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Customer Service: The Bad Mistake

September 4, 2006
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It's easy to sit back from afar and complain about somebody else's service work. It's even more tempting to write about it whenever it happens to someone you know. I make a point of always writing a column about the good service experiences I have encountered; I even go so far as to mention people's names and companies. When, upon occasion, a bad service experience does occur, I try to resist the temptation.

Suffice it to say that there is a company somewhere in my mother's hometown that deserves to be exposed for literally taking advantage of a 75-year-old woman. Enough said.

I'm not so different from most people, even HVAC contractors. We all tend to complain about other people's workmanship. No one can do it as well as we can, and no one cares as much for their customers. I hear from a large number of contractors who claim a majority of their work is to go in behind other companies and fix their mistakes. I know this is true because I have seen some of the mistakes, and I've met the people who have made things right.

Still, I wonder who could possibly be making all of the mistakes because I've never met any of those contractors. They must live in another town.

I have a hypothesis that the bad contractors all live in one central bad place, kind of a community for poor, misguided service people. They are all dispatched from this HVAC hell to create chaos whenever they can. Just think; if it weren't for these bad contractors, good contractors would have almost 50 percent less work. Bad contractors keep everyone else busy. It's great!

Yes, it's almost as if some higher power had a master plan. This "circle of life" feeds the industry in a way that could make one think that the good contractors and the bad contractors actually work well together.

My hypothesis further suggests that these people get together on a regular basis to compare work schedules. "Okay, Jim. We'll go in on Thursday and short the refrigerant charge. That should be sufficient to cause some compressor problems that begin to show up in July 2007. Put that in your tickler file."

NO BAD SERVICE PEOPLE, JUST BAD SERVICE

One might argue there are no bad service people, just as there are no bad kids - only bad mistakes that are made during the normal course of learning and growing. Ok, so when is it time for everyone to grow up?

In an industry where the barriers to entry are quite minimal, it's likely that basic mistakes will be made - over and over again. Every day there is some new company that hasn't yet had the opportunity to become totally trained, totally qualified, totally certified. That is to be expected. Honest mistakes are always forgivable. What is not to be expected is for a service company to hide from their mistakes when they get called on the carpet - in some cases, pretending it never happened. There is a big difference between an honest mistake and a bad mistake. The bad mistake is the honest mistake that a company tries to hide from. It can result in loss of future opportunities with the aggrieved customer, and worse is the loss of future business with all the friends of the aggrieved customer.

In business there is something called the side step. When caught in the middle of a perceived problem, don't admit to anything. The logic here is that anything you say can and will be used against you. Laying low and not saying much about a problem can be the wise choice of the moment. You must gather all the details before you can make a judgment about a course of action, especially if that course of action entails your own culpability. However, once you determine that you, or your company, have been the cause of a customer's problem, taking responsibility for correcting the problem is the best choice you could ever make.

Regardless of the potential cost, the cost of the opportunity lost will usually be much more expensive over the long haul.

Publication date: 09/04/2006

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