Where Did All Our Customers Go?

In my last post, I talked about production vs. promotion – is your company maintaining the quality of its core services, while expanding its promotional activity?

Here I want to talk about another business balance that people are struggling with – customer service vs. production.

First a little story:

This weekend my wife and I had dinner with our friends Jeff and Susan Landsberg at Gabriel’s Italian Steakhouse, in Greenwich.

The Landsbergs are also in retail; they own a jewelry store in Rye Brook, NY.

The conversation was bubbly, the food was tasty, our waiter was attentive and knowledgeable, and Tony, the long-time owner, stopped by for a friendly hello, like he always does.

But throughout the meal, our time at Gabriel’s was being tainted by something else.

Our table was right by one of the air conditioner vents, and from the moment we sat down, cold air was blasting every area of exposed skin we had. We were shivering!

I asked our waiter if he could turn the air down – three separate times!

Each successive time, the waiter told me he had informed the manager – but nothing had changed. Finally, the last time, the waiter confessed to us that he got complaints from our particular table about the air all the time – either the air is on, and people at the table are too cold, or it’s off, and people at the table are too hot.

Can you imagine that? They get complaints about the air at that table all the time. But they never moved the table!

I’m sure Gabriel’s has its reasons, but I’m also sure that there must be some kind of workaround.

Every restaurant has three conditions that must be taken care of for it to live up to its potential:

  • Sound
  • Lighting
  • Temperature

Food and service are a restaurant’s core obligations, but these three factors - all part of customer service - are just as crucial.

If people are uncomfortable while they’re eating, the rest of the experience can be ruined. But if the above three factors are taken care of, people usually will usually endure even bad service. (Bad food is another thing.)

Customer service might not be the core of any company, but it’s something every company has to be passionate about at its core, nonetheless.

We used to have a separate customer service department at Steiner Sports – employees whose only obligation was making sure customers got the right products, got them on time, navigated our website easily, etc.

But after a few months, we found that the customer service department was too separated from the other departments to affect real change. Without having real experience in our shipping department, for instance, customer service could be informed that the delivery time on a collectible was too long, but they couldn’t know which parts of the shipping process could actually be shortened.

They were like our waiter at Gabriel’s – fielding complaints, but powerless to help.

So we eliminated our customer service department and became a customer service company. We assigned everyone to customer service. If a customer calls our main number with a complaint or suggestion, instead of forwarding that call to a customer service rep, it gets forwarded to the relevant department itself. Everyone in that department has the obligation to inform his coworkers of the problem at hand, and everyone works to fix it.

There’s no chain of command when it comes to customer service. The customer is the chain of command.

At Steiner, our business is marketing athletes and collectibles, but at the same time, everyone here makes believe we’re a giant customer service center.

Is your company passionate about customer service? Is customer service just a nuisance to you – or is everyone, at all levels and departments, equipped to address customer issues? Does your industry have a “sound, lighting, temperature” checklist of its own – things that aren’t your core service, but that you MUST get right?


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