Damn. Post redundancy. Is customer service a big deal? What?
You would have to be nuts to disagree with that.
I was reading Lisa Gerber‘s post over at Spin Sucks yesterday and it was enough of a catalyst for me to write about this topic too. Why? Well, while I was reading about her great experience in good ole Canada it made me wonder how I reacted to a client on Wednesday.
I have never written directly about customer service and now wonder why. My job is really all about that. When I think about it I really don’t actually design anything. My time is spent managing relationships and managing teams to ensure we meet the needs and expectations of our clients.
Is that customer service?
Well, it is to me.
So here’s what happened but first a bit of context.
I have been very, very busy lately. So what? We are ALL busy. Sounds like an excuse.
I have been a bit cranky lately. Why? Who the hell knows? Not enough sleep maybe. So what, right? My own fault.
I have a LOT of competing priorities right now. Again, I think, so what? Isn’t there always?
I am the kind of guy that isn’t afraid to make and admit my mistakes. That’s probably why so many people – ahem – love me – ahem.
So, one of my client’s project managers (they have many) called me yesterday about a project that we have had some trouble with. It’s a complex problem that is taking a bit of time to even define the scope of work around and his client, whom we both serve, is breathing down his neck to get the problem solved before the winter. Winter? Damn boy, it’s August. Well we all know it takes time to design, price and build a solution so the winter (i.e. December) is not a long way off. So, the pressure is on. We have spent weeks trying to sort out the best way to attack the issues.
Now, my friends, this project manager is really a sweetheart.
He is an older gentleman and is still working because he needs to support himself. I know that he is alone and thereby he really loves the company when he can get it. I know all this because I have spoken to him in depth about the work he does and in general, at times, about his life and pursuits. He seems a little lonely so I generally give him some time when he calls because he just enjoys the banter.
Hey, we usually get along famously.
There was a time recently where he had a serious virus and was feeling terrible. He called me to talk about a project he was starting and during the discussion mentioned that he was very ill and his doctor was concerned that he may need some treatment over the weekend if his condition worsened. He sounded worried. He didn’t have anyone at home to take care of him and his family is gone. I felt for him so I offered that if he needed help over the weekend that he could call me and I would come by and drive him to the doctor. Fortunately, he was starting to feel better the next day.
So, what’s the problem here?
Well, on Wednesday he called me about this difficult project we were trying to sort out and asked me for what I can only assume was a favour. The ball was really in his court to make a decision on the options we presented and I really had no time for him that day because I was feeling pressure to get some work out the door that had been lagging. There was also some personal crap (crap = busy, stressed, competing priorities) going on with me so I tried to blow him off. Ouch!
His request was quite simple enough but I argued.
The ridiculous part about it was that by the time we had finished the conversation we both could have solved the problem.
I agreed to help in the end but that day I was less than happy about it and in actual fact the task took very little time to complete. Even worse. Damn. What he wanted was insignificant in the grand scheme of the day’s activities and at the time I didn’t care to think it was important at all but after reading Lisa’s post I realised that it was.
My client asked me for a favour not to move a mountain.
He called because he considered me an asset (maybe that day emphasis on the ass) and maybe even a friend. All he got in return that day was attitude.
No one is perfect.
We all know that but the right approach is to listen and help wherever you can. We are all in customer service in this, the A+D industry, just as parallels can be drawn for many other industries. If you have a client, you are in customer service.
I see simply as that.
A long time ago when I was young (and clearly not as well seasoned) an owner at one of the companies I worked for, a small start-up at the time, said to me that we are in the business to serve our clients. I will never forget that simple bit of advice even if at the time I thought it didn’t entirely make sense. Hell, I was in the business to DESIGN stuff.
Well, I am still in the business because design is still my passion but that passion now comes from a happy client and my contribution to that happiness is to be there for my clients when they need me. There will always be competing priorities, we will always have more than we can do and we will naturally trend toward finding the easiest way to solve problems but remembering that your client is as important in the process as the design solution is critical to your success.
It helps to keep your Net Promoter score on an upswing too. And speaking of that the old adage of treat others the way you want to be treated seems to be the right way to wrap up this little story.
Don’t you agree?