I spent a lot of time this week pondering customer service. It came up because of two vastly different experiences. In the first instance, I wanted some assistance from my First Data sales rep who handles my credit card processing. I sent out a pretty thorough email outlining that there were some fees that needed to be either explained or refunded, and I wanted to turn in some no longer needed equipment to her so she could close a no longer needed account. I also explained that while I was happy with the processing in general, I wanted to shop the business to make sure I was paying the lowest rate available to me. I asked that she provide a simple matrix outlining the current rates and structure I was paying on. I also let her know that another carrier would have to be significantly better to gain my business.

Now, some of you may remember how I ranted about this rep last year due to poor customer service, but I decided to put that in the past since I really didn’t want to move to a new provider. Basically, what I got back from this rep was a several paragraph email detailing that she was not responsible for the account that had been written by my previous rep, that I should call the 800 number to return the equipment and cancel the old account, and that she would discuss rates when we met in person. I didn’t even bother to respond, and you can imagine how hard that was for me! This person has no interest in by business or in helping me in any way. No problem!

On the flip side is Andy’s Mobile Auto Repair. Andy has been fixing my family’s vehicles for the past several years. He is reliable, fair and 100% trustworthy. Even better, he comes to me! I had him out last week to fix the gas gauge on Laura’s Expedition. In the course of trouble shooting it, one of his tools failed and he fried the on-board computer. Not really his fault, and I’m sure that a lot of mechanics would have blamed it on the tool and let me know how much it would cost me to fix it. Not Andy! I have never seen anyone take a simple mistake so personally. It has taken longer than anyone would like to fix it because it has to be done at the dealership. He has kept me informed as to the progress,can’t stop apologizing, and even offered to cover the cost of the new starter he put in the van a week before as an “I’m sorry” (I refused that last part). Andy will not only will keep my business regardless of cost because of this consistent customer service, but has built up a lot of “screw up equity” with me. This is a new term I just made up. Basically, it says that the amount of mistakes from you I will live with is directly proportional to the positive interactions we have had in the past. First Data… less than none. Andy’s Mobile Auto Repair… could blow up my truck engine and I would have him come back to put in the new one.

I bring all this up because it made me reflect on our own customer service at VF. I pride myself on providing the best possible customer service to all our customers. I recently had an amazing conversation with a woman who called me specifically to thank me for treating her and her spouse like they were special, even though they don’t spend as much with us as others. I was very moved that she would go out of her way to make that call. I’m not mentioning this as a “look how great we are” example, but because all this made me go take a look at reviews we had on various sites (yelp, groupon, etc.). While we have a 90%+ positive rating and many of the comments were specific to good customer service, I was surprised to find that the negative ones had a lot to do with poor customer service experiences, some specific to me! Whhaattt????

So I started going through all these and reading the specifics. I replied to the ones I could, but mostly tried to find a common theme. While there really wasn’t one, I did come to a few conclusions. I know we can’t please everyone, but we HAVE to try. That effort is often all a customer wants to see.  In our business, customer education is KEY. The more we can teach our customers about our meat, the more likely they are to come to us for advice and repeat business, the keystone to our future. And finally, we have to get reliable FEEDBACK from our customers. We will make mistakes. I will have a bad day and upset a good customer or a potential new customer. A lot of times, we won’t know we screwed up. That’s where you come in! I promise to build up a huge supply of “screw up equity” as long as YOU promise to let me know when I am burning it up. Everyone loves positive feedback, but real growth comes from learning from our failings. So when we fail, I need you to let me know… gently… with soothing tones…. maybe start off with how nice my hat looks…