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Without Service, The Customer Is All Alone!
My first professional position was that of Customer Service Manager for a car rental company. It was difficult, tiring and frightening at times, but I would never trade the time I spent in the trenches for any other position.
I was 21 years old when they relocated me from my cozy and safe position in Buffalo, NY to Boston, MA and one of the busiest rental car counters in the entire industry. Hour after hour, day after day, a line of highly emotional customers would line up to tell me what they thought of their experience, the problems they are facing and how the company that I worked for was evil. My job was to make sure that the person left happy enough that they would not file a formal complaint, but not give anything more than I had to in order to make that happen. It was a thankless job, but the challenge was rewarding.
When I arrived in Boston, I was part of a management transition for a location that was one of the worst performing in the United States as it related to customer satisfaction. Corporate had decided that they needed a near complete purge of the previous management and sent in a group of managers from Upstate New York. The task was a hard one. Take the worst performing location and make it a top twenty performing location within one year. Our goal was to find the way to change the mindset of the front line employees by empowering them to make decisions in a rational and caring way.
My first week on the job was an eye opener as to what we would have to overcome. As I walked into the lobby I noticed an elderly woman that was sobbing as she tore through her luggage. The CSR advised, “She’s from Germany and cannot find her International Driving Permit or her reservation number. I’m not renting her a car.” Ouch!!! No empathy displayed.
I kneeled beside the woman and introduced myself and asked how I could help. She explained that she had packed her International Driving Permit in the front pocket of her suitcase, but the pocket had been damaged in transmit. She told me that her daughter was graduating from a college three hours away and her flight had been delayed. She had a little over four hours before the ceremony. This woman was going through extreme emotions and needed someone to empathize. After explaining that I will do whatever it took to get her to her daughter’s graduation on time she calmed.
She asked me to go through her luggage as a way of double checking. I did and sure enough found the permit. She was also able to produce a reservation slip showing that she prepaid for her reservation. After searching the computer and contacting our reservation center we learned that the reservation did not exist. It was then that I recognized something on her German language booking confirmation. Her reservation had been booked with a competitor. I drove her to our competitor, waited in line while she finalized her rental agreement and helped her with directions. After the exchange of a hug and business cards I returned to the CSR. I explained that we do not stop providing service just because it’s the easy thing to do or because we have come to an answer that makes sense to us, but not our customer. I went on to explain that the word customer is not just for the person in front of us, but the person that may be in front of us in the future.
It was then and there that I realized that providing great service starts at the top. It’s more than just words. It’s deeds. If it were easy then there would never be a need for customer service. It took a little under a year, but that location became the thirteenth top performing location in the world. The CSR went on to become the most highly complimented CSR and later a CSR Trainer.
As for the proud mother of the graduating student….well…it turns out that she made it with a bit of time to spare. She wrote a complimentary letter to the President of my company that resulted in my receiving a promotion. My simple act of compassion lead to her company (of which she was the Managing Director) changing which company they used for rentals and in turn a revenue boost of nearly $1,000,000 per year to my company.
This goes to show that providing good service can lead to unknown benefits. Simply providing good service lead to a woman not being left alone.
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