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Okay … but what about the coffee filters?

May 23, 2011
Mary Jane Copps

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About 10 years ago I was working with a software developer, helping him expand his client base throughout Atlantic Canada. The owner of a business in Prince Edward Island called us. He had heard great things about the software and, after I answered his extensive list of questions, he purchased it. It was one of those lovely, straightforward sales – which then became my biggest lesson in customer service.

You see the owner of the clinic was not the one that used the software – that was the office manager, a woman who, it turned out, had not been consulted about this purchase and who was very attached to her existing system.

Providing this woman with support became a daily challenge that tested both her patience and mine. It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with our software, it just didn’t do things the way she wanted them done. She expressed her frustration to us and to her boss and eventually, after many difficult conversations and long, detailed letters, we ended the relationship.

I vowed never to end up in that situation again. I still work for that software developer and I tell prospective clients that they have 30 days to preview the software; that it’s important they make sure it suits their business. We want happy clients more than we want the occasional quick sale.

Why am I sharing this with you? Well, I was reminded of the value of this philosophy last week; this time I was the customer.

For the past 6 years or so my husband and I have taken short holidays every spring somewhere in Atlantic Canada. We’ve been able to explore and enjoy The Bay of Fundy, the Shelburne area, Nova Scotia’s South Shore and several locations in Prince Edward Island. Because we choose to take these vacations in the spring, we are usually offered a bit of a discount on the cabin of our choice and we always have a wonderful time. It’s become our tradition.

This spring our opportunity for this holiday coincided with my delivering workshops in Fredericton. The internet was our way of finding a location in the Miramichi. We chose a salmon fishing lodge, which, although their restaurant and lodge were still closed, were willing to offer us a cabin. I spoke briefly with the owner and then finalized the details with the operations manager. I did discuss a discount but none was offered and I assumed that was related to the demand for fly-fishing locations.

We arrived at about 6 pm on Saturday night and we were delighted with the log cabin, the woodstove. I put away our groceries and began to organize supper. Discovering that the cupboards didn’t contain a salad bowl was a bit of a surprise, but fine – the website did say “rustic”. I then went to open a tin of tuna only to discover no can opener. “Well,” I thought, “True camper types probably have a can opener with them.” So I changed my mind and opened a can of soup with a flip lid. When I went to serve it I discovered there were no bowls of any kind in the cupboard – and no salt and pepper. Again I thought that perhaps the onus was on us, that we should have been better prepared.

As we went to bed that night we realized we had another difficulty – a very old and uncomfortable mattress. “Is this really what people pay for? Is this part of the experience?” I asked myself.

But it was the next morning when I lost my ability to empathize. I went to put my fresh ground coffee (yes, I do travel with a coffee grinder) in the provided coffee machine on the counter and discovered … no coffee filters! “No way, “ I thought. “Even camping types wouldn’t carry a variety of coffee filters in their car!”

The shower added to my frustration. Yes, it was a very utilitarian shower and that was fine, but the shower curtain was too small and ripped around the small ring holes at the top (although an attempt had been made to repair this with tape) and there was no way to take a shower without getting a lot of water on the cabin’s lovely hardwood floors. So sad!

If all these things are part of the rustic experience then, like the office manager with our software, I am not the right customer for this setting and I think it was up to the owner and the operations manager to uncover that, point me towards more suitable lodgings. Or, alternatively, they could have provided a list at their website of all the things to bring along. It would have been easy for us to pack some bowls, coffee filters, can opener – even a shower curtain! Of course, if I’m bringing all those things with me, I’m not paying top price for the cabin.

Of course, the biggest problem was the mattress and on Sunday evening I knew I couldn’t stay for all the nights we’d booked. I was going to end up with a stiff neck, a tight back, or both. We cancelled part of our booking, let the operations manager know about the mattress and, oh yes, the leak in the roof.

The moral of the story – stay vigilant about improving customer service. So many of the things we encountered in what I now refer to as our “Miramichi adventure” are easily fixed simply by thinking about the customer.

But more importantly, don’t accept the fast sale if you can’t service the customer. Saying “no” is better than dealing with a disappointed customer – especially one with a blog!

A big thank you to the folks at the University of New Brunswick, Fredericton for a lovely day. I appreciate your faith in me and look forward to an opportunity to work with you again.

My next post is likely two weeks from now. I’ll be spending several days in the Valley next week and then off to Toronto. I wish you all well with your phonework!

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