Customer Service – Does anyone know what it means?

aaronThis edition of my blog is most likely more of a rant than anything, but the morale of the story is hopefully something every small business understands and takes to heart. Companies are complaining on a massive scale about how bad business is, but I wonder how much of it is self-induced? Think about who the major complainers are. The airline industry, American car companies, big banks, etc. These companies also tend to have the worst grades when it comes to customer service. They put a ton of lip service to it, but it is just that, lip service.

I decided to write this blog after a couple of incidents with the companies I do business with. They seem to have an incredible ability to make it difficult to take my money. I won’t name names, not because I want to protect these companies, but because until I find other vendors, I need to protect my sources. Here are two examples – and  my summary of the moral of the story.

Incident #1: This is unfortunately just one example from a specific company, but this happens to me often. I submitted a purchase order with specific instructions and payment details, since no one is willing to give terms anymore. The order is processed apparently, but no confirmation or verification is ever sent. Several days later, the package shows up at my door, and it is missing two of the items I needed for my customers. No note in the package about a back order, it just wasn’t on the packing slip. I contact my “sales rep” (I use the term loosely, as this guy seems to be a sales killer), and after several emails I finally get a response that the product was on back order and he would check with his buyer.

A week goes by and I hear nothing back; so after several more emails, I finally get a similar response that he knows nothing. All the while I am trying to keep my customer informed with what little information I have. I finally end up just buying the products retail and losing money so my customer doesn’t have to suffer the same fate. It has now been two more weeks and still not a word from this company.

Moral of the Story:
The moral of the story is communication! In today’s world with all of us on email, it is not hard to update your customers as the sales process occurs. Anyone in sales should have some sort of a smart phone, and a quick note updating your customer should not be a big deal. How about a quick order confirmation once you receive a PO? How about a note letting someone know you are out of something? How about a follow-up to let someone know you actually care about their business, but you just can’t get that product out? Just communicate with your customers. I’m a one-man show and usually get over 100 emails a day, but I try to make sure I get at least some info back to people before the day is over. If it is an unresolved issue, I flag the email for future follow-up. It is not hard, but it takes someone willing to put in a little effort to make a living.

Incident #2: On a Tuesday I sent a note to a vendor and included my “sales rep” (again using the term loosely), the general orders email address and my technical contact. My email asked a specific question about whether or not I could buy something and if so how much would it cost and when could I get it. I got a note back from the person at the general orders email address stating that I could get it, and that I could have it instantly at a certain price. I quickly took this happy news to my customer, secured the order with a payment and placed a PO to the vendor the same day. I told my customer it would ship on Friday, as I expected the package to arrive at my facility on Thursday. Friday rolled around, and the package had not arrived yet. Again without any order confirmation or any communication, I had to contact the vendor myself to try to get some tracking. This is when I got a note back from the general orders department that the order could actually not be processed and that someone else would contact me.

Now in the four days since my original email, I had not once heard a thing from my “sales rep.” So now in a panic – as I was risking breaking promises to my customer – I tried to contact people to find out what was going on. Finally I was able to reach my “sales rep,” and late Friday afternoon I was told he was busy so that is why he never got back to me. When I asked about the email from his company saying they could fill the order, he asked me to forward it to him so he could check into it. He then said he would get back to me – and guess what happened? Exactly! I had to contact him on Monday. In the meantime I had to contact my customer and work something out with them. Fortunately the customer was nice and willing to be patient for a few days while I tried to sort out the problem. Finally I ended up finding another vendor and gave them my money instead. On top of all of it, the orders person got in trouble and blames me for it. So now I get even worse service from this company, all because they screwed up. Can’t wait to find a new vendor!

Moral of the Story:
Again, this seems to come down to communication, but also the fact that people just don’t seem to care about their customers’ businesses. I’m not sure if I’m a small customer or not (In 4 months, I have spent over $10,000 with this company), but in today’s economy, ever little bit helps. We work hard to get customers and then let people within our company or even ourselves make the customers feel like you don’t really give a damn about their business. I have even asked this “sales rep” if he cared about my business and got no response. Maybe they don’t, and they know they currently have me locked in because I don’t have another source for their products. But you know what my #1 priority is right now!? Finding an alternative source! Don’t say you care (or in this case, I just assume they do because their A/R department really seems to care about my sending checks) and then blow people off. If the business is not really worth it to you, then just say so. I would happily part ways – and not do everything in my power to try to steal all their market shares once I find a new vendor. It is okay to say you can’t take someone’s money and in the end you will have happier customers and non-customers.

Well, thanks for letting me rant. I think I feel better and maybe you readers will stop to think about the level of service you really provide your customers. I would love to hear some of your horror stories in the comments section, so I know I’m not alone and that it is not just me who is hard to work with.
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I have been in the garment decorating industry for over 10 years, and have worked with many small businesses to help them make money and improve their marketing. I love helping small businesses as I have been involved with or had my own small business since I was a teenager. In my free time, I enjoy volleyball, bowling and spending time with my 11 year old son. I have recently moved to St. Louis by way of Boston, Colorado Springs and most major cities in Arizona.

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