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Notes from the executive director – June 2017

Our lives are full of customer service experiences. Almost every time we leave home, there will be an opportunity for someone to provide us with a pleasant or unpleasant service experience. In the last couple of weeks, I seem to have hit a spate of less than satisfactory interactions with companies who provide me with service or products.

On a recent Saturday, I was in Ann Arbor helping a friend shop for a new turntable. Ann Arbor has a couple of very good stereo shops, and we stopped at one where I’ve purchased stereo components. My customer experience there has been mixed, but good enough that I recommended the store to my friend. When we walked in, there were two sales guys on the floor. One was busy with a customer, and the other was sitting on a couch, talking on the phone about ripping CDs. We strolled around the store for several minutes, trying hard to be noticed. After a few trips around the showroom, none of the staff had even acknowledged our presence, so we left. On our way out the door, the guy on the couch, while still on the phone, said something to us like, “Did you need some help?” We demurred. That may be the last time I go to that store.

Early the next week, I got an email notice from my natural gas utility about a billing problem. Every month, the company charges my credit card for the bill. For some reason, last month the charge was turned down. I immediately checked my account at the credit card company and verified that the utility bill had not been processed, then called the utility. Their telephone answering system was very difficult to navigate, and it took me two calls and many phone tree choices to finally find a live human. When I finally was connected to a service rep, I explained why I was calling. I was taken aback by the interrogatory tone that the agent took and the insinuation that it was my fault that the bill was rejected. I answered many questions along the line of, “Are you absolutely sure the card isn’t expired?” After we established that the card was valid and that there were no holds on it, I asked whether they could put the charge through again. No, that wasn’t possible, was the response; they would send it through again at the end of the next billing period. I asked whether that would generate a late fee. Yes, the reply came, it would, but it would only be “a very small amount,” so it wouldn’t be a big deal. If I wanted to, I could delete all the financial information from my account at the utility and re-enter it. That would trigger another billing attempt. At that point I was flabbergasted and fuming, and I ended the call.

There is a coda to this unhelpful call. A few days later when I was looking at my credit card charges for a totally different reason, I noticed that the utility bill had been charged the day after my phone call. I still don’t know what happened or why the charge didn’t go through the first time, but I do know that I was not treated right.

The last story is another retail experience and, in reality, a relatively small annoyance, but one I still remember. We have a small, locally-owned market in our neighborhood that we like to shop at because it’s like Cheers — everyone knows our name when we walk in. We get frequent recommendations for wine because the owner knows what we like. She points out new items and mentions special events. In short, it’s a lovely shopping experience. This time was similar except that when I checked out, the cashier, a new employee, forgot to ask for my customer loyalty information. By the time I asked, he had already rung up the sale and missed the opportunity to include the information. He proffered a half-hearted apology but didn’t offer to try to make it right. I was a little irritated. In this case, because goodwill has been built up over time, I will continue going to the store, but I will make sure I’m more diligent about giving my loyalty information when this young man is at the register.

These experiences made me think about how we treat you when you come to MCLS. Are you acknowledged immediately, whether the interaction is over the phone or the web or when you come for an in-person event? Do you feel like you matter to us? When you call us, do we acknowledge your problem or concern without condescension or patronization? When we make a mistake, do we offer to make it right?

Answering “Yes” to all these questions seems like the bare minimum of good customer service. Why was it so hard to get that base level of interaction in these three instances?

At MCLS, we strive for much more than the least best service. We’d like every interaction to demonstrate our commitment to excellence. We send out a quarterly customer service satisfaction survey to ask how we’re doing. Our marks average better than 90 percent positive, which is pretty good. Benchmarks for others who handle the types of questions we do say that 85 percent should be the baseline, so we’re doing better than that. But we will always try to do better.

Next month, I’ll talk about where I think responsibility lay for the poor service I received.

Don’t forget that our next Coffee with the Executive Director is Wednesday morning, June 7. Join us at 9am Eastern for the conversation. This month’s Zoom meeting number is 678 828 764. You can get all the login information and detailed instructions on our website. Hope to see you then!