Last week I was spurned by three service providers that I'm loyal to.
1) My mechanic. For the last three years I've only gone to one mechanic. A guy who specializes in European vehicles, with a particular skill in working on old Range Rovers. My 1993 only has 85K, so I'm banking on it lasting a long time. But there was a violent wobble that started last year which made it feel like it was going to flip whenever I hit an undulation in the road. When we went on spring break, we dropped the truck off for a week. Paid a few hundred bucks, got the vehicle back and the next day, the wobble was there. I called the mechanic on a Friday and left a message that sounded something like this, "Hi, this is Jim – the guy with the old Range Rover? Yeah, we've still got the wobble. Could you call me back so that we can get this fixed? It was pretty bad this time, and I had my daughter in the car. Thanks." – 6 business days later, no call. And email is like a black hole to this guy. I'll have to call him again.
2) My bank. This isn't that surprising since we're not wealthy people, and we don't really matter much to banks. Despite their advertising. Anyway, last week I had a situation that warranted a call back, but never received one. I had to go in. I explained my situation to a manager, and they said they'd call me back. They didn't. I had to call back. A day later, they returned my call. They're still incapable of helping me, but I think they thought they did their job by putting me into a bucket that they could put on a shelf for a while. We've been with this bank 9 years. We don't matter. BTW – never bank with Fifth-Third bank. Ever.
3) City of Charlotte. When it rains more than 2" in 24 hours, we have water in our basement as a result of storm water issues from the street. After meeting with a guy from Storm Water back in March, I was told to call another guy if I was dissatisfied with their answer (that it isn't their fault). I called and left a message. No call back. 10 years of me paying their salary and they don't call back.
I could cite a dozen other similar experiences over the past year when service providers failed miserably in something as simple as basic communications with customers. Sure, I can justify that my mechanic is busy, the banker has more important people to attend to, and that storm water is a city agency (excuse enough?) – but the bottom line is that this is plain ol' bad customer service. And it doesn't matter any more.
And that's why I continue to believe that I'm going to succeed in business. Sure, we do great work – but so do lots of people. More than this, however, my company is extremely responsive to client needs, requests, inquiries, problems, etc. No messages are ever left for dead. And it comes down to one simple idea that my mom burned into me as a kid – be polite and respect other people.
Something's happened over the years. A shift in how (most) service providers treat their loyal customers. We're no longer nearly as important as we once were. It's as if the service providers expect our loyalty and cash with nothing in return. I stopped into a restaurant downtown Charlotte last week for a cup of coffee to take with me to a meeting. It was 10:15 a.m. They charged me for the styrofoam cup and pointed me at the coffee carafe – which was empty. They could "brew a fresh pot?" I needed this coffee, so I waited. Ten minutes. I then get my coffee and leave. No apology. No "it's on the house." Nothing. It absolutely baffles me. And yet, this shift gives me hope that the foreign concept of high quality service will be the thing that matters most going forward. Thanks mom.