The Sound of Service Excellence

Are professional graces and manners–polite on-the-job behaviours and attitudes once thought a matter of “common decency”–going the way of current stock markets? Are many workers, of all stripes and in all industries, experiencing such a sense of smoldering stress that they either cannot or will not demonstrate anything beyond the bare basic technicalities of their job descriptions? Why is it that, in increasing numbers, everyone seems to be complaining sub-standard customer service?

Today, after repeatedly calling my Japanese car company’s Canadian head office–repeatedly because all I could get for a solid 10 minutes was a rapid busy signal!–I was “greeted” by a mumbling man with a “from-the-get-go” belligerent tone. By the way, I mention the nation associated with my car company because it occurs to me that some may think I’m referencing a North American car company (and that, considering the current economic times in that industry, what I’m about to share is easier explained if you thought I was referencing, e.g. GM or Chrysler, etc.). This representative of the Japanese car company in question did not use any greeting to answer the phone–merely the name of his department, spoken gruffly, with suppressed exasperation and without any reference to his own name. When I asked for his name, he merely repeated the department’s. When I asked again, for his name, he said he didn’t need to give it and, essentially, “What did I want, anyway?” As I felt we had gotten off to such a bad start and since I didn’t–I confess–have my usual patience to deal with and rise above his curt greeting manner, I asked that another representative take my call. To this he retorted, “There is no one else. It’s lunchtime.” And promptly hung up the phone!

Yesterday I received a phone call from my neighbourhood X-ray and Ultrasound clinic, reminding me of my routine appointment today. The phone call went like this (and again the organization’s representative demonstrated an amazingly brusque voice tone): Nina Spencer? Yes. This is the ultrasound clinic…you have an appointment at 8:30 a.m. tomorrow. She barely waited for me to acknowledge, before hanging up the phone! I knew the caller (and she knew me from my recurring visits thought the years; we’d even had a lovely chat about her son the professional comedian last time I was in…and, we are on friendly terms, by the way). And so I said, “Hey there Barb…is everything okay…my goodness you were brusque with me just there!” “Well I’m just trying to get through all these calls I have to make”, was her response and justification for treating a known client in such a manner.

And these sorts of stories go on and on…any day of any week. Private Sector. Public Sector. Big company. Little one. Doesn’t matter. You’ve probably got one or two of your own tales to tell/that you’d like to share, right now!

Is this acceptable…that employees feel justified in treating clients or customers abruptly and tersely because they are in a hurry, understaffed and/or overworked, etc.? Yes, it may well be management’s fault that many staff members have too much to do and too little resources, or too little time, in which to complete their daily tasks, but it is not the client/not the customer who should know about it, pay the price, experience the frustration or feel the disrespect.

No matter what the justification for communicating otherwise–especially in times of economic challenge–staff on the frontline/the ones who directly deal and relate to the consumer/the client must “suck it up”, put on their “best bib” and demonstrate honest-to-goodness grace, manners and respect for those consuming their services or products.

So what customer service “nightmares” can you regale? Or, on the contrary, I’d love to hear your “Wow Factor” service excellence tales of heroics, too! Perhaps all of us will be encouraged and inspired to keep the faith by such positive tales you may report.

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