In these hard economic times, good customer service is very important.  Right now, I’m reading a book about how some companies, like Apple Computers, are very design-focussed to make sure the customer experience is the best it can be.  And so, to be honest, I have been trying to look around and see how, if we need to, we can change things in the school to make customer service, and more importantly, our customers’ experiences with us, that much better.

In the book I am reading, Do You Matter? How Great Design Will Make People Love Your Company, the authors use a classic example of bad customer service.  To paraphrase: a couple had used the same insurance company for decades.  They’d paid their bills on time, never missed a payment, and, each time they saw a commercial for their insurance company on TV, they nodded their heads and smiled because they felt this insurance company cared about them and their business.

They moved house.  They told the insurance company that they were moving, went through all the proper channels and procedures in order to do this.  But, they didn’t receive a bill like normal.  After calling customer service, they found out, for some reason, the bill was still going to the wrong address.  The minute they found out, they sent payment to the insurance company right away (without even having a bill), and the customer service person made the changes to their file to ensure this wouldn’t happen again.

A few days passed.  The couple received a quite nasty demand from the insurance company for payment of the bill.  They called up customer service again, and the representative told them that yes, the payment had been received and disregard the letter.  (Because this was an American couple, they were using cheques to pay their account, and the theory was the cheque and the letter crossed paths in the post.)

Unfortunately, this did not resolve the issue.  The couple continued to get ever increasing threatening letters from the insurance company, despite their following payments being made on-time, and their decades-old history of never missing a payment before.

I probably don’t need to tell you what happened next.

Fed up, the couple cancelled their insurance and went to another company.  The relationship between the couple and the insurance company, which was decades-long, was broken by the break-down in customer service to resolve the issue.

(Incidentally, on a side-note, the insurance company never followed up to find out why the couple had cancelled their decades-long relationship with the company.  Nor did the company attempt to rectify the situation with the couple to entice them back as customers.)

This struck a very specific chord with me on Friday when I had to deal, as a customer, with another company, a new supplier to us.  Actually, two other people at the school dealt with the supplier’s owner previously, but the first no longer wished to deal with her due the negative way she was treated, and, the second person, to her credit, grinned, bore it, and tried to continue to work with the supplier.

As an interjection, I have to state that I bore witness to the conversation between my colleagues at the school and the supplier because of the aforementioned problems.  At no time were our staff members rude or off-hand.

In this instance, I spoke with the owner of the supplier as Noel was out of the office, the second person who had dealt with her was pre-occupied with another task, so the duty fell to me to help.

I honestly have to say that the way I was spoken to and dealt with by the supplier’s owner was very lacking in customer service or any sort of human relations at all.  Her attitude was condescending; her manner was off-hand; and her comments were ignorant, unprofessional, unethical and, well, for lack of a better word, rude.  (Ironically, she started to lecture me on how we should behave in our industry, yet was not demonstrating that behaviour in the slightest!)

In all the years I have been involved with NaSA, I honestly cannot say I have ever dealt with a more unprofessional professional in our industry.  I must say that I was honestly shocked and offended.

So what could have been a blossoming relationship between our two companies, the school and the supplier, was destroyed by this attitude.  And I wasn’t the only person who received this from the owner of this supplier: my aforementioned colleagues also had these problems with her as well.

In the conversations, I was very polite, despite the way she was treating me and my colleagues (her customers); I thanked her for her and her company’s help over the short few months we had dealt with them; and I stated we no longer required her company’s services.  (I made sure I had a witness to my conversations so this witness could back up to Noel and Don that at no point had I been unprofessional, off-hand or rude.)

The supplier did everything above and beyond what she could have done in order to lose a loyal customer, a big account that could have grown to order more and more supplies over the years as the trust built up.  And, as a school, a fact many suppliers don’t notice is we’re basically free advertising by exposing our students to their products.

Going into the positive customer experiences, I go back to the Apple computers example from the book I’m reading.  Their products are innovative, easy-to-use and design-savvy.  Their stores in the US are a combination of minimalist yet functional, with products on display for you to play with and use, and for sales people and techies alike to demonstrate the functionality of the product.  Teams are clearly marked by function (for example, sales wear light blue t-shirts), and some Apple stores offer classes on how to use their products.

When I was in the USA recently, I visited two Apple stores in two different locations, both on not-really-busy weekdays.  But Apple’s customer service shone through.  I was greeted at the door and asked if I needed any assistance.  Sales assistants who were available also greeted me and asked if I needed assistance.  Three monitors on the back wall scrolled with client information (if you want a meeting with an expert on any Apple related item, you could book it), and these appointments were booked for two hours in advance on a very slow day!

We had a question with regards to a problem we were having with one of our Macs.  The sales person didn’t know the answer, admitted this, but brought over a technical person who talked with us about the problem and brought up solutions.  Getting back to where we were staying, we implemented these measures and voila! The problem was fixed.

So, if you are a current professional in our industry reading this, take these stories to heart, and think about your reaction to the customer experience.  Every customer, no matter how hard or difficult or easy or pleasant, needs to have good service; this is vital to keeping your business going (whether you own it, operate it, or work for someone else).  Reports about bad customer service from dissatisfied customers travels a lot quicker than reports of good customer service from satisfied customers.

Noel and I were talking about this very thing the other day (before our fall-out with the aforementioned supplier), and he came up with a novel way to deal with customer dissatisfaction.  If a customer’s dissatisfaction gets to an all time low, say to the customer: “What would you like me to do to resolve this?”  It’s a very poignant remark and puts the power back in the customer’s hands.  (In saying this, there is a limit, I am sure, to what you can do to help unrealistic clients, but surely most customers will be realistic in their demands.)

According to this New Zealand Herald article by Colin Kennedy, there are three major things customers want for good customer service.  They are:

  1. Helping the customer willingly.
  2. Listening to the customer and establishing the customer’s needs.
  3. Ensuring the customer’s needs are met.

And, looking at the examples, the insurance company and our once-supplier did not follow these protocols, while the Apple store did.  They are three very simple things, yet it is amazing how some places fail to follow even one of these three.

If you are a current student, or client of our clinic, or another customer of ours, and you do have any issues, please come to us, as we are more than happy to assist as best as we can.  I sign all my emails that way, and it is an honest and sincere invitation.

Scott Fack is the Director of Operations for The National School of Aesthetics, the South Island’s leading beauty therapy, nail technology and spa therapies training provider.