Travis writes about how a customer of his web service tracked him down at home at gave him a 40-minute earful -- and why he was very lucky the customer did so, in that it revealed some problems in his delivery process of which he was not aware.
Ditto here. I was just about to write about a very similar experience on Friday, where a customer of ours ran into a new manager who was just hell bent on collecting an extra $4 he thought we were owed -- four lousy dollars -- and this employee managed to progressively anger, then intimidate, and then outright scare a customer, up to and including trying to reach in and grab stuff out of the customer's car. The father of a woman in the car contacted us absolutely irate -- as well he should have been. After about 2 hours of patient listening, we got dad and the other unfortunate customers calmed down. They will all be getting some nice freebies in the mail, and apparently we will end up with a laudatory rather than hostile customer letter, as the customers ended up being impressed that our regional VP and the out-of-state owner would spend so much time with them trying to figure out what was wrong. I will say it was easy to be sympathetic, as I was horrified by the story. I felt personal shame that such actions were taken in my name (if this sounds silly or exaggerated, think again. I have talked to a lot of people who have built successful service companies, and every one shares stories of experiencing similar shame for boneheaded actions taken by employees on their behalf.)
Unfortunately, the manager in question had to go -- this was the second time in a very short period where the manager had shown poor judgement in customer service situations. The manager was a nice person who interviewed great and did a lot of things well, but my experience is that if you don't have good judgement on such customer service interactions, you are not suddenly going to get it next week. So, like Travis, we were lucky to head off a potential problem before it got worse, and we were lucky to be given a chance to turn around the customers' experience.
The frustrating thing for me is that this manager had just been to my personal customer service training. At this training I lecture several times over two days fairly passionately about customer service issues, and in fact I cover situations almost identical to the one here. I even say in the training "I don't want you or your employees going to battle with customers over small amounts of money."
We have found that there are certain people who simply cannot put their ego aside when dealing with a customer. If these type people get it into their head that the customer is somehow trying to get over on them or the company, even for $4, they will dig in their heals and refuse to let the customer come out on top. In their mind, the customer is a "bad" person and does not deserve to win, and there is no way they are going to take the ego hit in letting the "bad" customer have a small victory at their expense. But as I tell employees all the time -- if you refuse to apologize to the customer, you are not counting coup on the customer, all you are doing is delegating the task to Warren (the owner) because he is certainly going to give that customer an apology. And likely a bunch for free camping as well. And do you know what some employee's reactions are to my giving that customer an apology and some freebies? They get mad at me, for not backing them up and letting that "bad" customer get away with whatever they think he is getting away with!
While absolutely predictable that some people will act this way, I have found it nearly impossible to screen for this in the interview process, and totally impossible to train this characteristic out of people. The best we can do is watch for the first signs of these traits and let folks who evidence them go as soon as possible. That is also why we try to make it a hard and fast rule that we never hire managers directly from outside the company, we only promote managers from field service employees who have shown good judgment on the front lines. Once in a blue moon we ignore this rule, as we did when hiring the managers I had to fire on Friday. Which just goes to show that it is probably a pretty good rule for our business.