Mastering the Obvious: It's Not So Easy

Mastering the Obvious: It's Not So Easy

We were tasked with finding a speaker who could open a conference.  The goal was to fire everyone up at the start of the conference and then provide a hearty meal of compelling content that could be taken from the Conference room on Thursday and applied to our members’ businesses the following Monday.  

We were looking for a presenter who could describe how to create and maintain remarkable customer experiences.  If you turn on your Google machine and type customer service expert, you get more than 500 million responses.  We know several. I have read nearly a dozen books on customer service and am familiar from blogs and magazines with others.  We also posted a query on the American Society of Association Executives’ key executive and meeting planner list serves looking for recommendations with detailed explanations of the criteria and demographic profile of the target audience.  Our fellow association executive peers provided a couple of leads to track down.  We also found several potential prospects.  

Based on our research, we narrowed our choices to three possible presenters. On Sunday, October 31, we sent each an email. Within five minutes, one of the prospective candidates responded.  We hooked up by phone the following day and arranged for a conference call to review the requirements and to feel each other out to see if there was a fit. In the interim, the speaker overnighted a copy of his book and a video of a presentation he had made.  While his content was excellent and willingness to learn the industry apparent, prospect 1 was not the right fit.  His presentation skills were not dynamic.  Knowing the audience, we realized we had to do better.  It was back to the drawing board.

Speaker 2 responded to the email the next day and we arranged the same conference call.  We viewed several of his presentations on YouTube and called a couple of references.  He agreed to visit face-to-face with several of our members during his travels and all but guaranteed that his program would knock our members socks off.  This was the right fit, the right message for our audience and we reached an agreement.

On November 17, we received the following email from speaker 3: 

Hi Tom,

We received a request to contact you regarding your need for a speaker.  I've attempted to call the number I was given but have been unsuccessful connecting with anyone.  

I'm hoping that we may be able to schedule a call asap if your need is yet unfulfilled.  Please send me the best number and time/date to reach you so that we can discuss the opportunity.

I look forward to hearing from you

Yours in service,

XXXX, managing partner

Typically, we would respond with a thank you but our needs have been met.  Not this time.  We wrote back 

I’m sorry, but I can’t help myself. I issued the request to you October 31. I heard from you November 17.  I tried to call three different times. It was impossible to speak to a human being or leave a message.  Not really good form for someone claiming to be a customer service expert.  Thought that you would like to know.

Within a few minutes of issuing that email, we received a call from the speaker and we explained the source of frustration and encouraged the caller to experience the quality of customer experience that occurs when calling the company’s office.

She took our advice and sent the following:


Thanks for taking my call this afternoon.

You were right; in fact, I think it was even worse than you stated.  I called our line after we hung up and ended up in "voice mail hell," unable to leave a message and transferred to the wrong line unable to get where I wanted to go.  I am embarrassed that this is what our callers have experienced and ashamed that it took a potential client to point it out to us!  

My next call was to our new telephone system provider which left me feeling the way I'm sure you did with ours, very frustrated with no live person to reach.  In hindsight, I see that this call should have been made months ago.

Thank you again for taking the time to provide this feedback, you have saved us from potentially frustrating many other people and further embarrassment!

I find myself indebted to you.

Here  are the points.  When someone asks you for information, walks into your showroom or visits your website, you better be able to excel at the basics, the simple blocking and tackling of what you do on a daily basis.  If you can’t do that, then your credibility is compromised permanently.  

Lesson 2:  When was the last time you put yourself in your customer’s shoes?  Why did it take a lost prospective client for a customer service expert to realize how horrible its customer service is?  Why did principals not call their own number to see how things work?  When was the last time you cold called your showroom or your office?  Is the brand projected the one that you worked so hard to establish?  

Lesson 3:  Missed opportunity.  Clearly, the customer service expert was embarrassed or completely intellectually dishonest.  We give the benefit of the doubt to the former.  Nonetheless, there was an opportunity to regain credibility and turn lemons into lemonade.  Why didn’t the speaker make an offer we could not refuse?  Why did the speaker not ask, “what can we do to make it up to you?”  Jack Mitchell in Hug Your Customersexplains, “Mistakes are challenges and opportunities, not problems – out of mistakes, heroics can occur.  Customers always remember when you foul up, but what they remember best of all is what you did to fix or correct it.” What procedures to you have in place to turn mistakes into heroics?

Lesson 4:  It’s not about you.  The customer service company did not get it.  It’s not about the need to fix their voice mail system. It’s about the recognition that their systems were designed more for their convenience than their customers or prospective customers.  Look at your operations. Are they geared to make your life easier at the expense of your customer’s convenience?  Do your branding materials focus on how great you are?  Customers don’t care.  They want to know how your greatness can help them.  Every touchpoint needs to address what benefit you are offering to your customers.


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