Christian Retailing

CompeTuition May 2011: retail lessons from other businesses Print Email
Written by Kirk Blank   
Tuesday, 10 May 2011 11:23 AM America/New_York

Avis2Avis: Keeping on top of  customer service complaints

A recent experience with a company with which I often do business reminded me that it is not only others' excellence that offers lessons in how to improve what we do. My encounter with the Avis car-rental company served as an object lesson in how to lose friends and influence people to go elsewhere.

It started when I approached the Avis counter at the airport in Grand Rapids, Mich., about my reservation, relevant papers in hand. Before I could present them, the agent—with a rather large wad of gum in her mouth—told me: "We ain't got no cars so you're gonna have to sit down, and I will call you when we get a car."

When I was finally called to the counter, more than a hour later, I was informed that the mid-size I had reserved was unavailable, but I could have a compact—or just wait, with no guarantees.

Having taken the smaller car, I pointed out to the agent that she had made no adjustment on the invoice. Her answer: She had no authority to make a change and I would have to write and get a credit or convince the agent when I returned the car to the agency. To cap it all off, the vehicle I did eventually receive was dirty, outside and in.

Feeling compelled to contact Avis' customer-service line, I left a voice mail and was assured I would receive a response within 36 hours. Despite leaving two further messages in the following three weeks, no one ever called me back.

Frustrated, I sent a letter to the CEO. An assistant called me three days later to apologize and correct the problem. And I received an e-mail expressing concern for my "horrible experience," an assurance that corrective measures had been taken and a $45 voucher for use on a future rental.

So what application do I see for Christian retailers?

By the time you get a complaint, the problem most likely has been festering for a while. Act quickly to learn more about the problem. It was obvious from the time between my original contact with Avis and the final resolution that the company did not have a system in place to respond swiftly.

Take an active role in observing how your staff treats customers—on the phone, by e-mail and or in person. If a supervisor had been present at the airport in Grand Rapids that day, things would have been quite different.

Take the time to actively ask your customers how you and your staff are serving them. Also consider asking some customers who have not visited your store in a while why they haven't been in. There are many low-cost ways of doing this, through e-mails, Facebook postings, online surveys and postcard mailings.

Since we are a society that uses Google instead of a phone book these days, take some time to search your bookstore online with pejorative terms like "stinks" (and worse) to learn if there's a groundswell of discontent about your store. Customers who are frustrated will often resort to the Internet to warn others about bad businesses. In fact, there are Web sites dedicated to identifying companies with poor customer service.

Customer service is too important to ignore. While it may be somewhat uncomfortable to let someone go, holding onto an employee with little regard for customer service will eventually kill your business' reputation. From a preventative standpoint, make sure your corporate values on customer care are clear, and incorporate them into the hiring process to ensure that those you bring on to take care of your customers are staff members who truly value serving others. 

This last point is the perhaps most important one. When someone prizes being of service to others, they don't need extensive training on how to help another person—it's instinctive. And great customer service helps build great companies.

One of my favorite verses is 1 John 4:19: "We love because He first loved us." We are called to be God's representatives—to reflect the love that we've been shown.

Customer service is the connective tissue between your business and your customers. Make sure that you're not the last to know that poor representatives are the cause of a customer exodus.