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Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014

May I help you? Yes. And no.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Customer service: Either you have it, or you don't.

Good service is the hallmark of any reputable company. Bad service ruins it for everyone else. We tend to dwell on the unpleasant experiences and too often fail to acknowledge that good customer service is out there, in abundance.

For example, remember a few weeks ago when I told you about my experiences with a company called Big Business? Most of the issues have been resolved for weeks, but last week I received a bill with seven pages of detailed information. Maybe you know how to decipher these complex, itemized statements. I don't.

The local rep of Big Business graciously offered to have someone call me rather than have me endure yet another round with the automated calling tree. Sure enough, a fellow called when we weren't home and left this message: Your bill is correct. Pay it.

When I tried to call this fellow back, I got a message saying he had skipped town -- or just wasn't answering his phone -- for several days of "training."

So, with a leap of faith, I called the regular, ordinary 800 number for customer service at Big Business. After several automated prompts, Justin came on the line.

If there is a Hall of Fame for deserving customer service reps, I nominate Justin. If there is a Nobel Prize for customer service -- and there should be -- I want to put Justin's name in the hat. Instead of giving indecent bonuses to mediocre CEOs, I'd like to suggest the money would be far better spent on hiring more Justins. Maybe he has a brother or sister who is looking for a job?

Justin said, convincingly, that he would make sure all of my questions were answered before the call ended. He patiently listened to me instead of assuming that I was a deadbeat trying to wiggle out of paying my bill.

Along the way, Justin detected some billing errors and offered credits before I could get the words out of my mouth. He saw that the rates I was paying were high because I was being billed for services I didn't need. And he suggested better, less costly plans.

Is there such a thing as a customer-service guardian angel? Justin is one. I'm sure of it. I called the local rep and said there must be a way to reward Justin for his fine effort. Yes, I was told. There is. It will happen.

That made me feel good, which was just the shot in the arm I needed to deal with the company that sold me a lawn mower less than two years ago.

I purposely sought out a local -- what I thought to be a reputable -- dealer of mowing equipment. I wanted a name and a face to stand behind my purchase. I didn't expect anything to go wrong, but I wanted help I could rely on if needed.

The mower was supposed to start on the first pull. It didn't. Since I use my mower well into the winter to mulch leaves, I expected the mower to start in cold weather. It did, with difficulty and with lots -- lots -- of pulls.

Finally, this summer, the mower simply refused to start, even in hot weather. So I loaded it up and took it to the dealer, where I had been assured the service department would be prompt and efficient.

While I waited, the mower mechanic changed the spark plug and cleaned the air filter. The mower wouldn't start. I left the mower, and in a few days I was told the disassembled mower's cylinders were corroded. The motor was shot. The service manager said it looked like a factory defect. The company that made the engine would be asked to replace the motor.

Days went by. Finally, after I pushed for a resolution, I was told the motor manufacturer would not replace the motor, rendering my mower useless.

Could I borrow a mower in the meantime? No.

What are my options? You need to buy another mower.

That's it? That's it.

Obviously, I won't be buying my mower from this outfit. If anyone asks, I will give them all the details.

I'm sorry it turned out this way. My good experience with Big Business -- and all the other providers of good customer service -- has been soured because one business has decided good service isn't all that important.

Good luck to those folks.

Joe Sullivan is the retired editor of the Southeast Missourian.

R. Joe Sullivan
R. Joe Sullivan