A Customer Service Adventure

2 cheescarryers on the cheesmarketThis post could probably also called A Tale of Two Cheeses. Or TJ Likes to Complain about Cheese. But please bear with me. There is a point.

You may recall my not-so-very groundbreaking observation that a lot our damage control is just plain ol’ customer service. We’re here to help, right? So here’s a story about that in action.

Last week, I went to the grocery store and was railroaded by my beloved roommate into buying two kinds of cheese. By some strange coincidence, when we got home we saw that both brands of cheese had been improperly packaged and were sort of gross. My roommate was sad. I was excited.

Hooray, I thought, now we can see some 21st century customer service in action. Let’s get us some replacement cheese! I took some photos, wrote down some batch numbers on the packages, and generally tried to be a very good consumer. I went to both brands’ websites to lodge my good-natured complaints. And this is what I found.

Cheese-maker A had a very simple web site. There was an e-mail address listed for their customer service department, so I sent them a message with all the information I had about the product, the date and place of purchase, and a photo of the icky cheese. “Please, sir, can I have some good cheese?” I asked.

Then I went onto cheese-maker B’s website. It was huge. Sprawling. A little confusing. But after clicking on a lot of different buttons, I found what I thought was the customer service page. I had to fill out a lot of information on a form. I’m pretty sure the cheese company now knows more about me than the IRS. But I was determined to wrangle some new cheese.

Here’s how it panned out. Within a day, cheese-maker B e-mailed me to apologize, thank me for my information, and mail me a coupon for a LOT of cheese. Cheese-maker A never answered my cheesy pleas. Which stinks because it was much easier for me to shoot them a quick e-mail than fill out a long form, but I guess it just goes to show that doing more difficult work makes the results happen quicker.

But what’s the point of even making a token show of customer service support, such as listing an e-mail address for it, when no one actually answers the complaints? If you have to choose between making it easy yet useless for a customer to contact you, and making it difficult yet highly rewarding for a customer to contact you, you might want to choose the latter. A high barrier for customer service will do several things: it will weed out the people who are too lazy to actually complain (if I hadn’t wanted that cheese so badly, I might have forgotten all about it), it will give your customer a sense of accomplishment, and it will seem (even if it is only an illusion) that your advanced complaint-taking system is being used to make your products better.

Furthermore, your clients or companies that are smaller than multinational conglomerates often complain about getting less press than their larger counterparts, but they have a chance to really excel in that field by treating their customers better than expected. That’s a story right there. As difficult as it might be to outmaneuver a company with more money and resources, smaller companies just can’t afford to drop that ball.

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