Handle with Care
Every now and then you meet a person like Josh Abrams. On paper, he’s your average guy: he takes his kids to soccer, has a house in the burbs, and enjoys a good Five Guys burger and fries. Just look at his to do list for the upcoming weekend. Josh is an EMC employee, colleague, communications guru, former customer service manager, and friend. He might be an Average Joe on paper but he’s the wrong guy to upset with poor service. On the flip side, he’ll be your most passionate and vocal fan if you over-deliver. Here’s a guy who has a bad airline experience and starts talking to the first camera he sees… (Click on the image above and Josh appears right around the 1:00 mark) And the SECOND camera too! Recently I sat down with Josh to wade through some of his colorful tales of customer service gone right and wrong. Why? Because every consumer and B2B company can learn something from people like Josh.
Q: Briefly describe your background and role at EMC
A: Even though I’m now in a communications role at EMC, I’ve been involved in customer service for the better part of 16 years. So I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s interesting to compare my last 8 years at EMC, a large company, with my previous role as a customer service manager at a tech startup. I learned a lot as a manager regarding how to treat customers. Surprisingly, both EMC and the tech startup have very similar, customer-first cultures. Both employ a “do whatever it takes” mentality to resolve issues. I like that type of culture.
Q: I would describe you as a passionate consumer and advocate for service excellence. Do you think that’s an accurate description?
A: Yes, from my Customer Service background, I know the power of a service experience. Also, from my media experience, I know how powerful it is to share those experiences. You always hear the stories of David vs. Goliath. In many cases, you’re essentially battling to get what you deserve. Typically, I come back to two main tenants of customer service: product quality and degree of responsiveness.
- Product quality: Prior to attending a Red Sox game, my friend and I ate at the Yard House, a restaurant we’d been to before and enjoy. We ordered sliders that didn’t meet our expectations. But we were in a hurry to get to the game and didn’t say anything to our server. Still talking about it on the way to game, I decided to look up their Twitter handle and tweet about our disappointing experience. The Yard House responded quickly, and, after a few quick interactions, I had a $25 gift card and words of encouragement to “try them again.” I went back on Twitter and thanked the Yard House, telling them that I appreciated the gesture and that I would see them soon.
At the end of the day, they valued my business and wanted another chance to win me back.
- Degree of responsiveness: A few years ago, I had a dispute with an airline over a car seat they lost while I was traveling with my family. At the airport, the airline was very responsive and provided a loaner seat. But things quickly went downhill from there. Turns out that the loaner was defective and unsafe. Our car seat was missing for several days. At the time, I was traveling a lot and had Gold status with a special 800 number. But I was still getting a ton of handoffs and there seemed to be no acknowledgement of the severity of the issue or urgency to fix it. So, while on hold with the airline, I filled out an online form for the consumer advocate department of a local TV news station. I knew that a major airline losing a car seat wouldn’t make the nightly news but losing a car seat and providing a dangerously unsafe loaner would since it’s a highly-relatable “what-if” story. The news station called me right away for more information and followed up a day later. We never progressed to an on-camera interview as the car seat turned up within a day of the news station getting involved.
I always hold companies accountable for their promises. I call them out when they don’t deliver and praise them when they over-deliver.
Q: What’s been your most surprising [positive] customer experience to date?
A: Our friends joined my wife and me for dinner at Not Your Average Joes, a regional restaurant chain with locations from Massachusetts to Virginia. They had a promotion where if you bought $500 in gift cards, you received an additional $125 in bonus gift cards, plus you could have dinner with their CEO. We asked our waitress if we could split cost of the gift cards between our friends and us. We assumed that only 2 of us would be invited to the dinner with the CEO. To our surprise, all four of us were invited to dine with the CEO. The dinner gave us great insight into why this restaurant chain is so successful. The CEO and the restaurant manager treated us graciously and provided us with whatever we wanted. He gave a speech to all in attendance that emphasized the company’s customer focus. “Thank you for making us successful,” he said, “We wouldn’t be here without you and we appreciate your business.”
Q: What’s been your most disappointing customer experience to date?
A: The experience with the airline that I referenced earlier. My child was at risk. Everyone I was handed off to was going from a script and they couldn’t see the big picture. My thinking was, “Find the car seat or don’t find the car seat, but acknowledge that you’ve created an unsafe situation for my family and rectify the situation.” Later, they surprised us with $1200 in travel vouchers. And, yes, we used them. But, I don’t go out of my way to fly that airline anymore.
Q: What’s the one thing that companies need to get right to win your business?
A: Companies should approach every customer interaction with the same degree of respect and attentiveness because they never know who they are dealing with. Look at me. I’m not a powerful executive with a major title. But I work at a company with 60k employees, am an active alumnus at a major university and am very active on social media. You never know when I, or someone like me, will be on the buying end of a customer interaction.