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A Little Relief from the Recession

By: Martin Grunstein (view speaker details)

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Martin Grunstein
For most companies the business environment is a pretty depressing place these days. Falling sales, reduced budgets etc. etc.

Would you like an escape from that for a short time?

Let me bring you a little relief and a laugh or two in the process.

I have been speaking on customer service in this country for over 20 years now and I am often asked whether customer service is good or bad. It has taken me a long time but I now have the perfect response: Not only is customer service terrible in this country, there are some companies who think that John Cleese's FAWLTY TOWERS is a documentary, not a satire.

In fact, there are some industries where the standards are so poor that turning up on time is considered a value added. How many of us have spent hours, or even days, waiting for a tradesman to turn up or white goods or furniture to be delivered? The last time I asked when my furniture would be delivered I was told to "stay home November" (not really but it's only funny because it is not far from the truth).

When I run an interactive workshop on customer service, I get people to tell stories of poor customer service they have experienced as consumers to show them that once your ego is crushed price doesn't matter any more, the motivation becomes revenge. This helps people to understand two things that are fundamental to running a profitable business in this country - firstly, that price is not as crucial in the buying decision as most businesses think and secondly, in most industries you don't have to be brilliant to be better than your competition and hence, turning up is often a marketing advantage.

Let me share with you a few of the funnier/sadder/more outrageous examples of poor customer service my clients have contributed.

Several years ago I was speaking at an Apple conference and they were outlining the marketing and promotional schedule for the launch of their new computer - the iMac. There was visual advertising scheduled on television, newspapers, outdoor advertising and a number of magazines, both computer and general interest. One of the salespeople asked "Why is it that we are only advertising the iMac in womens' general magazines and not mens' magazines? Is it a marketing strategy to attract female buyers?" The reply was staggering. "No. It's much simpler than that. We rang four mens' magazines and told them we wanted to place advertising in their September issues but none of them returned our phone calls".

WHAT!!!!!! Nobody returned a phone call from Apple Computer Australia to say "We'd love to take your money". Not even one out of the four.

I was doing some seminars in the car industry and one of the salesmen told the story of what it was like to shop for a car for his fiancé. He said they went to six different dealerships trying to buy the same car and the last guy got the sale because he was the only one who didn't stare at his fiancé's chest and make her uncomfortable. To the salesman's credit he said that he used to do the same thing until he experienced it from the customer's point of view and he changed his ways.

A Brisbane man had just purchased pay TV from Foxtel and was experiencing poor TV reception after installation. He rang Foxtel to get someone to fix it up and was told that although it was a simple problem that would take only a minute or two to fix, they could not specify an exact time for a technician to arrive, only a five hour period (e.g morning or afternoon) and they couldn't even ring him on the day when the technician knew his schedule to allow him to come home from work and let the technician in. He got so frustrated at the fact that he would have to take four to six hours off from work that he decided to cancel his purchase of pay TV and they could come round and remove the box and cables. The Foxtel person replied "OK sir, we can have the technician there at exactly 10.30 a.m. tomorrow to remove everything if that's convenient for you". My client laughed out loud but the Foxtel representative still didn't see the funny side, or should I say the stupidity, of the situation. They are totally customer focussed when it comes to removing the cables but totally INflexible when it comes to keeping a customer happy.

And my personal favourite told to me by a client who lived in America for a number of years.

My client's bank (which had a branch in a shopping mall) had a sign in the window saying "With a bank transaction, we validate parking". So, to save himself $15 one day, he cashed a cheque and asked for his parking ticket to be validated. "I’m sorry" said the teller, "We can't do that. You haven't conducted a bank transaction". "Yes I did" said my client (who incidentally had an account worth over a million dollars in this bank), "I just cashed a cheque". "I'm sorry" the bank teller said again, "cashing a cheque is not a transaction". "What's a transaction?" asked my client who was getting a little frustrated by this stage. "To qualify for validation of your parking" the teller said trying to be helpful "you have to either make a deposit or a withdrawal from one of your accounts".

My client had a brainstorm.

He asked the teller "Are you able to transfer money from this bank into the bank across the road (where the client also had an account)?" "Certainly" replied the teller, "I can do that with one phone call". "Good" said my client "Then, withdraw all the money I have in this bank and place it my account with your competitor across the road". "No problem, Sir and now I can validate your parking" said the teller.

Is there a deep philosophical point to this article? Not really.

I just thought you might like to be entertained a little and, every once in a while, if you're feeling a little down, remember that people like these are your competition.

Many businesses are going to have results a little poorer than they are used to this year but business is about relationships, not transactions and the long term winners will be the ones who maintain relationships with their customers in these difficult times even if they aren't generating a lot of revenue from them.

Keep in touch, add value (even if it's just an article to brighten their day) and maintain your integrity. The business environment will improve and your clients will remember who kept in touch – and who didn't!

Martin Grunstein's outstanding results with over 500 Australian companies across over 100 industries has made him this country's most in demand speaker on customer service. He is available to speak at your next conference or meeting. Just call me at Australian Speakers Bureau.
Contact Australian Speakers Bureau on (08) 9467 1400