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Sunday, August 26, 2012

You've Got (Poor) Mail

Business at The Customer Services Gurus is moving along extremely well this summer season.  It is going so well in fact that it has put a snag into my blog writing schedule, but it is definitely a good snag to have, and I am happy to have it.  As I am sure with all of you,  my first focus is always to give one hundred plus percent to my clients or role.  But if I really look at it a case of lack of self-discipline, which I will go in to more depth in another blog because the whole idea of self-discipline fascinates me as much as customer service.  (But kudos to me for my self-disclosure :)).
For this month I did what any smart professional would do when she finds herself not where she wanted to be with her tasks, she asks for help. I asked my trusted friend, CSG Advisory Board Member, and former colleague Pieter Douw to be our guest writer for this month.  Pieter has a wealth of international customer service leadership experience working in management roles for some of the most recognized organizations of hospitality excellence, such as Holland America Line, Intercontential Hotel Groups, and Walt Disney World Resort, just to name a few.
Pieter is Dutch and currently lives in the Netherlands, even though he has traveled and lived around the globe.  His blog speaks to a challenge that should worry all customer service leaders as we frantically move forward to a more technology oriented customer service experience.  But I will let Pieter tell you the rest. 


London 2012: The Olympics. With great admiration I am watching all these athletes, who have dedicated years and years to practice their sport. Who gave up many of the pleasures life has to offer just for that one perfect performance, to become the successful number 1. Imagine the disappointments many athletes must experience for not winning any medals. But also imagine the euphoric feeling the must get from actually winning a Gold Medal! Realizing that all the effort was really worth something! It must be a magical feeling.

A Disappointing Anniversary Celebration
I am a true fan of amusement parks in general, and of Efteling in particular. Efteling is a unique and very successful park in the Netherlands, which has won numerous international awards for best European/International Amusement Park.  (Editor's note, aka Stacey,  Theme parks are everywhere!)

This year it celebrates its 60th anniversary with a new attraction Aquanura, the largest fountain spectacle in Europe. The company that built the Bellagio-Fountains in Las Vegas and the BurjKhalifa Fountains in Dubai also built Aquarnura. I was completely thrilled with this new attraction, since I loved watching the fountains in Vegas and Dubai. The movement of the water to the music, the sounds of the water, I just cannot stop watching. I LOVE IT!
A week ago I visited Efteling with my family, and there were nine of us in the party. In other words, it was an expensive day. As it was a very crowded vacation day, we stood in a long line just to get our tickets. When we finally entered the park around 11am, we immediately noticed the lake where the fountain show would take place, but with no sign of the show-times only a reference to a website.
I immediately went to my smartphone, and to my great surprise I found out that the show would only take place at 7:30pm and 8:15pm. Unbelievable! Why would a company invest 17 million euro for a 2-times-a-day show? Granted, the show uses many colored lights, but I know it is still as impressive during the day without the lights. Since my 1-year-old nephew was with us, we left the park around 5pm without seeing the show. Those of you with small children know what that is like. Trust me, I was not a happy customer at all.
Since I still felt disappointed the day after our visit, I wrote a comment on the Efteling website to express my feelings. I asked two questions. The first one asked them why they don’t show the fountains during the day, and the second asked why was it so difficult to find out the show times? The computer generated reply I received a few seconds later thanked me for my response, and informed me that Efteling would do its utmost to reply to all questions within 3 weeks! And since I don’t expect to wait so long, and won’t,  I resent my complaint 5 days later. This was a successful approach because the next day I received the following message.
Translated from the original Dutch.
First of all we would like to thank you for your message. We appreciate all responses we get from our guests, as it gives us the opportunity to continuously improve our product and service.
In your message you indicate that you haven’t received a reply yet. As we informed you, we do our utmost to respond within 3 weeks.

Aquanura has daily shows at 7:30pm and 8:15pm, and these show times are indicated at the entrance. We regret to realize that you apparently missed this display.

Hope to have informed you enough.
Efteling – Customer Service
I got even more upset when I received this reply, because it gives me that impression that I am impatient and rude for expecting a quick reply. Further, it doesn’t give me an answer to my questions. And to top it off to me the final sentence just translates into, "Too bad for you!" 
The Guru’s Solution
This one is obvious, reply to complaints in a timely manner! It’s never ever acceptable to, "Strive to reply within 3 weeks." (Editor's note, 3 weeks is not something to strive for. You should be ashamed, and call the Gurus immediately, if that is really the best you can do.)  Show that you really appreciate all comments and complaints by a quick response. Also, give an answer to all questions. No matter how obvious, stupid or strange a questions seems to you, show that you respect the person for putting the effort in to write them down, and try to answer the actual questions asked. If you truly cannot answer it, at least acknowledge that you read them.
Most important, make sure that you come across as sincere. Don’t ever create the impression that you don’t care. This is your opportunity to take away any bad feelings, service recovery, and to avoid people talking bad about your company and causing negative publicity. Think about this, you wouldn’t have read about this in a blog if Efteling had sent a proper, more thoughtful, reply.

Final Thoughts
Providing excellent customer service is like the Olympics. First of all it takes great continuous dedication from your entire team. Everyone should work towards that one goal: satisfied customers. Of course things go wrong in the process, and it’s a bumpy road with hits and misses. Not everyone is an instant gold-medalist.
Sometimes we indeed fail. However, we should acknowledge the mistakes we made, sincerely apologize, refocus, and again aim to be the number 1. All our continuous efforts will definitely be rewarded. If you respond well to complaints, your customers will feel like they won a Gold Medal. It works to your benefit too, seeing your customer change from a grumpy person into a happy and satisfied one will give you the same euphoric feeling an athlete must experience while listening to their national anthem. Just do it; it’s worth it!
Editor's Note
Thank you, Pieter, or Dank u wel, for your column.  I encourage all of you to think how technology is changing your responses to customers.  Please, please, please move away from the copy and pasted paragraphs that were the infancy of this type of communication, and move to do what you do in real-time interactions: make them personal, accurate, and sincere.
If you are looking to expand your international customer service, be sure to get in touch with Pieter.  I know no one better to help guide you in the best methods of global customer service delivery.  He can be reached via Linked In.
I look forward to writing the next blog soon (I swear!). 



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