Volume 48, Issue 1 - January 2013


Lost in Translation
The Ins and Outs of Good Customer Service
by Mike Kelley

Customer service is a dicey business. Whoever said the customer is always right got it wrong. Responsible customer service includes explaining to customers when they are wrong and why. That requires a great deal of finesse. The responsible customer service representative (CSR) should be able to explain to a customer why it is in everyone’s best interest not to fulfill a certain request; one that might not be wise or one that cannot be completed. Keep in mind, though, that a customer should never feel embarrassed by his or her request, no matter how unreasonable it might seem.

Puzzling Matters
Consider this customer service tale of years past. About 30 years ago I was on an industry tour of China. Those in our group were quite puzzled by a large number of windows where the glass did not fill the sash. Sometimes there was as much as two inches between the sash frame and edge of the glass. We questioned our hosts at length, but they had difficulty understanding what we were asking.

Then one day our group, without our hosts, found our way into a retail glass shop and had an in-depth conversation with the store workers. With a lot of gestures and help from the translator, we were able to learn that in those days, glass shops in China could not afford to throw away glass. Back then China did not have any float lines. The country did not have a safety glass industry, a mirror glass industry, an insulating glass industry or an automotive glass industry—yet they had five times the population of the United States. So when it came to glazing projects, the entire stock sheet was used, even if some of the lites did not fill the sash.

What If?
Of course that seemed bizarre to us, but imagine the conversation that customer must have had with the CSR. I can imagine that discussion might have gone something like this:

CSR: Glass Company. How may I help you?
Customer: I have 30, 36- x 24-inch windows to put glass in.
CSR: Wonderful. We can fill 22, but eight will have a 2-inch gap on the short side.
Customer: I don’t want a gap.
CSR: What if you stuffed newspaper in the gap?
Customer: That would be ugly.
CSR: If we fill all of the gaps it would require another stock sheet and double the cost of your order.
Customer: We have plenty of newspaper. We will take the gap.

This may be somewhat of a humorous portrayal, but at the end of the conversation, the customer understood that the glass company wasn’t being unreasonable. The company had offered what, at the time, was a reasonable solution that would be best for all. Today, of course, the Chinese glass industry has certainly changed. Just 25 years after my visit, the country had 160 float lines and was thriving in all areas of glass production. I am sure they have very different customer service issues now.

Mike Kelley manages special projects for TriStar Glass in Catoosa, Okla. His column appears bi-monthly.

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