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Great Customer Service Is Much More Than a Smile

SmileI had an interesting experience recently. While trying to pay my GST remittance to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) online I ran into some problems.

The CRA website stated that my bank (BMO) would accept my payment through their online banking system. It was simply a matter of adding them as a payee and paying the amount through my personal account (strange) rather than my business account.

In the process of trying to add the CRA as a payee - the details aren't that important to this story - I ran into problems getting the CRA added as a payee. Thus, a phone call to my local branch. In fact, several phone calls.

To be fair, before I get to my point, my local branch does a great job of providing professional, friendly and welcoming service for the most part. They create a good first and ongoing impression when it comes to the day-to-day service basics. And as someone who spent close to twenty years in the banking industry, I know that having staff that deliver this kind of front-end service day-in and day-out is not as easy as it may seem. It's not enough to hire the right staff, it requires ongoing training, encouragement, incentives (not just the cash kind) and accountability to sustain and grow this kind of a culture.

But, the point to this long preamble is that the great customer service I experience on a regular basis from my financial institution is only surface deep. Yes, the staff are always pleasant and welcoming, but when it comes to investing time in helping to solve a problem, that's where things can breakdown.

Rather than taking time to help solve the problem now, instead of later, the very pleasant person I dealt with was gracious and apologetic and suggested I contact their telephone-banking centre for their assistance in fixing the problem. That was not the surprising part of our conversation. What I found disconcerting was this comment, "and if they're not able to help you, call me back and I'll call them about getting it done." Huh? This was the comment made after we had spoken about the problem a couple of times and after I had waited on hold while she conferred with, I'm guessing, her supervisor.

This little rant really isn't about the BMO - other than the fact that the frustrating and time-consuming experience prompted me to write this piece. Overall I find BMO very good to deal with, and thankfully I rarely have problems that require more than a surface level of service.

But today's experience highlights, I think, the fact that a friendly smile and a pleasant demeanor are not in and of themselves the essence of great customer service. They are important and foundational, for sure. But where the rubber really meets the road, where good service is distinct from excellent service, is the willingness to do a little extra, to go the extra mile, and to invest time and energy in really helping clients solve their problems ... even when those problems may be of their own making (and that was not the case for me today).

In this experience, the service provider could have spent the time they spent commiserating and apologizing for the frustration, by acting on getting the problem resolved. Of course, solving the problem isn't always possible, and in those cases the commiserating and apologizing can be helpful. But before getting to that place, showing a willingness to actually help try to solve the problem and taking steps to actually do so, would have helped strengthen my appreciation and sense of loyalty towards the organization.

In the world we live in today, where customer satisfaction and dissatisfaction can easily turn viral, this 'extra mile' type of service, practiced consistently, will go a long way in helping to build and strengthen one's brand/reputation. And a strong brand reputation usually means a strong bottom line.

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