Big Surprise: When Customer Service Or Sales Go Rogue, You Lose Customers

I recently experienced two epic customer service fails. Like many things in life, we can all learn a lot when things go awry—that is, if we pay attention.

Epic Fail #1:

After a three-hour drive to a New England timeshare property, we were greeted awkwardly by a woman behind the check-in desk. She tried to engage us in conversation: “What do you do for work, Mr. Campbell?,” she asked my husband. “I work for PBS.” She immediately went on a tangent about how she doesn’t watch TV and reads instead. It was more than just friendly banter though; it was accusatory. Clearly watching TV and reading aren’t mutually exclusive, but the point here is that once you’ve engaged a customer, you should try to keep them around, not shut them down. 

Next, we met one of the property’s sales representatives. He was a very nice gentleman, but he was using old-school selling methods, and we ended up sitting through a 1.5-hour verbal presentation with zero wow factor. If a company wants to get the attention of Generation X or younger, they’ve got to do more than flip through a huge paper catalog pointing to location options in an effort to get them excited about their product. 

I mentioned to this particular salesperson that we like to play tennis, camp, and trail run (all amenities available at the property), but instead of showing me these things, digitally or physically, he showed us the pool where all the screaming kids were hanging out (after we told him we have no kids). Game over. “Dear Sir, you aren’t listening to me; if you want me to even consider buying a timeshare here, you better show me things that get me jazzed.” 

Here are some common-sense takeaways for all of us:

  • Be sincere. When you attempt to engage a donor, customer or prospect, do not dismiss what they say. It’s fine if you don’t like their answer, but keep that to yourself. Try to have a real, meaningful conversation that would make a person want to return.
     
  • Get with the now. Use modern tools to excite prospects in a way that speaks their language. Had I seen the campgrounds and tennis courts on an iPad during the talk as a tease, and then been shown these things during the tour, I would have been a lot more excited. Instead, I got a wave toward the car window and a drab “tennis courts are over there.” Great.

  • Just because you’re in an older industry doesn’t mean you have to use dated tactics. Infuse some life into a slow and sad presentation model. The old saying, “We’ve always done it this way,” no longer flies in today’s fast-paced world of fractured attention spans (and wallets). We saw a 7-minute film that was better at explaining the timeshare than the live person’s 90-minute overly rehearsed scripted version. The timeshare business model itself needs more work, but that’s a conversation for another day.

  • Listen. Listen. Listen. Prospects send cues all the time — body language, facial expressions, words. We expressed a lot of things that were all lost on this salesperson. We have no reason to want to continue the conversation because he never listened to us in the first place. We told him more than once we don’t have kids, but he continued going on about how family friendly the property is. Where are those tennis courts, again?

Epic Fail #2:

I was recently robbed a vacation day thanks to an airline. We arrived at Boston’s Logan airport excited to get to Chicago for a marathon weekend. A 7:34 a.m. flight would have us there by lunchtime — a museum tour and dinner with friends to follow. Flight delay. Another delay. Flight canceled. 

I am a reasonable person and understand that mechanical problems occur. But what was most frustrating about this from a customer standpoint is that no one would talk to us. No one would tell us what was happening or give us any attention at all. The airline decided only to speak with people connecting through Chicago first -- they literally turned us away. Then the screen displayed our flight as “now leaving at 8:00 p.m.” That’s over 12 hours later than our original flight.

We finally decided to try and speak with someone again. We had two options at this point: angry customer service lady with a loud speaker, who repeatedly announced what her “limited responsibilities” are in this situation; or quiet customer service lady who kept tapping at her keyboard, finding people random seats on other flights, one at a time. She was very kind to us, as we were to her (none of this was her fault). She was unable to get us on anything earlier than the 8:00 p.m. flight. But, she gave us $60 in food vouchers knowing we’d be at the airport all day, and suggested we try standby on all of the remaining flights. She didn’t solve our ultimate problem. But she made things better. Meanwhile, angry customer service lady kept insisting there was nothing she could do for anybody. Her co-worker quietly made her a liar.

More common sense takeaways:

  • Be transparent. It’s better to let people know more than less in a stressful situation like this. Everyone has plans that are ruined by a canceled flight. But instead of keeping people in the dark and refusing to speak with them, give them the information they need to make an informed decision for themselves. You may not have a solution for them, but if they are equipped with the knowledge that they’ve got 12 hours to waste, they very well come up with a different one on their own. Also remember that a little kindness (and some free food) goes a long way.

  • Remember the “service” in customer service. It doesn’t take much to keep customers happy. If they offered us a flight voucher for a future trip, I would return. I gave them 14 hours of my life waiting for a plane and I didn’t get much of a peace offering. That’s not a lot of incentive for repeat business.

  • Make a negative into a positive. The second attendant did just that. She gave us some vouchers and a kind apology. We made the best of our “Logan Day,” sampling food and beer at different gates. Sure, I would have much rather been in Chicago, but at some point these things are just out of one’s hands.

The obvious lesson here is that both of these experiences were sour enough for me to cut the cord. I’m not going back to the vacation property, and I am not using this airline again. Make sure that whatever service you provide, it includes a positive experience for your constituents. Donors, volunteers, and participants all deserve a good encounter -- one that will keep them coming back, time and time again.

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