Last week I was on the phone ordering a part for an old British motorcycle. It vibrates so much that every time I ride it something either breaks off or falls off. In any event, I called the parts supplier and got a new employee on the phone. He couldn’t sell me my part unless I had the part number. He would not look it up in a parts book for me (they sold the books, too) unless I bought the book. I reluctantly agreed. Then the guy spent 15 minutes looking for the book. When he finally found it, it was seven minutes to six and they closed at six. He asked me to call back the next day because he didn’t want to be late leaving! I asked him to call me back the next day. By the following afternoon, when he hadn’t called me, I called him back and asked for his boss. When I explained the situation to her, she said, “You just confirmed in my mind that I need to do what I thought I needed to do.” She got my part to me the next day with no delay.Of course, we could all go on about bad service. There are plenty of examples of it every day. Whether it’s the store that doesn’t have a single live body you can ask a question of, the fast food restaurant that never gets your drive-up order right, or the Internet service provider that makes you wait on the phone for an hour for technical support, most would agree that bad service abounds. When things go well, it’s so refreshing that most of us can’t help but tell others. For example, for years we’ve had expensive German cars in our fleet. They look good, perform well, and are safe in a crash. But the dealer that we’ve been going to seems to have forgotten what service all about. It never has loaner vehicles, its schedule is backed up for weeks, its employees don’t call when they are supposed to, and sometimes they mess things up worse than they were when the vehicle was brought in. I had a completely different experience with a new Ford recently. The power window quit working so it had to go back to the dealer. But the dealer I bought it from was just too inconvenient to drive to. The nearby Ford dealer didn’t mind working on it, so I made an appointment (the next day). I was checked in promptly, and the service advisor offered me a loaner car even though he knew my car didn’t come from there! He said he’d call me at 1:30 with a status report and at 1:30 exactly, my phone rang. It was amazing. Same thing with the parts department. I needed an On-Star antenna for a different vehicle (this place also sells GM) to replace one that was stolen when I parked overnight in a downtown parking garage for a trip on Acela to New York (that’s another story). The parts guy asked for my phone number and already had me in the database. Again, this vehicle did not come from that dealer, either. He got a credit card number from me and told me he couldn’t get the antenna for a few days and knew it was inconvenient for me to stop over there to pick it up so he’d be glad to ship it to me at no cost. How can you beat that? And I’ve been telling everyone I see about what a great dealership this is and comparing their service to that of the expensive brand.The point of all of this is that A/E/P and environmental firms need to think about the perception of their service quality from the standpoint of their users as well. It starts with the first contact. Are the people inside the firm available/reachable when the client calls? Or do they always get voice mail? How long does it take to respond to a phone call? Minutes, hours, or days? How about e-mails? Do they get returned promptly? I find a lot of complaints about these things. Perhaps someone doesn’t like e-mail personally so they check their messages every three or four days. That doesn’t work with a client who does like e-mail. What about complaints? Are they promptly addressed? If a client is unhappy, does someone at a high level in the organization immediately get on the phone to investigate the complaint and offer up a solution? Or are they hiding in their offices, behind closed doors, guarded by their administrative assistants, praying the problem will go away or be taken care of by someone else?If someone in the firm gives bad service, are they treated with kid gloves or are they confronted promptly and given a chance to learn from their mistakes? They should be.And when things really go wrong and clearly a mistake has been made, is there a sincere effort to immediately right the wrong or do the liability experts start to cover their rear ends and the client and job are written off? Most of us work in relatively narrow markets where the major clients know one another and compare notes on their professional service providers. These same people move from organization to organization within their niche as well. They talk. They talk about good service, and they talk even more about bad service. Your reputation is your most valuable asset, period. Minimize complaints, “wow” everyone who interacts with your firm, and deal with problems quickly and honestly and your reputation will serve you well for many years to come.Originally published 8/05/2002.
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Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.
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