As I watched the news this morning I really began to wonder about the state of so called customer service. The news is dominated by the ‘Big Freeze‘ and the total havoc being caused at railway stations and airports across the UK – the main focus of course on Heathrow and St Pancras. Many angry and frustrated travellers were interviewed, some have been stuck in Terminals 1 & 3 for five days with no signs of going anywhere soon. Nightmare!

And the main reason why the travellers are so angry? Because something has gone terribly wrong and they’re not being told anything – they have no information and feel abandoned by those in charge – there is a communication blackout. One chap only knew his flight had been rescheduled because he managed to get online from within the terminal and check the airport’s website.

Another prime example of customer un-service

Last week my boiler needed repairing (like a million others I suspect) so I called upon my British Gas Homecare policy. Great, an appointment was arranged but on the day no-one turned up. I admit is was annoyed at having stayed in all afternoon, so I called them to find out what had happened and after 25 minutes on hold (whilst being force-fed messages about how wonderful BG are) was greeted by a patronising woman who told me it was because of ‘the weather’. Well last week we had some rain in Leeds but nothing that would prevent an engineer from reaching me. And you know what, I wouldn’t have minded if someone had just bothered to call and let me know.

There wasn’t even an apology or a suggestion of a solution, just a stream of words that there were other people more vulnerable than me that they had prioritised. Make me feel valuable and important why don’t you! But in reality I can understand why that would be the case – just tell me what’s happening. By the way, at no point did she check if I was one of said group i.e. no hot water or heating. She ended the conversation by telling me that someone would call me back within 60 minutes to sort the matter out… you guessed it, no call. A chat to my friend over coffee on Saturday morning revealed another similar incident with them but I won’t bore you with that – suffice to say that I, like the abandoned travellers, wasn’t an isolated incident.

Lessons in customer service

So what lessons can we learn from these examples of customer un-service? Simple. Keep your customers informed. If something has gone wrong, as it sometimes does, let people know and tell them what’s going to happen next. People will be annoyed if they’re being inconvenienced but if you communicate with them as soon as it happens you can enter a dialogue with them to fix it. If you ignore them until you have ‘the solution’ then they will likely be so irate that they’ll be complaining about you to everyone and anyone who’ll listen. At this point you’ve not only lost them as a customer but probably the person they’re moaning to as well.

An opportunity to shine

There is an opportunity here though – if you do provide great service to your customers they will offer you as the alternate solution to the other person’s problem. I’ve done this many times – a friend complains about Company X so I recommend the great company I use that goes above and beyond to deliver a great service. I’m proud of the fact that my company has also been recommended by my clients as the answer to other people’s bad experiences with web companies.

When we buy a service we’re buying a relationship or an experience, some companies might do well to remember that. My friend and I may well be insignificant to British Gas but if they piss off enough people like us then those monthly subscriptions of £17 soon add up when they start to disappear.

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