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    Wednesday
    Oct192011

    A Customer's Problem IS Your Problem

    I was driving home the other week...the day Apple failed to meet the standards set by the rumor mill (launching iPhone4GS rather than iPhone5), thinking about Apple Inc, product innovation and of all things...customer service.

    Customer service is a funny thing.  I wrote about it more HERE, but wanted to touch on another aspect as it related to the purpose behind customer service.  Companies generally put hard-nosed "never-back-down" types at the desk to meet the customer's needs while not giving away the store and its margins.  Very soon I will write about my extraordinary experience with Expedia and their customer service...but until then, I will say this:  Customer Service is a function of sales...plain and simple.  Customer service uses the guise of fixing problems and attempting to help the customer to feel loves...BUT it is ALL about sales.  If you want to sandbag your chance at getting top-notch customer service, make them feel like you're going to leave and never come back.

    Customer Service uses retention as a tool to sell.  I feel better because they fixed my problem, so I will come back.  I had an experience a few months ago at Harry Rosen.  I bought a few pairs of dress pants and within a few weeks, they were falling apart.  I took them back and the sales guy gave me all brand new ones...so I bought another pair as well.  Now subsequently, they fell apart and I'm never going back to Harry Rosen...but you get the idea!

    So knowing this, what opportunities did Apple miss?  Well, the rumors were that iPhone5 was coming out.  Clearly Apple knew that was not true...MONTHS ago.  But true to form, Apple allowed hype to trump good business and their stock and brand took a hit.  Twitter went crazy and RIM stock climbed out of a bit of a pit all because Apple could not (or would not) seize the opportunity to "make lemonade out of lemons."

    This didn't surprise me as I remember all the commotion over the antenna issues with iPhone4 and Steve Jobs' famous "So don't hold it Like that then.." comment that had customers up in arms.  The funny thing is that...it's true.  If you just don't hold your phone in that one specific way...everything is fine.  Problem is, it sends mixed messages to customers:

    - Our product isn't the best, so make do with what you have.
    - Our product isn't sophisticated, so slap on some tape and move on.
    - We hate you, our customer.

    In spite of the eventual outcome (overall bad product) the guy at Harry Rosen made me feel like my business was very important and that he wanted me to be happy.  I knew that with thin margins, to replace 3 pairs of pants...at best he would be breaking even, and that is why I appreciated the gesture.

    Whether it's a defective product or the customer is just an idiot...their problems ARE your problems.  I don't like the saying "The customer is always right" because, it's not true.  Often the customer is wrong.  Lying to say the TV had that crack in it or demanding unreasonable discounts, the customer is NOT always right.  The customer IS however, the customer and can take their business to one of many competitors who will then take their abuse and make the same decision you have today.

    Serve the customer by exceeding their expectations.  Not necessarily in a monetary way, but at a minimum in your responsiveness to their concerns and by demonstrating a true desire to help them fix their problem.

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