Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Bad service.

ME:                            I'd like six ounces of whitefish salad
THEM:                       Six pounds?
ME:                            No, six ounces.
THEM:                       Six ounces of egg salad.
ME:                            Whitefish salad.
THEM:                       Six pounds of whitefish salad.
ME:                            Six ounces.
THEM:                       Egg salad?

I had just a few minutes between meeting—even life as a freelancer can be enervating—and I ran down University to 9th Street to a little bagel place I frequent. The “dialogue” I had with the counterman (pasted above) really sent me into a tizzy.

I guess my tizzy—whatever a tizzy izzy—began Sunday night. My wife was trying to get Verizon to fix a $600 mistake they made in our bill. As a consequence she spent two hours of a beautiful Sunday on the phone with the phone company.

Later that same Sunday, I had to spend some time on the phone with another oligopoly—Time-Warner—trying to get them to repair, once again, our internet connection which seems to go out with more regularity than it’s on.

These three “conversations with brands” got me thinking. What is the cost we as consumers have to pay for really bad service?

To be honest, I’d pay a dollar more for my whitefish salad to have it prepared properly by someone who thanked me and who remembered to put utensils in my bag. I’d pay more for cable and phone if they guaranteed me the help I need when I need it. But, it seems, virtually every company we deal with thinks the only sort of customer service we as consumers want is that provided by low-wage workers who have only nominal mastery of English. You think I’m lying? We all pay double for Apple products, just so we can get the help we need when we need it.

Further, our national customer-service malaise got me thinking about our industry. After all, advertising, like telcos, cable companies and bagel shops seem dedicated to driving costs out of their system. We put low-wage workers (we’re all low-wage workers today) in front of clients. Our clients find we’re like the countermen at my bagel shop. We’re not polite, we don’t listen and we don’t answer their problems.

CLIENT:                     We need to sell 50,000 widgets by August 1.
AGENCY:                   We'll do something really cool.
CLIENT:                     50,000 widgets in three months.
AGENCY:                   We'll make it go viral.
CLIENT:                     That's double our current sales.
AGENCY:                   It'll win all sorts of awards.
CLIENT:                     50,000 widgets
AGENCY:                   Egg salad?

The killer app when you get down to it--for retailers, for people, for ad agencies might be some things that are fairly simple.

Listening. Courtesy. Honesty. 

And the trust that comes from establishing those attributes.

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