Sunday, July 31, 2011

Now that's what I call customer service!

Like the vast majority of people in Australia, we have smoke detectors fitted in the house. Last night, at about 7-30, the smoke detector certainly went off! The noise was deafening. The problem, however, was that we could neither smell smoke nor see smoke. Yes we had a fire burning in the fireplace in the family room, but that was no different from any other cold night. There was no evidence of a smoke leak from the fire but I extinguished it anyway. I looked everywhere inside and outside the house but nothing to be seen. And the smoke detector went on and on!

I decided to call 000 - the emergency number in Australia - and was quickly channeled to the NSW Fire Brigades. I explained the situation and was told that I had done the right thing and that a fire unit was on its way. About 10 minutes later we had a fire truck and team outside. Like me they checked everything and found nothing. It appears that either our smoke detector had thrown a wobbly and that there was no danger or that, unnoticed by us, a gust of smoke had billowed from the fireplace and triggered the detector. Either way, there was no fire problem.

I felt somewhat embarrassed and apologised to the Station Officer for calling them out on what turned out to be a false alarm. He was absolutely clear - the smoke detector was going off, I had reason to be concerned; I had done everything right and he was pleased that we had acted as we had. He pointed out that had I not taken this action and there had been a fire in the ceiling cavity (which is where we both suspected the problem might have been), the result could have been disastrous.

The fireys spent about 30 minutes checking every possible problem area. They used heat detectors in every room and throughout the ceiling cavity. They went outside and examined every wall and every inch of the roof. And throughout they were friendly, polite, professional, supportive, and thorough. Where they removed any fixture they replaced it correctly and then they apologised to us for any disturbance they may have made!

Sure they were just doing their job. Sure they were just doing what they had been trained to do. But this was customer service at its best. They left us feeling very positive about their response and enormously impressed with every part of the interaction from the first moment of dialling 000 to the last moment when they left.

A great big "thank you" to the team at Pymble Fire Station.

Wouldn't it be great if everyone involved in dealing with the public had the same service ethos as the Fireys? Its not impossible.

More about Douglas Long at

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Customer Service - yet again!

The media has recently been discussing research that indicates at least part of the reason for the downturn in retail sales is a lack of customer service - retail staff are too few or too disinterested or too busy to really work with the customer in order to make a sale. Its a good point.

But the retailers themselves are a key part of the problem - not just their staff.

Yesterday is a case in point.

One of my daughters works part time in a retail store in order to help fund her university course. On Monday afternoon she was asked to do a particular task when the store opened on Tuesday. She started work just before 9-00 am and was about to do as she had been asked when a customer walked in. The next 40 minutes were spent working with the customer and a large sale was the result. During this selling process her manager arrived and watched what was happening. Immediately my daughter had concluded the sale her manager approached and berated her for not doing what she had been asked to do as a priority. My daughter was told that the other task - a matter of merchandising relating to placement of stock - should have taken precedence over the customer. When my daughter pointed out the importance of the customer and the volume of the sale, she was told that questioning her manager's instructions and priorities was a career limiting activity!

Now it so happens that the store at which my daughter works is part of a national chain that has recently been complaining that sales are down and it has issued a profit downgrade to the market. From my observations over some months, with managerial attitudes like that shown yesterday, I'm not surprised!

As I have said before, customer service is not "rocket science".

But it starts with an organisation being genuinely committed to the provision of service - not just some slogan on a wall or written into an Annual Report or business plan. And executives and managers need to model the service required. Its a truism to point out that without customers there is no-one to buy whatever is being sold and, without sales, cash flow and profit are adversely affected. Therefore there are sound financial reasons for providing adequate staff who are well trained and engaged with their product and organisation - who want to sell because they enjoy the customer interaction.

A key part of leadership is creating an environment in which people can achieve desired results. This means, in part, ensuring that the right people are there in the right numbers with the right products and the right resources at the right time and with the right sort of role modelling from their bosses.

At least one national retail chain seems to have forgotten this. What a pity. Especially because they have great product - but it won't sell itself.

What do you think?

More about Doug Long at

Monday, July 18, 2011

Masterchef: a blood sport?

If you read the Sydney Morning Herald today you may have noticed an opinion piece that implied the popular TV reality show, Masterchef, is a blood sport.

I happened to watch it last night - yes, I know that this may not have been the wisest thing to do - but I was impressed with the reaction of the contestants when one person, Elly, I think, had problems with her dish. The contestants were cooking for the Dalai Lama and Elly had all sorts of disasters resulting in the possibility of her not presenting a course to the judges. The other contestants got behind her and helped her. The approach was summed up by one of Elly's competition who said something along the lines of "cooking for the Dalai Lama is bigger than the competition between us".

There's a message here that relates to the subject I have been dealing with recently - customer service.

Our western business model seems to be predicated on the individual. I know we talk "teams" and "cooperation" and the like, but we tend to reward individuals. Just like in Masterchef, in most organisations there will only be one winner. The result is that, when the chips are down, competition comes to the fore and it is "what's in it for me" that takes precedence in what I do and who I support. In this situation the customer can run a very poor second to me winning a bonus or a promotion or some other reward.

Great customer service comes when everyone realises that serving the customer and meeting her or his needs must be preeminent. This is quite easy when your customer is the Dalai Lama - but every customer deserves the same level of respect and service.

Great customer service demands the right sort of leadership. What sort of leadership is reflected in the service you and your organisation provides?

More information about Doug Long at

Friday, July 15, 2011

Customer Service - still going!

If the press are to be believed, the current downturn in Australian retail sales is either because of the confusion being created about the new carbon tax or because of come other reason beyond the control of the retailers.


The main reasons why people don't buy are pretty simple:
  1. They don't know that the goods or services are available
  2. The goods or services that are available are not those for which they are looking and/or need
  3. The goods or services are not considered good value for money
  4. The service (or lack thereof) provided by the seller is such that the customer considers it "just too hard" to buy
Yes, economic confidence affects the way people think and it certainly affects their buying patterns, but what this generally means is that people become more discriminating as to what they buy and from whom they buy it. And, yes, the current debate on the carbon tax (accompanied by much misinformation and deliberate attempts to mislead by appealing to fear) certainly has lowered consumer confidence because of the way in which the Australian economy is being talked down. But the reason why retailers are suffering lies primarily with the retailers themselves.

Ken Varga ( has some interesting things to say about this issue - perhaps even to some of the affected retailers.

I believe that a key problem is that so many of our major retailers have moved away from their core business. Where once stores like Myers and David Jones employed their own staff, trained those staff, and ensured that their staff knew about far more than just the small area in which they worked, today this is not the case. Our retailers seem to have moved to a situation in which various brands lease parts of the store and each is interested only in promoting their brands. In addition, because employment costs are seen as an expense rather than an investment, the stores have moved to a minimalist position on staffing levels and pay those they do employ the lowest possible wages they can get away with. The stores show little or no loyalty to staff (apart from the middle to senior managers and executives) so why should the staff show loyalty to them?

Good customer service requires engaged staff. To get staff committed to what they are doing, to their co-workers, and to their organisation, requires a vastly different type of leadership from that which is currently being provided. Unless an organisation is consciously set up to create an environment in which employees at all levels have a high probability of being successful, then customer service (and profitability) become a random end variable - which is, I guess, exactly where many organisations are today.

More information about Doug Long at

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Customer Service - there's more!

It was interesting to note that one of the TV Channels in Sydney ran a piece on customer service last evening. They looked at the difference between what the various major grocery retail chains promised in their advertising about service and what they actually delivered. The results were not what any of the organisations involved really wanted. The TV program seemed to imply that this was a training issue.

I have 2 daughters who supplement their university studies by working as casuals in the retail industry. They see the issue as being a little more complex - and I think they're right. They think the problem involves 3 things - application of policy, training of employees, and customer behaviour.

First, customer behaviour.

One of the things that frustrates my daughters is customers who refuse service - customers who seem to be in such a hurry that any attempt to provide information is treated with rudeness and, sometimes, offensive behaviour. Generally these seem to be the customers who want to push ahead of anyone else who may be waiting or is even being served and for whom the entire matter of a sales transaction seems to be the worst thing in the world. "Get enough of these in a shift," I was told, "and its easy to forget that you have a primary role to help the customer."

Second, training of employees.

This really is a critical matter. As a customer I am often frustrated when sales assistants seem to show no interest in what they are selling and even less interest in me. Its as though they are simply going through the motions of "customer service" without really believing in what they are doing.

The easy response to this is to say that he or she has an "attitude problem". But that simply isn't true. The person involved has a behaviour problem - they are not doing what they have been trained to do - and that is all about behaviour. The fact is that, like most other people, I'm not really concerned about what a salesperson thinks of me or of the goods or services they are selling. That's their business. What I am concerned about is how they relate to me - and that is behavioural. Organisations need to ensure that their employees are properly trained to deliver good customer service no matter what they may think or what they may be feeling.

Application of Policy.

This is where the role of management becomes critical. Leaders and managers have a responsibility to create an environment in which their staff can be successful. And this is the key area in which most fall down. Unless those in leadership positions model the appropriate behaviour, they cannot complain when their staff fall short of desired standards. This is where the examples I used in my earlier blog on customer service stand out. Both Trevor at Fantastic Furniture and Mark at Jaxquickfit Tyres were leaders who demonstrated the behaviour their organisations wanted in relation to customer service. Its no wonder that the people who replaced my son's bed and the technicians who worked on my car continued the practice of good customer service - they saw it in their leaders.

Another part of this application of policy is recognition of "you get what you reward". Some years ago Ken Blanchard in "The One Minute Manager" wrote "surprise someone: catch them doing something right!" Attention from a leader is a very powerful means of recognition and reward. In your organisation where do you place the most emphasis? Do you pay more attention to what person does right ..... or to what they do wrong?

You cannot affect the way a customer relates to you. But you can affect how you relate to any and every customer - and that's the key to good customer service.

More information about Doug Long at

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Customer Service

Quite a long time ago I listed an article on entitled “Cracked Eggs Don’t Hatch” in which I talked about my customer service experience with Dell computers. Over the last 3 days I have had more interesting customer service experiences about which to talk.


Last Saturday my son bought a new bed from an organisation in Penrith, Sydney, named “Fantastic Furniture”. When he got it home he undid the packaging and was dismayed to find that there was evidence that the unit may have been used as a showroom display and that there had been some damage which had been badly repaired. Now had he bought this as an ex-showroom item this would not have been an issue – he would have accepted that things can get damaged in a showroom and that the reduction in price would have taken account of this. But this wasn’t bought as ex-floor stock!

My son phoned the store and spoke with Trevor, the manager. The response was immediate. There was no argument or request for additional justification. The manager accepted my son was not happy and that the item was damaged. He said the item will be replaced. Today they are delivering a new bed and taking the other one away even though they have to come over 40 km to reach our house. Now that’s customer service – “Fantastic Service from Fantastic Furniture” is how my son described it.


A few weeks ago I got new front tyres for my car from an organisation called JAXQuickfit Tyres in Thornleigh, Sydney. This morning I heard some noise from the brakes and, because I enjoy servicing my car, I decided to check the discs. On each of the front wheels, all the wheel nuts came off easily except 1 on each side – one stud snapped on each front wheel. Now I have been working on my cars for over 50 years and in that time I have undone and done up countless wheel nuts – I’ve never before had a stud snap. Today I get two – one on each wheel that had recently had a tyre replaced by JAX. I phoned them and explained the coincidence to Mark, the manager. There was no hesitation. “We’ll fix it for you,” he said. “We’ll need the car for about an hour.”

Thank you Mr JAXQuickfit Tyres in Thornleigh.

The thing that saddens me is that service such as this is, all too often, the exception rather than the rule. It shouldn't have to be that way - and it doesn't have to be.

More information about Doug Long at