesman.


The second, I'll just name them as they are almost the only game in town.  Turbo Tax.  In this case, we are on the automatic distribution of Turbo Tax yearly.  It's a no thought process at this point.  November comes, we down load the tax software.  Unfortunately we cannot use the EZ form, or even a simple tax form.  No, we are more complex with a nanny, medical, house, small investments, etc.  (No - we are not part of the 99%, just trying to save for retirement and in need of extra help because of my health.  Try doing that on a non-1% salary.  Not easy.)  Anyway - as we live and work in the DC area we MUST make sure that all the "i's" are dotted and "t's" are crossed when it comes to W-2s - and the deadline was last night.  I spent a week trying to figure out how to access the online W-2 form that you must use to submit to the government.  Not so much.

Finally, I IMed the help desk.  NOT my favorite thing.  I want to talk to a human being.  And when it comes to my taxes, I want to know they are actually in the US.  I have nothing against other countries working - but I am not a fan of outsourcing for many reasons.  In the case of tax preparation it is because I want to know the person on the other end of the chat or call actually fills in their US taxes as well and may have come across some of the issues I have.

I was impressed with what Turbo Tax provided.  Incredibly impressed.  They figured out that I had the incorrect version (the one they sent me) so they sent me the correct version, which is more expensive, at no extra charge.  Then, the next day when I still couldn't access the website all employers are required to use to submit W-2s and W-3s I called again.  This time I got a wonderful woman in upstate NY.  She figured out that the site was down (NOT GOOD ON 1/30 - not when everything is due 1/31) and that there was a workaround in the Microsoft version. Problem is, I only have the Mac version.  Solution - she provided me with the software free of charge, walked me through the work around and then...

She refunded every cent I paid on Turbo Tax this year without my asking her for anything else.  Her thought - the name of the company is Intuit, as in "intuitive."  Filing the W-2 for my one employee was anything but intuitive so I should get compensated for that.


And I didn't think anything could top that.  I was wrong.

Today I actually ran to a car dealer in the 1 hour I had free.  Happens to be a Volvo dealer, but they have Toyotas, Hondas etc. on the lot and as a USAA member we found quite a few cars last night that we thought might be a good fit for our family.  Unfortunately those were sold - just.  The guy I worked with understood my constraints, I had less than an hour and my husband had a meeting that was going to run late - what could he do to help me?  He quickly narrowed down what I needed, found a car that fit our requirements, took me for test drive and then offered to have me take it on an extended test drive overnight so my husband could see the car and we could make a decision - gas on them.  They are also taking another $1K off the car before we even started serious negotiations.


Sure, some of you are going to say "But that's their job.  Why do you think they've gone above and beyond?"  Here's why.  I think the jobs we are talking about have actually had their job descriptions dummied down.  Sure, they're supposed to make the customer happy - but it's make the customer happy with what they have not fix the problem.  All three of these individuals and the other's I've written about recently have all gone ABOVE and BEYOND to make sure my issues are taken care of and that I leave a satisfied customer.  OK - not ALL my issues, just the ones with their products.  Although the one from Turbo Tax and I were on the phone so long we got to know each other pretty well.  All three of these individuals thought about the customer not the company.

Companies are so intent on the bottom line they seem to have forgotten if they have a crappy product or horrific customer service their bottom line is going to suffer.  Why did Netflix have a bad year?  It's not because people have stopped watching movies, it's because they decided to make changes that the customer base didn't like very much.  Why did AOL start fading away?  Sure, new technology letting people connect directly to the internet had something to do with it but that wasn't the only reason.  Once they forgot their members and those individuals who made AOL so special became numbers that churned on an hourly basis things started getting rough.  I know, I was still there then.  We had been drilled that members were so important, then suddenly the members became numbers.  A number is not a person, it's the count of a person.

A person wants to belong, a number doesn't care.

So - again, I have been surprised by wonderful customer service from large companies where the customer service could have just killed the relationship.  It hasn't - because of these customer service contacts the relationship is actually stronger.

To recap the companies I recommend based solely on customer service:

* Best Buy for anything that isn't a big kitchen appliance.  (Only because the Geek Squad for kitchen appliances is outsourced here in my area and that DOESN'T work.) Understand, the store you go to has to have conscientious employees.  Only way this one works.

* Ikea - hands down.  They knew they had a problem.  They pulled the problem from the shelves and then from my house and did a swap of the poorly made product, had it put together and did the refund without my having to go back to the store a 6th time.  WOW.  Yes, Michelle P. - I am talking about you!

* Turbo Tax - only things that are sure are death and taxes.  One way to make taxes easier - Turbo Tax.  For MOST people Turbo Tax will be intuitive.  And if it's not, they have free help just a click away.  And that help - you can go to either the knowledge base or talk to a HUMAN who knows the tax code or one who knows the software.

* Shirlie Slack Mitsubishi in Fredericksburg, VA.  Another caveat - I have not actually been to the lot.  I do not know much about the organization or the products they sell.  I do know, however, how I have felt when talking with the car dealer.  I have felt human.  He hasn't asked to speak with my husband or said "Well, I don't know if you can sign for a car."  (Yep - got one of those last week.  What is this, 1910?)  The salesman's name is Wally Kamel.  Tell him the sarcastic girl sent you.

* Don Beyer Volvo - If you are in the market for a Volvo, need one serviced or are looking for a used car give these guys a look.  My story with service at Don Beyer is longer than the paragraph in this blog.  It starts in 1980 when we moved back to the DC area from Germany and the Volvo was about 3.5 years old and definitely a lemon.  Mr. Beyer (Ambassador now, I believe) was the owner of the best Volvo dealership/service organization in the area.  It was in Alexandria.  My dad faithfully took the 1977 lemon, fridge on wheels to Don Beyer's every 3 months for oil change and more often for things that broke down routinely.  The Beyer organization kept that darn car going until 1986.  I learned to drive on it.  It died the day before I took my driver's test.  And believe me, it was a lemon, but a well loved, well cared for lemon.  And from what I saw at the dealership in Falls Church today - the friendliness, caring and laid back attitude regarding sales - they are there to find the right car for the buyer, not fit the buyer into the right car for their sales goals - it's all still there.  Even if we don't buy the car that we have for the extended test drive we will probably buy a car from this group.  They also sell Kias and they have a large selection of used cars.  The right car will find us.

So, there you go.  Customer service that treats the customer well in Northern VA and nationally.  I hope this helps you if you ever need to buy a new car, get some furniture or figure out your taxes!

By the way, I have a new Blog starting tomorrow.  "Life in a Nutshell" will still be up and running, but I want to try something new.  This new blog is going to be a group effort with some of my friends helping me out.  It's a blog about gratitude written by an interesting collection of people.  Some are incredibly sarcastic and some have a subscription to the "Rosy Glasses of the Month" club, although most are sarcastic.  But sarcasm doesn't mean you don't appreciate what you have.  In fact it may mean you appreciate it more.  More information tomorrow!

Thanks for reading!


Kirstin @ Hello Kirsti said...

I totally read this post while sitting in customer service chat hell, it's sad that we cherish excellent experiences so much since so often it's very much the opposite.

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