Poor customer service on the carpet

Be nice to your customers!

Be nice to your customers!

The long wait

We have an apartment for sale. We don’t live in it. It was my Mother-in-Law’s home but sad-to-say she is no longer with us.

The flat is empty of furniture and redecorated, but the carpets need cleaning. My wife telephoned a local carpet-cleaning business and left a voice-mail. They called back (rather oddly on a Sunday afternoon) to make an appointment to do this.

My wife waited at the flat at the appointed time to let the carpet cleaners in. In fact she waited an hour after the appointed tome. During that hour, both she and I called the business’s number, but we both got voice-mail and had to leave messages.

Yesterday afternoon the carpet cleaning people returned our calls and seemed unaware that they had missed the appointment. They asked if they could come round to do the job, but my wife said that she would give the business to someone more reliable.

What have we learned about the carpet cleaners?

  • They do not monitor telephone calls so are not available to customers and prospects when needed.
  • They do not follow up messages left for days.
  • Their booking system is poor and unreliable.
  • They are unbusinesslike.
  • They do not realise their failings so…
  • …they do not apologise

What can we surmise?

  • They are too mean or cash-poor to invest in a proper telephone answering system to which they can respond.
  • They have no concept of the meaning of customer service.
  • Their business will fail or most probably already has even if they don’t know it yet.

What do we know we should do?

  • Make sure our customers can find us and speak to us when they telephone.
  • Deliver what we say we will when we say we will.
  • Be courteous.
  • In the event something has gone wrong despite the best efforts we always make, APOLOGISE.
  • Make up for any failure promptly and maybe we can save losing their business.

We know all that. Can anyone explain why it is not obvious to our local business that may not get to clean many carpets? What do you think?

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Getting over telephone blues

Friendly telephone manner

You might have gathered from an earlier post that I had personal experience of running into trouble with an alleged rolling contract with the telecoms provider. I have now been advised that I have won my appeal to the OFTEL Ombudsman and the telephone company concerned has agreed to waive the penalty charge which they had sought to impose.

This just goes to show that persistence pays off if you stand up to these giants when they try to impose unfair charges, and especially when you have not agreed to their new contracts. You do have to put together your case well, though, and not to lose your temper when seemingly talking to people who are not listening.

In an act of generosity, I am not going to share with you the name of the telecoms company but will say that it is not BT.

Have you had this sort of trouble? What did you do?

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Telephone blues

An early 20th century candlestick phone being ...

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As some of you may remember I think it is very important that the published telephone number of any business is answered in person by a human being. I tried to contact a couple of sole trader business advisers last week and both of them were using answering machines or voice-mail on their land lines. One I later contacted via his mobile (cell) while he was driving.

I don’t speak to my clients on my mobile. I can’t give them proper attention. If you telephone my office I cannot guarantee that you will be able to speak to me. I might be with a client, out at another meeting or working on something and not wanting to be disturbed. What I can guarantee is that if you call in reasonable office hours you will speak to my PA who will take a message very courteously. I also guarantee that I will call you back.

What do you do if you telephone a potential supplier of goods or services and you either get voice-mail or worse still, no reply at all? You probably hang up and the odds are that you will phone someone else. Prospective business lost by the non-answerer.

I was watching with my wife a television programme called The Restaurant Inspector. Fernando Peire who presents the show is a famous restauranteur and from my brief viewing I could see that he was excellent not only at food matters but also at branding and marketing. He was helping a small fish restaurant on the South Coast.

The last task after a successful re-launch was to change business name on the message on the restaurant ‘s telephone answering machine: “We’ll call you when we get back”. I was rather shocked. Imagine you want to book for a Friday or Saturday night and you get that when trying to book. You are going to call another restaurant to make sure you have a table to go to. I would employ a telephone answering company or a PA to take the call; someone who had access to an on-line booking system. The bookings could be filling up while you were still out in the fish market or wine merchant.

In the restaurant business as in my tax and business advice consultancies, if people take the trouble to inquire by telephone they are almost certainly going to buy. Please don’t let them be put off.

The bottom line is, if you don’t want to be seen as unprofessional have a real person answer your phone and take a message or make a booking.

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Telephone warning for start-ups and all small businesses

Sumerian contract: selling of a field and a ho...

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When we start our shiny new businesses we are eager to get all the basic services in place, and these days that includes our telephone and broadband services.

Read the small print

It is tempting to choose the best price over recommendations from others. After all, cash flow is important. What you need to know is that the telecoms giants may expect you to agree a contract for twelve months or longer. You might say that is fair enough. After all, most business customers would expect to be tied for a reasonable term to make it worthwhile. Make sure you don’t find yourself or your business being billed for a penalty charge when you give notice that you wish to change provider.

Unfair competition

You may find that your business is supposedly on a twelve month rolling contract, which probably means that you have to give twelve months notice of termination, especially if you are within the first two years or so of your contract. If you don’t, the telecoms company will expect to make a penalty charge for taking your services away. Yet how can you give twelve months’ notice in the expectation of shopping around in nearly a year’s time? Would you not worry about continuation of service? A loss of service is every business’s nightmare.

Hope on the horizon

Fortunately, the rules may be about to change. The UK regulator, OFCOM, stated via press release on 3rd March this year:

“Ofcom is concerned that rollover contracts make it harder for customers to switch providers and consequently reduce the benefits of competitive choice.
For individual customers, this can mean that switching is made unattractive as the costs involved are unexpectedly high.

For the market generally, it means less competition as it is harder for competing providers to attract customers on rollover contracts and therefore their ability and incentive to create lower cost and higher quality services is reduced.

Ofcom is proposing to amend its existing rules in relation to contract terms to prohibit opt-out contract renewals in any form in the land-line and broadband sectors.”

Caveat emptor

The messages to take are:

  • Be very careful of the conditions of any contract with a telecoms provider.
  • Complain to OFTEL if you find yourself in a rolling contract with a penalty clause if you don’t give a long period of notice.
  • As with all purchases, take care. Buyer beware!

I would be very interested to know if you have had this sort of problem with a telecoms company and how you managed to resolve it. Is this a problem in countries other than the UK?

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Cold calls, warm calls and reputation

Recently I was called on our home telephone by a female person who immediately launched into a script along the lines of “I am calling from “Anonymous” Windows to tell you about our current special promotion if you order from us within the next month any new windows or doors”. As it happens I was still in the midst of some work for a client, so I said “Excuse me. I gather this is a sales call. My wife and I prefer not to have these on our home line and we have registered not to receive cold calls.”

The indignant response to this was “Well, your wife did enquire about one of our products last May. You are very rude, Mr. Stow” and with that she put the phone down.

Now, it turns out that my wife did indeed enquire about a new window in the porch (far too expensive and not good value), so the company has us on their calling list. Fair enough. However I may have my faults but I am always polite as I was to this person on the telephone. If she had stayed on the line we might have sorted out the misunderstanding and ended the call on a friendly note.

What happened was that the caller ended up being really rude to me. Of course she may have had a bad day, but she has guaranteed that not only will we not be buying from her employer in the near future, we probably won’t be buying from the company in the longer term. For all she knows I will be telling everyone I meet about the call and naming the company, which certainly won’t help them. I thought better of naming the business in this post because it might have an unfair impact on her fellow employees.

A few ill-chosen words can do so much damage to a business reputation.

© Jon Stow 2010

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Telephone service and talking to clients

Wonderful though email and on-line digital services are there really is no substitute for speaking to a real person. I am sure we all get frustrated at having our time wasted by large organizations where we have difficulty getting through to the right person (or even find out who the right person is) to deal with a problem or even give them a sale. What is worse in my view is where we cannot even find a telephone number and find we have to raise a “support ticket” on some company’s website.

I believe in talking to my clients on the telephone if I cannot talk to them face to face. With many I could just bang out an email and sometimes I do as clarification of a point raised in a conversation, but there is no substitute for the personal touch.

Sometimes a client will call at a time which is inconvenient. There are times when we can do without interruptions in the midst of particular projects. That is why we should have someone else answer the telephone and take a message, whether that is in actually in our office or in the office of our virtual PA. The point is that the client knows that they matter and we will talk to them as soon as we can.

When we do speak to the client, we should have made time to do so and to be helpful. It is no good just calling back to say we have the matter in hand. At the end of any call, our client should feel that their immediate need is being dealt with.

In a small business we have so much more opportunity to demonstrate that we care, both in word and deed, and I believe the telephone is a good starting point. What do you think?

© Jon Stow 2010

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Related post

Answer the telephone!

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Answer the telephone!

Why don’t businesses realise it is so important to answer the telephone or at least have someone answer it for them? This was brought to mind the other night when we tried to place an order for a meal to be delivered. The telephone rang and rang.

It is human nature if you call to enquire about a product or service from someone you have not tried before to hang up rather than talk to a machine. It doesn’t matter if the voice mail message says “your business is really important to us”. If anything it makes it worse because either it seems insulting, implying “but not so important we can take your call”. Unless you have had a really strong recommendation, you are going to move on to enquire of the next business on your list or in the local directory.

If a business is that busy or so small that the person who could take the call is engaged on a vital task, why not engage an answering service? They are relatively inexpensive especially when one considers the extra business that can be won.

That way any enquirer can leave a message with a human being. He or she then will be most likely to wait to be called back rather than go on to the next one on the list. It also helps the business owner in concentrating on a task without interruptions in the knowledge that all messages will be written down or emailed ready to be followed up.

In short, if we answer the telephone we maximize the business that comes to us that way. If we leave our prospects to a recording they will probably give up on us as we did the restaurant who didn’t pick up.

© Jon Stow 2010

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