Agent Motivation

Guest Post: How Customer Service Can Make or Break Your Business

Earlier this year I took my sports bike to the garage for some basic maintenance — new clutch and gear shift levers. For the uninitiated, you change gears on a motorcycle with the left foot, hooking your boot under the lever and pulling upwards to shift up, or pressing it down to descend through the cogs.

Job done, I collected the bike and headed out for a spirited ride in the canyons the next morning. All was going well until suddenly it wasn’t — as I approached a sweeping bend shortly followed by a traffic light, I braked, pulled in the clutch, and found my toes pressing on thin air.

I waggled my ankle again. Nothing.

The technician at the garage had fitted the shift lever incorrectly and it had fallen off. It was dangling below the bike from the linkage.

Fortunately, the place was deserted and I coasted to a standstill at the side of the road. Then, once my colon had stopped twitching, I screwed the bolt in by hand and nursed the bike home.

Given that such an incident could easily have been terminal or caused what my instructor likes to call an “involuntary dismount,” here is how I expected the service department to respond when I called to voice my displeasure: Dripping with empathy they would apologize profusely, issue a total refund, collect the bike to inspect all the work and put it right, then provide a follow-up explaining how the mistake was made and the changes they’d put in place to prevent such a mishap from happening again.

After all, mistakes like that literally kill people.

Instead, their manner was gruff and dismissive. “It’s been busy ‘round here. We’re only human, we make mistakes.” They offered a $20 refund, based on the amount of time it would take to screw in the bolt and check it, despite having charged me a multiple of that to (not) do the same work in the first place.

I thought prospective customers should know what they might be in for and penned suitably lacerating reviews for Google and Yelp. Those reviews have been read several hundred times since, and will be there permanently.

I’m guessing that bad reviews cost more than $20 in the long run.

By contrast, when I called Revival Cycles in Austin a few days later for help tracking down an obscure part, the person on the phone listened patiently to my needs, asked me to send some photos for clarification, spent twenty minutes discussing a range of options, then proposed he get a second opinion from a colleague.

Later that day they got back in touch to say they’d tracked down an even better option from their network of contacts — something they didn’t even sell themselves. Unsurprisingly, Revival has been my go-to choice ever since.

How the Customer Service Experience Can Make or Break Your Business

Having such different customer experiences in quick succession reminded me of a fundamental truth that is easy to overlook: whoever handles a customer call represents your entire company.

They are not just providing customer service. They are expressing your culture, exhibiting your brand, directly or indirectly selling your products and services, performing vital customer and market research, executing your loyalty program, and building and managing relationships for the future.

Seen in this light, the way they are hired, managed and incentivized, trained and equipped, empowered and encouraged has far reaching consequences, well beyond whether they resolve a customer’s immediate issue.

Their conversations with customers make or break every other marketing effort in the company — a sobering realization that no business should lose sight of.