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Customer satisfaction

Customer satisfaction

Customer satisfaction is a reflection of management policy, and is an important issue: happy customers tend to be the best and least expensive tool for generating new customers; unhappy customers tend to actively try to get people they know to use other companies. We have recently encountered a number of situations in which people with whom we deal have had needlessly bad experiences with companies.

As an example, one user of satellite phones had his pre-paid card expired (the minutes needed to be used up by a certain date) while in the field. While there was $900 left on the card when it expired, the assignment had two days remaining. He called customer care and asked what he could do to get the minutes extended, and was told he would have to spend a fairly substantial amount to re-fill the card. While not questioning that the card had expired, or that the company had the prerogative of cutting it off when it expired, the user is now selling the phone, and will cheerfully bad-mouth the company to any potential users whom he encounters. The good news is that while customer care didn’t care, the corporate communications people recognize that this was a bad business decision, so we will not mention their name here, on the assumption that they will do the right thing and get some policy put in place to deal with this edge condition.

In another case, a woman went into an Associated supermarket here in New York and bought some milk which turned out to be spoiled. She brought it back to exchange, and was told that the store didn’t carry that brand and, receipt for milk or not, they wouldn’t exchange it. As you might imagine, neither she, nor anyone she knows, will use that chain.

In another case, we ourselves bought an Archos MP3 player from Gateway (the computer folk). It died shortly after purchase, and Gateway customer care said that they merely sold them and took no responsibility for the device. They told us that we would have to speak with Archos. Some 150 or so calls and e-mails later with Archos (and Gateway) we gave up. We have subsequently convinced dozens of people not to buy Gateway products, and have steered many people away from Archos.

You may contrast this with a recent problem we had with a Leviton light switch. After being informed of the problem by e-mail, we got a phone call from Dan Reiter, a customer service supervisor, to say that they were sending us a replacement, and asking us to send back the defective unit so their quality assurance people could figure out what went wrong.

But is the tone of customer care really set by senior management? We recall working for Simmons Bedding Company, the folks that make the Beautyrest® mattress, many years ago. At that time, Grant Simmons and his senior managers would meet once a week to review all letters of complaint that had been received and decide how they should be handled. The also reviewed the actual disposition of cases from the week before. Their goal was to have satisfied customers. We would guess that the development of their previous and current code of ethics (http://www.simmons.com/investors/codeOfEthicsPrev.cfm) was fairly easy: They merely codified their everyday behavior.

In the same way, ventures that give benefit to others while bringing no obvious benefit to the venture are often still a good idea. An example of this would be the free tango lessons offered by the Argentine Consulate in New York City at lunchtime two days a week. The Consulate has the expense associated with providing the facility, plus the annoyance of a bunch of gringos streaming in twice a week to dance.

The benefit to the students is fairly high in two areas. First, the two teachers, Alicia Cruzado and Fran Chesleigh, are excellent teachers at the top of their game. Second, because the classes are free, the teachers have the luxury of teaching what they think is important for social dancing, rather than a series of performance techniques designed to get the students of a school to sign up for more paying classes.

The only downside for the students is the hour: While some people zip in a little late, take class for a while on their lunch break and then leave early, the class is largely accessible only to those folks who can free up their time between 11:30 am and 2:30 pm.

Is there a benefit for the Consulate other than vague good will? Well, a significant number of the students who study at the Consulate end up going on trips to Buenos Aires to dance, and we would bet that the tourist dollars generated far outstrip any costs.

And the benefit to the teachers? We have no idea what their deal with the Consulate might be. Interestingly, the classes are not used by the teachers as a springboard to get private students, or to get students for classes they teach elsewhere, which might be one’s first assumption. Indeed, they recommend a wide variety of practicas, milongas, and workshops done by others.

In the end, the offering of free classes benefits all parties directly involved, and Argentina’s balance of trade, as well as the tango community in general.

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