Are you delivering customer service or lip service?

by Kevin Hawkins on December 17, 2014

haroldandjimmyhawkins-whittier

[Part 1 of 2]

I have a theory: Customer service provided by most technology companies sucks.

Ask yourself when was the last time you told someone or posted something on Facebook about a great customer service experience from any technology company with a first letter other than “A” (Apple, Amazon don’t count).

Better yet: When have you ever posted a rave review about your customer service experience with a real estate technology company? Or a vertical technology company for any industry? My guess is that’s as rare as rain in the Sahara.

Yet how many tech firms tout publically that are “customer centric,” or they have a “customer-first culture,” or some variation on this theme?

I don’t think we are getting customer service today from the vast majority of players in this industry; I believe what we are getting is a lot of lip service.

Maybe my standard is too high of what I consider to be good customer service.

But don’t blame me, blame my father.

My dad was in the hotel business for 43 years before he retired: As a manager at the Fontainebleau Hilton on Miami Beach, the W on Michigan Ave in Chicago, and the Whittier Hotel on Lake Michigan in Detroit.

He cut his teeth working at several iconic places, including a resort in the Adirondacks in Upstate New York, where he ran errands for Errol Flynn, the hottest movie star of his day.

Dad started his career as a bellboy at the old Hollywood Beach Hotel in Hollywood, Florida. It was in the 1930s and “land was going for $1 an acre,” he used to tell me. Before I could ask why he didn’t buy a bunch of land, he immediately followed that statement with “but I was young and dumb and didn’t know any better, or I could have made a fortune!”

The one thing my dad did know more about than anyone I ever met was customer service: He lived it 24-7, from the day he put on a hotel uniform, until the day he hung up his tie.

He taught me my first customer service lesson when I went to work for him as a messenger at the Fontainebleau when I was 15 years old. He said, “Son, here’s the secret to success in the hotel business: Treat everyone as if the were a King or a Queen, it’s that simple.”

The good

Most great customers service experiences today happen face-to-face.

Think about it: When was the last time you had a great customer service experience? You remember it vividly, right? You probably told a few people about it, maybe more?  Earned a Facebook post or a TripAdvisor review? I am talking about an experience that literally blew you away; so incredible you asked to see the person-in-charge to share the praise.

I had one of those last night. Remarkable customer service at our favorite restaurant for a Seattle happy hour (BOKA at the Hotel 1000), from a server named Brooke. Probably the six or seventh time this server has made our experience simply incredible. How? She treated us like “Kings and Queens.”

We were celebrating our oldest son finishing his finals for the first quarter of his college career. Brooke not only always treats our teenage boys like young adults, she makes them feel welcomed and appreciated.

She cares about her customers and their happiness so much, she becomes a key part of the celebration: Everything is made better by her attitude and approach; the beer is more refreshing, the wine is smoother, and good food tastes better when you are getting great customer service.

At the end of our celebration, when the check comes, we discover she bought us our drinks. Christine, her boss and the Food & Beverage manager, stops by and what do we do: We rave about Brooke. And as we leave, we double our tip, walk out the door to find our car waiting: Brooke gave Valet parking the heads up, unbeknownst to us.

The bad

Comcast is a customer service nightmare that many of us had and tried unsuccessfully to wake up from. Unfortunately, I don’t have a choice: Our trees block Dish and DirecTV satellite signals.

Comcast track record is so bad, one customer’s call went viral: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yYUvpYE99vg 

I had a similar experience, again, when our cable went out in our bedroom.

The good news: I had a service contract in place that would cover sending a tech out. Bad news: Before they would send a technician out, the put me through reboot hell for 45 minutes, despite the fact that I kept telling them I had done everything they were asking me to do before I even called.

Adding insult to injury, when they finally agreed I needed a service technician to come out, they tried to sell me service coverage I already had in place.

Comcast is the epitome of bad customer service.

The ugly

But it gets worse in today’s world of invisible tech companies. They are the ones that have no phone number, no live chat, and no way of contacting them except through email, which is answered anonymously.

Just try to find a mailing address: The only place you are likely to find it is in their Terms of Service.

But they look cool, have millions of users, get rave reviews on how well their technology works, but don’t provide any clue to how to reach them.

Why are they hiding?

I had friend who owns a small business experience this with a well-known email-marketing provider. He had switched from Constant Contact because of this firm’s responsive emails: They look great on mobile devices, where most of us check emails these days.

After three months of building and deploying automated email campaigns for himself and another employee, the email-marketing provider shut down his two accounts without a single warning.  They sent a form-email with a link to their terms of service saying the company had violated their policies. But the email did not state what the violation was. It was not signed with a person’s name, just their “Compliance Team.:

There was no phone number to call, no live chat to join: Just an anonymous email address from no one in particular.

After sending an email protesting the action, three days later my friend received a response: Their terms of services states one account per company, unless you are a franchise. I think this fact would surprise a lot of its customers, as I would guess tens of thousands are currently in violation of this policy.

My friend was livid: Open rates were hovering between 30-50 percent, they were using in for nurturing their customers for a business that was 10 years old, and sending weekly emails to keep a small list of their B2B partners up to date. Unsubscribes and bounce rates were less than 1 percent, and for three months it was all working fine.

Then the email provider pulled the plug, without a single warning, they shut down them down. No one to call or make an appeal to because they hide themselves from the customer.

They tout they have over 7 million customers. But here is the most startling fact: Support is self-service. Wow.

This email provider should simply disclose there is no customer service nor support, because my friend would never treat himself this poorly.

Practicing what we preach

Which brings me back to something Chris Smith at Curaytor said to me during an interview I was conducting for a story I was writing for a top real estate magazine.

“When you pick up the phone and talk to a firm with customer support that blows you away, you need to not live another day until your customer support blows people away,” Chris said.

When I re-read that quote I think of a recent call I made to Apple Care. I have never met anyone from their 800 support group, but every time I call I feel like I am part of the family.

I contacted Google for my son’s Google phone that had failed, and just finding the phone number was challenging. In the end, I had a solid customer service experience, but only because I elevated the problem to a supervisor.

When it comes to customer service, Google is no Apple.

I admit it: I’m jaded when it comes to customer service.  I grew up in a household that stayed in first class hotels (because they were free) and as a result, I came to expect great service.

In high school and college, I worked in jobs that if I didn’t treat everyone like a king or a queen, I would lose my job quickly to someone who would.

I now live in the Seattle area where customer service stories involving local firms Nordstrom, Starbucks and Alaska Airlines are legendary.

So I have to ask this question: Why can’t I provide a list of real estate tech companies that deliver as good as a customer service experience as consistently as companies like Apple, Nordstrom, Starbucks and Alaska Airlines?

customerservicebest

More importantly, as Chris Smith says, why isn’t every real estate tech firm to trying to dazzle their clients with great customer service?

Or are they?

There is no research that I can find that measure the customer service performance among real estate technology companies, so this is all, admittedly, pure conjecture.

Is my thesis wrong?  Email me: kevin@wavgroup.com and share with me your customer service success model and why you think your real estate technology firm excels at customer service.

Part 2 is about real estate technology firms that do “walk the talk” when it comes to customer service.

Is your company doing it right? Let me know.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Greg Sax December 18, 2014 at 10:24 am

Wonderful article. I couldn’t agree with you more. No matter how difficult it is to meet the desires, needs, nay, DEMANDS of a customer base, you owe it to them to give all that you have to offer. Especially if they are paying you the money it takes to keep your business alive and your family fed.

If you do not have the correct systems in place to meet your customers at the key points of love, dedication and support, then that needs to be addressed right quick lest you get left for the one that will go the extra 26.2 miles.

I saw more proof of this reality in the real estate tech market in 2014 than any other year over the last ten. Customer service matters as much as cool tech. Believe that!

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