Is Complaining About Poor Service Windmill Tilting?

by Bob Poole on February 4, 2010

Bill is always looking for examples of extraordinary customer service but he says he doesn't experience it nearly as often as poor customer service. That probably does not qualify as breaking news to you.

Bill says that when he finds extraordinary service he makes sure to recognize the person directly and also by letting their company or supervisor know. I asked him what he does when he experiences bad customer service and I think his response is typical for a lot of us.

"I used to let the person know their service was unacceptable and also notify their management but I pretty much gave up doing that," says Bill. "I found out that most of the time the company and management did nothing or made excuses rather than taking responsibility and making the customer happy."

Personally, I haven't given up on letting people know despite the frustration that often accompanies my efforts. I think if you don't tell them you're unhappy and their service is unacceptable it is unlikely to change. But, sometimes I feel like I'm tilting at windmills.

For example, I print my own postage online. It's no different than using a postage meter which has been happening since 1920 when Pitney-Bowes invented it and got it approved by the USPS for commercial use. With online printing you can do even more things including printing photo stamps. I use ones with a photo of "Listen First – Sell Later" on the stamp. It's inexpensive marketing and every week someone who gets mail from me comments about the stamp. I'm happy to share with them how they can do it themselves.

But, back to customer service. I live in the little town of Perkasie, PA which is served by a post office that is probably less than half the size it needs to be. While the town is small the mailing area for Perkasie is huge. I'm sure it was created back when there were more cows than people. That has changed and now it is a very busy and understaffed place. However, I find that the postal employees there are a great group of people and my mail carrier gives exceptional service.

Then there is the one guy who usually mans the window in the lobby. Two people could work this window but other than holiday mailing season it is always the same guy. And, he doesn't care about good service. In fact, he seems angry that his customers can do what he get paid to do. He's the guy who weighs your mail and puts the stamp on it. And, he knows all the rules. Well, actually he kind of knows all the rules. Nobody knows all of them because the USPS is always changing them and some are contradictory.

It never fails that when he is presented with mail that is already stamped and all he needs to do is say thank you and put it in the bin to go out that he has to make a comment about it. He wants to argue about packaging, stamping, forms, and anything else that is presented. I've seen him do this with pretty much anyone that drops things off where he doesn't get to sell the stamps and interpret the rules.

Today, I mailed about a dozen books to people and I used media mail. The stamp I printed has media mail printed on it. When I gave him these packages and told him they were all media mail he looked like he wanted to open each one to make sure I wasn't including some kind of contraband. He then told me, "These should be stamped media mail." and proceeded to use a stamp older than the post office to stamp red "Media Mail" all over the packages.

I said, "The stamp itself already has media mail printed on it." "Well, someone might not read that." was his response as he continued stamping away in glee. Out of curiosity I looked online to see what the post office required. Here is the rule – Mark each piece "Media Mail" and "Presorted" or "PRSRT" in the postage area. That was exactly what I had done. And, once again he was wrong and making his own rules up.

Now this may not seem like terrible service to you but it really is. In fact, it is probably worse service than the person who just doesn't care. If the post office were a business it is most likely that they would be out of business. Upper management has gone to great lengths to encourage the use of their services in order to help stem the flow of red ink. This guy, for whatever reason, makes people want to do anything but do business with him.

AT&T mobile is being attacked right now by Verizon for providing poor service with their 3G network. You've seen the ads and I've read many a blog and tweet that seem to agree. You'd think they would be working really hard to keep every customer happy.

Nope. In fact they have a policy right now that is likely to drive people away. More on that in a future post. Meanwhile, you might want to check out Validas. They might be able save you money on your mobile phone bills. I have no connection to them but they saved me a pretty good chunk of money by letting me know about a better plan that AT&T never mentioned to me. And, I've been their customer since they bought Cingular!

How do you deal with poor customer service? Do you let them know? Do you let management know? Or, have you given up like Bill?

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Dror Tirosh February 4, 2010 at 6:14 pm

Hey Bob,
I am one of the owners of a company that owns and runs 4 backpacker hostels in Peru and Bolivia. We are ex-backpackers ourselves and we want to have the best hostel possible for our guests.
One of our main problems is that guests do not always tell us what is wrong, and sometime tell us when it is too late. We have been trying to change that by having the manager door always open with a sign asking people to approach the managers, reception staff being more attentive, etc. Still we see that most times we find out that something was wrong is from reading guests blogs or getting feedback from guests after they left (we email each guest after they checkout).
This type of feedback is very similar to what you wrote here. Now while I am not saying you have much of a chance changing the mail guy by calling USPS. But in our case we do want people to come to us more so we can improve their experience and improve the hostel.
I do wonder if you have advice for us how we can encourage people that see that something is wrong to come and mention it to us at the same moment.
Thanks,
Dror Tirosh
Loki Hostels

John Aberle February 4, 2010 at 9:47 pm

I appreciate Dror’s plea for customers to let them know when there’s a problem. I’ve had experiences like you and your friend with bad customer service where regardless of what you do, nothing changes. Many – NOT all – government employees have similar attitudes to your postal clerk. On the other hand, I’ve had the experience where complaining has resulted in change. In one case, the manager checked during my meal and immediately comp’d me for that meal as well as solved the problem with the service. In another, my waitress was on the ball. I wasn’t going to complain and demand another steak prepared medium rare like I ordered it. She told her manager who came over to tell me she’d already sent in the order to have another steak prepared. These aren’t the only examples I have of great service to keep a customer who’s frustrated. Most people want to keep their customers happy. I think that often the bureaucracy overwhelms them too. I suggested that business owners and managers put themselves in the place of a frustrated customer before they implement new procedures. How do they feel when an employee follows the new procedure exactly? Will it win back customers or drive them away faster?
John
http://www.helpcustomersbuy.com

Bob Poole February 5, 2010 at 7:51 am

Hi Dror- Emailing the guests after checkout is too late which you have already found out. Instead of having the managers and staff be receptive and open to guests have them be proactive. You need someone at each hostel who is wonderful with people. Make them responsible for talking with every guest during their stays to make sure they are having not just a good experience but an extraordinary one.
Do that and the guests will be blogging about you and will become the best marketing you can have.
Thanks for writing.

Bob Poole February 5, 2010 at 7:54 am

John makes a great point about procedures. Procedures too often are for the benefit of the person or entity who made the procedure. Unless you have your customers making your procedures and policies (which is an excellent idea) odds are you need to take a look at them and see if they are helping or hurting you.

Dror Tirosh February 5, 2010 at 9:59 am

Thank you Bob,
We have great word of mouth, every hostel we opened has been full within weeks (sometimes we were full before the official opening date). We get numerous blogs written about us every week, most of them very very good.
We are well aware that we cannot do much to change the experience of a guest that already left, so when we asks the guests for a feedback we ask it so they can help us improve the hostel for future guests. Most forms are simple ticking the boxes, but with some you can see that the guests really made an effort to think how the hostel can be better in the future.
The thing is that our hostels are big, 3 of them have over 180 beds. and the guest changeover is between 30-50% daily. We operate at over 85% occupancy year long. Our managers, which are also owners and great friends, make an effort daily to get to everyone, but with 60-90 new people every day it is not always possible.
The main problem we havent managed to solve yet is night time at the dorm rooms, where guests being noisy in a dorm are interfering with other guests sleep. While we can easily deal with it if we are told, we are usually not told.
Thanks for your thoughts

Bob Poole February 5, 2010 at 10:09 am

@Dror Your hostels look like a lot of fun. I get that you’re doing a great job but you want to do even better. If I were in the hospitality industry I would have someone whose primary (only) job is to make the experience extraordinary.
I can also imagine that dorm rooms can be noisy. I’m told I snore although I can’t verify that. Thank you very much for contributing.

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