Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Cuttin' Slack for Good Customer Service

I called the garage where my car is being worked on today. It's been two days. They’re usually pretty prompt. Al answered the phone. He’s a nice guy with a thick accent that I can’t place, though it's somewhere in America’s Northeast. Al explained that it’d been a hectic day and they were “working on it.” Having a hectic day myself, I understood. In fact, I’ll bet our jobs aren’t much different, Al’s and mine. (And agencies love to call themselves "shops.")

When I think about it, my job now isn’t much different from many jobs. When I was a room service waiter at a resort in San Diego years ago, we’d arrive at 3 in the afternoon, get buried in work, help each other out, run around like mad dogs trying to keep ahead of the rush, find a brief lull where we caught our breath, then another rush, unexpected complaints and do-overs, solve problems, sneak a beer, (we had a friend in Purchasing who kept us stocked in iced-down Heineken) clean up the area, restock and shut the place down at 11:00 and go home. Same here, except for the sneak a beer part. Probably the same for Al at the garage. Or an emergency room surgeon. Or a Navy chaplain. An automotive designer. A Defense Department programmer. Elementary school janitor. OK, we're not saving lives or protecting the Pentagon's servers where I work, but you get the idea. We’re all keeping ahead of the rush, solving problems and going home.

At day's end Craig from the garage called me. "What's up?" I inquired cheerily, fully expecting the "Come pick up your car," notice. "I screwed up and ordered the wrong part," Craig said, "It won't be ready until tomorrow. But I thought I'd just give you the news upfront rather than beat around the bush."

Craig screwed up. He was honest about it. We're out of a car for another day. But we'll deal. And the same garage will get our business next time the car needs servicing. They always treat us fairly.

When we're straight with clients, even when we're late on a job due to our own screw-ups, we're likely to get some slack cut our way.

Someday I’m going to bring a case of beer, on ice, to Al, Craig and their crew.

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