Leadership Customer Service

Great Leaders Know the Customer’s Experience

Being a great leader for your team or company isn’t just about vision, communication and inspiration. Great leaders from the CEO, management or team front also keep abreast of the customer’s or client’s experience.  One bad customer/client experience can cost a company or business years of revenue and may result in widespread bad press on today’s social networks. Here are two stories from my network in Petoskey, MI.

  • When I was 24, J C Penney’s credit department sent me a letter telling me that I was not the kind of customer they were looking for. Though I had never missed a payment on my credit card, I often went over my credit limit before paying it down at bill time. This happened shortly after I had purchased a dishwasher, a refrigerator and a freezer from them with cash. Since that day, forty years ago, I have never spent a dime at Penney’s. I think of this often as I drive by Penney’s in downtown Petoskey.

Personally, I like JC Penney’s in Petoskey. I asked this person if he didn’t think it was time to ‘get over it.’ His response is that he doesn’t feel like he is holding on to the past, just that the store reminds him of the incident. He says there was a period of about 10 years where he actively avoided the department store and then he realized his shopping preferences weren’t really in alignment with Penney’s, so in a way they were right.

  • A few months ago I came out of the theater in Petoskey after the 7PM show and wanted to get some to go food to take home. I decided to get some boneless buffalo wings at a nearby establishment. When I got home, I discovered the wings were not boneless and they smelled to me like they had been cooked in rancid grease. Not wanting to go back at 10PM, I called the restaurant and explained the situation. The gent I was talking to told me he would leave a note for the day manager and that it would be no problem to get a refund. I threw the wings in the freezer and took them back with the receipt the next day. The girl at the counter didn’t know what to do, so she got the manager, who told me there was nothing she could do as they had closed out the receipts from the previous day. I found this incredulous and after much back and forth with her, I asked for the owner’s contact information. BTW – a customer who had come in to pick up a to go order said to me – “she isn’t the least bit interested in helping you.” So, I went home and called the phone number provided only to get the parent company in Missouri who operates many of these franchises in the Midwest. Going through their phone tree options, I learned there was no option for customer service or any way to contact an operator. So, I left two messages one on the sales extension and one on the HR extension. I never heard a thing. It was only $16, but that $16 will wind up costing this company hundreds of dollars over the years I remain in Petoskey. Also, I mentioned this to the owner of another restaurant in Petoskey and he said – Was she… (he described her to a T). He told me that 3 or 4 times a year he goes in there to get buffalo wings for the entire staff and she has never said thank you or expressed any interest in him as a customer.

customer-service-leadership petoskeyEach of us have similar stories and we’ve all probably heard many more from our friends. I don’t know if it’s true, but I’ve heard that people will share bad experiences with 11 times the number of people they will share positive experiences with. In any case, with today’s instant access to billions of consumers, anyone can let the world know of their bad experience in a heartbeat.

Great leaders need to know the customer’s experience first hand and they need to genuinely care about the quality of the customer’s experience and ensure there are easy avenues of communication open to the customer and policies in place that empower front-line employees to resolve customer service issues immediately before they hit the Internet in a negative way.

One more story to help make this point. Back in the day… Eddie Rickenbaker was president of Eastern Airlines. One time when all the Regional VP’s and Station Directors came to Miami for a meeting, he had the baggage handlers intercept their luggage which specially tagged and not deliver it to baggage claim. The next morning there was a room full of unhappy people in yesterday’s clothes. When he took the podium, which was stacked with all of their bags, he simply said – This is what the customer feels like when we don’t do our job right.

One way I help leaders and business owners to achieve greatness is by helping them to empathize with and understand more deeply the customer’s and the employee’s experience without losing the shirt off their back!