It’s ALL Customer Service: Living Vicariously

Picture this: you’re at the store picking up a few things, and at the returns desk nearby you hear a customer being shut down before she can finish explaining her situation. It’s not you, but it could be you, and it affects your feelings about the place. Call it vicarious customer service.

The flip side: yesterday at Target the cashier next to mine noticed her customer buying just one item, a cup of yogurt, and volunteered that there are spoons over at the snack bar. A pleasant surprise to that customer, and to me. Clearly the cashier was on the lookout all the time for an opportunity to add a little something extra, a sort of informational lagniappe.

In a nonprofit there are many opportunities to show volunteers, donors, and participants recognition. Seeing it on a website, in a newsletter, or at an event says these people are valued, and by extension, so are you.

The wonderful Wayside House, Inc. in the Twin Cities provides supportive housing and many other services for women recovering from addiction and mental illness. Their newsletters highlight donors and volunteers, and also women from the programs. This isn’t unique, but I believe that type of recognition may be the little something extra some recovering women need, and it’s more than inspiration. They get the message their success is and will be noticed, and that it matters in the larger community.

Suppose someone comments on this post, “This is the dumbest post I have ever read.” I can thank him for his input and perhaps clarify something, or I can say something about his mother. Maybe I even know his mother, but you wouldn’t know that, and you’d draw a conclusion about me. Or perhaps about my mother.

So here’s a new rule: Do unto others as you may one day do unto other others. Because it’s all customer service.

It’s ALL Customer Service: Welcome, guest. May we help you find a SKU?

There’s been a spotlight on the dangers of pompous, impersonal, and jargon-filled business writing recently (including here on this blog) and I’ll admit it can be difficult to rein in. However, those writing for a consumer audience have no excuse. They shop, eat, and listen to the radio, too, right?

Most stores don’t have customers anymore, because “care team members” serve their “guests.” Apparently, this is cozier. For some reason, use of jargon has gone the other way.

Retailers now casually refer to SKU’s, and you may have a choice between a “blister pack” and “hanging assorted” at the store. We get cash from ATM’s when we don’t have time to visit retail banking for a debit transaction.

When preparing a frozen dinner, instructions often say, “Remove product from its overwrap,” and “Be careful, contents will be extremely hot.”  Mmm, yummy.

But here’s what inspired me to write this post: I was online looking for a restaurant location, and their website had a nice interactive map. The instructions? “Click on your market.” I knew we had something special.

It’s ALL Customer Service: You’re a User, Baby

This is the second in a series of posts about customer service, which began with It’s ALL customer service: an ounce of prevention.

Remember when “user” meant someone on drugs, or a person who manipulated others for their own gain?  Yes, I’m talking about the 1980’s.

Back then I attended my first software user group.  During the introductions I said, “I’m not sure I like being called a user.”   (No one laughed then, either.)

At the time I managed a customer service department, and the idea of a user group mystified me.   That first meeting was hosted by the developers, who explained we should look to each other to solve problems, not them.

That model makes sense to me now that technology is infinitely more complicated.   But where should the line be drawn?

It’s ALL Customer Service: An Ounce of Prevention

not a through st 1800 x 1200This is the first in a series of posts about customer service, in all its various and glorious forms. Work-wise, it was my first love, and it’s still near and dear to my heart.

Many successes and failures are made in an organization’s most basic communications. I’m talking about what we now call Frequently Asked Questions, especially very frequently asked questions.

What questions come in by phone or email the most? Your hours, your location, program or product details?

Put that information on your website! Duh, right? But take a look at your site, is it really there?

Sites for companies with many locations often say, “Call for hours.”  Yes, it would be challenging and take time to keep that information up to date, but having countless employees picking up the phone countless times per day is a staggering waste of resources.

Maintaining program or product details is even more of a commitment, but the time savings and error prevention can be considerable, and if the information’s accurate, employees can use the site as a resource, too.

Are you distributing printed materials with outdated information? Is there even someone responsible for that?

Recently I went to Las Vegas for work and reached the hotel at midnight to find a long, slow check-in line.  I was eventually directed to elevator 1a. On the 4th floor I followed a sign that said Rooms 4020 – 4045 or some such, but reached a dead-end before my room, 4035.  A nice security guard opened a fire door and walked me to my room.  When asked, he pleasantly gave me incomprehensible instructions for next time, mentioning Starbuck’s as a guide, “But not the Starbuck’s downstairs, or the Starbuck’s on the other side.”

The next day, here’s what I got:  “Go to Elevator 2 through the casino.”  Elevator 2 turned out to be a bank of four elevators, each marked with a 1 for first floor. “The sign on the wall will say access to floors 6-15. Disregard that. In the elevator, press the button for 2 – there will be one – and get off on the 2nd floor. Go around the next corner to the other elevator. Take that to 4th floor.  Follow the signs to your room.”  Voilà!

Building the so-and-so theater cut into the elevator shaft, she said.  Fine. When was that, yesterday? No, four years ago. What about the Floors 6-15 sign nowhere near the theater?  Even homeless people can get hold of cardboard and markers. Perhaps management vetoed handmade signs, because they’d be tacky? Oh, wait, it’s a casino.

People make mistakes and things break, that’s part of life. Wrong-elevator-woman, the room phone, the pop machine, I get that.  But that hotel has over 4,400 rooms. How many guests are needlessly lost, aggravated, and wasting time day after day?  How many employees?

If you know, please add a comment. I’ll leave the light on for you.

Photo: Alan Levine


This blog is about writing and editing, customer service, online marketing, and how communications and tech come together.  Plus a bunch of other stuff.  Read it and tell me what you think!

Follow me on Twitter or drop me a line via email kyla (at) kylacromer (dot) com.