Monday, January 10, 2011

Customer Disservice: When Personal Drama Effects Professional Drive

Steve is having a financial crisis. Steve is in over his head and is quickly running out of options. He says he has sterling credit and a home that is worth far more than the remaining mortgage, yet he cannot get a home equity loan. Steve has children that are in college and is struggling to find the money he needs while putting the kids through school. How do I know all of this? Steve is a tour guide in Boston. More specifically, Steve was my tour guide in Boston.

My family and I just returned from Boston for a trip that was part business, but mostly pleasure. As January in Boston is not known for its mild weather, we opted to spend our sightseeing hours in the comfort of one of the tour trolleys that proliferate this beautiful and historic city. We felt that we made a wise choice when our guide, Mike, was not only knowledgeable and entertaining, but also personalized the tour as we were the only group on the trolley while we were riding with him.

What did Mike do right? He learned about my husband and me by asking questions, then pointed out items and fun facts that he thought would specifically pertain to what we most enjoyed. When we stopped for a 15 minute potty break, he gave us directions to the cleanest restroom for changing the baby and even a spot where we could get a free chocolate milk for our four year old son. Before we hopped off the trolley for lunch, he made suggestions for eating establishments and assured us that we could pop back on any of the trolleys at any time and would receive exceptional service.

Mike was right about dining (I ordered the chocolate sambuca cake he suggested and he was right, I nearly died from joy), but he was wrong about the service of his fellow tour guide. Steve offered to drive us directly to our hotel rather than make the customary stops, but the excellent service ended there. As soon as we were on board, Steve fired up his cell phone and spent half of the ride negotiating finances. When he was off, he apologized, then proceeded to tell us of his financial difficulties until he was near tears and even my eight-month old seemed uncomfortable. Noticing the looks my husband and I were exchanging, he apologized again, pointed out the architecture of a building nearby, then promptly dove into a diatribe on the banking industry and the economy in general.

What did Steve do wrong? Basically, everything. Whereas Mike allowed his personal experiences to enhance his customer service, Steve allowed his personal experiences to not only interfere but to completely overwhelm the task at hand. Steve’s lack of professionalism affected him personally as he received a smaller tip from us, and it also affected the company as a whole. Whereas our experience with the first tour guide left us wanting more, the experience with number two cost the company repeat business and valuable word of mouth. Imagine Steve conducting tours eight hours a day, five days each week, fifty weeks per year. Granted, he may not always be experiencing a “financial crisis” (his words), but it is clear that he does not know when to leave his personal life at home and it became clear to us that the tour company does not put customer service first.

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