Can’t we all just get along?
My train was 2.5 hours late, and now the Knicks-Heat tickets in my pocket were worthless. I was pissed. Pissed at Amtrak. Any reasonable person would expect to be compensated.
I think of myself as somewhat reasonable—sometimes I’m closer to the “crazy” side and sometimes closer to the “pussy” side, depending on the specific case. But I’ll say I’m usually in the 25-75 percentile of reasonableness. In this case, I think it’s perfectly reasonable for Amtrak to compensate me with a free train ticket of equal value to the 2.5-hour-late ride I was forced to endure (7 hour trip ended up taking 9.5 hours) and two Knicks tickets of equal value to the ones I paid for. Especially since I missed my chance to see Lebron and Wade, the true “value” of those tickets was probably about twice what I paid for them. But I’m a generous guy. So, two replacement tickets will do, doesn’t have to be against the Heat. And this is in fact what I asked Amtrak for (will update post when I hear back from them).
But through this whole experience, it dawned on me that great customer service is a two-sided beast. Meaning, it takes great empathy and respect on the part of the company delivering the “customer service,” but the company’s practical ability to deliver great experiences (as so deemed by the individual customers) is directly tied to how many “crazies” the business is serving, and how expensive it will be to deal with each crazy person.
Call me crazy. That’s fine. But I’m sure you’ve seen someone lose their shit in a Starbucks because the cashier won’t accept their coupon for a free Latte; or someone demanding a refund for their shitty new Yankee Stadium seats where they can’t see half the field; or some fellow train passenger berating the ticketing guy for a full refund and a free trip to Tahiti because his seat is uncomfortable.
The point is, whatever product or service your business is selling, you’re bound to overlap to some degree with the “crazy” portion of the population. It’s a mistake to assume you won’t. What’s important, for the CEO and operating team, is to think long and hard about dealing with the “crazy” situations, so that there’s a protocol in place — dealing with crazies case by case is dangerous because you leave so much up to the judgement of the specific customer service rep handling the case. I say it’s better to have protocols in place.
And for the investor looking at taking a stake in a new enterprise, it’s important to think about the types/frequency/extremity of “crazies” this or that product or service is likely to encounter. Especially in today’s world of seemingly reasonable people asking a train company for free basketball tickets, you gotta be prepared.
What’s good is that the trend I see is towards better and better customer experiences (meaning the bar for “crazy” is slouching towards crazier and crazier.) I say that’s good because I am much more often a customer of something in my day to day life than an owner, and, as a customer, I freaking love great experiences. If you’re a CEO or founder and just squirmed at the idea that next year you’ll have to give a better customer experience than you did this year, don’t. You can charge more for your product or service if you build the expectation for a beautiful, easy customer experience into your business. I think another trend in tons (not all) of consumer facing product or services is that people are very willing to pay a premium for excellent “user experiences.”
It’s sort of like an insurance policy against bad customer experiences — aka trains being 2.5 hours late. I’d pay a premium if I knew I would be satisfactorily compensated.
And with that, I’ll end my rambling.
Summary of post: great customer service depends on the company and the individual customer. The individual customer needs to be reasonable in his expectations, and the company needs to deal with reasonable complaints in a great way. When starting a new enterprise, be aware that there are “crazy” people out there, and you’re product or service may or may not be a magnet for them. So heads up on that. And lastly, customers are willing to pay more for the expectation of great customer service sort of as if it’s an insurance policy: “Sure, I’ll pay a premium to use your product or service, but if I have issues with it down the road, you had better be able to completely satisfy me and my (potentially crazy) demands.”