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How Customer Service has Changed and How it Can be Improved

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Customer service: It’s not what it used to be.

    Customer service seems to be losing its original intent now that it relies more on technology and less on human interaction. Think about the last time you encountered a situation like this:

    The wireless company: You’re on hold being routed from one person / country / office to another. You finally get an agent who claims you don’t have an account with AT&T, even though you’ve been a customer for 20 years.

    The hospital: You get your bill for your gall bladder surgery and there’s a $25 charge for the plastic throw-up container you didn’t use.

    McDonald’s: You open your bag after you’ve left the drive-through to find that the order is wrong (this happens to me 60 percent of time).

    Here’s a story about what customer service used to look like:

    Aunt Koonzie was the family eccentric. She lived in a spacious apartment in Philadelphia with Aunty Mable and Granny. Koonzie maintained her slight frame with a daily diet of Thin Mints, black coffee and Camel Lights — what she called “Food of the Gods.” She made only right-hand turns; so a trip to the store was a circuitous, 10-miles for a 2-mile journey. Best of all, she took annual summer driving vacations — visiting the places she wanted to haunt after her demise.

    For those born before MapQuest and Google Maps, when the family took driving vacations, you sought the help of Triple A. All you had to do was let them know your destination and what you wanted to see along the way. A few weeks later, you got your packet of TripTix; individual books with daily driving instructions, suggested motels and directions to sights along the way. When Koonzie submitted her first request, she mentioned her thing about right turns.

    This elicited a panicky call from Customer Service. “Ms. Koonzie,” the man said. “We’re not sure we understand your request. Do you mean that you want to travel to the Grand Canyon and back making only right turns?” She affirmed that she did. She told the Triple A man that UPS never makes left turns, so if it was good enough for UPS, it was good enough for her.

    Soon after, Koonzie’s packet of TripTIx arrived with a note from the president of the company. “Dear Ms. Koonzie,” it read, “we are delighted that you chose to plan your vacation with Triple A. Although your right turn preference is not something we typically accommodate, if you would be kind enough to share your best sightseeing recommendations, we’ll help you travel whenever and wherever you like in right-only routes.”

    Needless to say, my Aunt Koonzie was a loyal customer to the end of her life. I suspect she is somewhere circling over the Grand Canyon now, making giant right-hand patterns in the sky.

    So the next time you look at your customer service department, keep in mind - you may have a Koonzie in the group, or just normal people who, with a little TLC, could be loyal customers for a lifetime.

    And beyond!

    Brooke Lighton is a principal at Connascent, Inc., a branding and sales consulting firm based in Chicago. Brooke is a native New Yorker who started her career as a science writer at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. She segued into advertising, working first as a copywriter at Ogilvy & Mather and later as a Group CD at Foote Cone & Belding. In 1988, Brooke launched her own agency, Lighton Colman. She is a principal and heads creative services for Connascent, a branding and sales consulting firm. You can see their work at connascent.com.