Friday, October 8, 2010

KeFactors Fridays: What signals are you sending?

Organizations spend tens of thousands of hours and dollars developing eloquent customer care messages—and then overlook simple details, often in plain sight.

One of my clients went to visit a new vendor at their offices. She knew it was a small business (but of long history); since they handled high-volume mailing operations, she didn’t expect a plush setting. And, like many businesses, they proudly stated on website and collaterals that for over 50 years, customers came first.

But let’s review what she experienced.

Upon entering, she smiled slightly to see the lobby sign that welcomed her by name. Nice touch—and one she’d seen other vendors use.

The receptionist, however, stared blankly back at her when she gave her name, and the name of her appointment. (“He’s still out to lunch, but I’ll leave him a voicemail to let him know you’re here.”) ….My client sat down in the lobby and returned calls on her cell. A group of employees came back from lunch and lingered in the lobby, laughing and joking loudly—no one greeted her, asked if she needed help, nor seemed to observe that she was trying to talk on the phone.

She decided to freshen up in the restroom, which was a little unsettling—an overfilled wastebasket, trash on the floor, empty soap dispenser, and a damp, skimpy roll of toilet paper. She mentioned it to the receptionist, whose response was an indulgent smile — “Oh” — but not much else.

Her appointment showed up, only a little late, and they had a pleasant meeting.

Upon leaving, she stepped into the parking lot just in time to see an employee empty a full ashtray of cigarette butts from his car onto the pavement. He gave her a wink and she left.

A week later, when she and her boss sat down with me to review vendor proposals, her appraisal ran like this: “Yes, they do have a long history in the business and their price isn’t bad, but….” Fortunately, her boss trusted her gut instincts and let her process her thoughts. “I’m not sure their service attitude is companywide. They seemed to think that repeating the customer care motto was evidence enough, but I’m not so sure. Don’t ask me how I came to that, it’s just something I picked up on while I was there.”

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