What is Good Customer Service

Defining good customer service is tricky. The goal in any interaction with the customer is to have the customer come away satisfied, and willing to say good things about the company. But, sometimes things just go wrong, and neither the cause nor the solution is obvious. Here is an example of a problem with which I am struggling.

An Evenlevel customer that lives a thousand miles away from Evenlevel’s HQ, purchased a car through Evenlevel. The car was a thousand miles away from the customer and from Evenlevel. Evenlevel never recommended the car, or said this was a good car, but simply bought the car and arranged transportation. The car had a condition report provided by the auction, I ordered a post sale inspection, and also extended a 3 day return policy (3 days after receiving the car, not after purchase) as specified in our purchase arrangement.

No surprise, but a fairly significant issue has arisen. Without specifics on the mechanics, the previous owner had tried to modify something they shouldn’t have, voiding the warranty on the part (this is an ’07 car). The auction has offered to take back the car, but I’m fairly certain the customer would rather keep the car at this point. Obviously as the dealer I am responsible for the transaction, but the deal was as-is, except the return policy.

When I try to imagine my self in the customers position, I can see expecting the dealer to pay for it. The car is an ’07, under manufacturer’s warranty, no disclosure was made about material alterations, and a reasonable person should not expect an issue like this to arise. On the other hand, as the dealer, I didn’t pick out the car, make any warranties about the car, and extended a return policy that has since lapsed. Finally, add in the fact that as we are winding Evenlevel down, I would like to return as much money as possible back to the investors, after all, it’s not my money.

Good customer service is difficult because it requires balancing the needs of the different company stakeholders, the future of the business, and the wants of the customer. Difficult situations often require compromise that can leave all parties feeling unsatisfied. And full disclosure of the cause of a situation can actually make things worse by confusing different stakeholders that may not understand the process. A fine touch, an understanding of people and their motives, and balancing everyone’s needs make for good customer service. Customer service is an art of negotiation.

2 responses to “What is Good Customer Service

  1. That’s a tough one. You’re right, sometimes the best compromise actually leaves ALL parties involved feeling unsatisfied. For someone like me (and it sounds like you too) who puts such an emphasis on customer service, it’s not easy when you can’t make everyone happy, but you have to realize it’s bound to happen from time to time.

    To answer the question in your posting title, I think good customer service is doing the best you can, in the interest of the customer more so than the investors. It’s like the guy who has 20 plates spinning in the air on sticks…which plate is the most valuable that you want to avoid dropping? Sure, you want to return as much money to the investors as possible, but investing in startups has an inherent risk.

    Now that all sounds good as I’m writing, but if I were in your shoes I might see it differently too.

  2. Guy Kawasaki’s “The Art of Customer Service” (http://blog.guykawasaki.com/2006/04/the_art_of_cust.html) applies here. Although you’re not obligated to the customer, you could still overdeliver on your original promises by helping him to fix the problem. The unusual thing that seems to pose a problem in this circumstance is that the car never passed through your hands, so it wasn’t possible to fix the issue with the car before it became a customer service problem – a benefit that a traditional dealer might have. It would be easy to pass the blame here and say that it was carelessly missed in the post-sale inspection, but you also don’t know that your customer didn’t attempt to modify the car himself and break something in the process. The timing seems a little coincidental too – if it was due to a previous modification, it would have in all likelihood been there when he took delivery. In any case, the fact that you’re considering breaking your own policies to ensure that your customer is satisfied speaks volumes to the honesty and transparency you were trying to inject into the auto retail industry.

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