Ever had an experience at work where you received really bad customer service, but you decided not to say anything with the assumption it wouldn’t matter? I have, but last week I decided to follow-up on less than stellar service, and I learned a valuable lesson that will help me be a better boss, co-worker, customer, and mentor.
A couple of medical equipment vendors came in to see me, for the sake of this posting we will call them Bob and Bill. I wasn’t available so Bob and Bill talked with one of my co-workers. Bill wanted to drop off some catalogs, which had his business card on them. While Bill was giving his spiel, Bob was questioning my co-worker on why he didn’t remember meeting Bob a year ago. My co-worker stated that we have so many vendors that come into our offices, it is hard to remember everyone. Bob seemed to take great offense at that; he obviously had an inflated opinion of his own memorability. He continued to question my co-worker about our capital purchasing process and timeline, my co-worker told him we determine our capital needs in the fall of the previous year, and by February everything we need to spend is allocated. Bob made a flippant remark, and he and Bill started to exit our office. As they exited through the door, Bob turned back and said something to the effect that he hoped next year my co-worker would remember him.
My co-worker shared this interaction with me upon my return, and I could clearly see that he was upset by the conversation. I immediately looked to see if we had ever purchased anything from this vendor, which we had not. Since I only had contact information for Bill, I decided to send Bill an email and outline my displeasure with Bobs behavior. I recounted my co-workers experience of events, and simply stated that we are thankful for the value of choice. I stated that we prefer to do business with vendors that invest in professional and courteous sales people who actually care about the relationship they build with their customers.
I thought that would be the end of it, as the behavior exhibited by Bob surely didn’t demonstrate any care or concern of how he might be perceived?
I received an email from Bob later that afternoon. Amazingly, he is the president of the company, and Bill is his sales person. His first statement was to say he tried hard to justify his behavior, and play it off as though he was just being humorous. But as my statements percolated with him, he realized that he was putting ego and business ahead of people. He stated that he had started the company because he used to sell the same equipment for a manufacturer, and felt that he could better control how business was done if he was able to define how his company would perform. He has had a good level of success, and with that success he allowed himself to forget that the customer should always come first. He apologized for his behavior, and stated that he totally understands our decision to use another company in the future.
I was quite surprised when I figured out that Bob and I have worked together for years, and prior to this interaction he and I had a good working relationship. When I sent my complaint, I had written this vendor off, as I do have the power of choice. But the fact that Bob responded with great humility, and a willingness to apologize and use the feedback as a learning experience allows me to give his company another chance. We all have days where we don’t perform in a way that is authentic to who we are and who we want to be, and hopefully we all have that someone who will call us on it and help us to change our behavior.
It is amazing what happens when we communicate; it allows us to grow, whether from positive or negative experiences. I learned that there is tremendous importance in challenging bad service. Bob learned that you have to be attentive to your audience, because you never know when your interactions can fracture a previously good relationship. And my co-worker learned that I value his perceptions, and that I value and practice servant leadership.
I would love to hear about your good or bad customer service experiences, or just get feedback from you. Feel free to leave a comment below.