David Burda, news editor for Modern Healthcare, told me a story last week that's almost too absurd to believe. As many of us do, Burda likes to enjoy a hot cup of coffee before he starts grappling with the workday. So on the way into work he stops at a place near the office and picks up his morning nourishment. On this particular morning, as Burda was paying for his drink, he heard a loud pounding noise and then someone ringing a bell. It took a few seconds for him to realize what the problem was. Someone or some people apparently were stuck in an elevator that was only a few yards from where he was standing.
Burda tells the story this way: "I asked the woman at the cash register if she was hearing the same thing I was. She almost gave the impression she knew what was happening but didn't really care. She told me someone's probably coming to fix it. She also said she'd call security, but didn't seem to be in any hurry."
Burda was somewhat startled by the fact that the woman didn't show much concern or inclination to take action. In fact, she thought it was pretty funny. It was as though it didn't really matter and was an interruption of her routine. Well, Burda isn't that kind of person. So he hiked down the hall to "security." He told the man at the security station that someone apparently was trapped in the elevator and needed help. Burda was told: "That isn't my elevator." When Burda persisted, the man repeated himself with some hostility: "I told you, that isn't my elevator!" Burda asked: "So you're just going to leave the person there?" Again, the man said: "That isn't my elevator."
Burda, realizing there wasn't much more he could do, simply removed himself from the scene. Who knows how long that person or people were in the elevator. But think about it. What a way for those in authority to react to people in need. And what a way to treat customers. What was scary to Burda and everyone who's heard the story is there was no sense of urgency to come to their aid.
That kind of "who cares" attitude seems to be gaining ground in many establishments. Something is very wrong when more books than ever are being written about quality customer service and more and more companies are supposedly focusing on service, but to no measurable effect. Yes, some businesses do a great job, showing dedication to the highest-quality service no matter how small the problem. But day to day most of us put up with mediocre-often dismal-customer service because we feel helpless to do anything about it. It shouldn't be that way. Customers, just by walking out the door, have the power to change bad behavior.
Top management also must buy into good customer service. Otherwise it won't happen. It has to be a total commitment by the top person to make sure everyone in the company knows what's expected and how critical good customer relations are to the success of the organization. Talking isn't enough. It has to be followed with lots of training. To make sure they deliver the goods, employees have to be treated well by their employers. It's extremely hard for disenfranchised employees to offer good service. They have to feel good about themselves before they can provide customers the service that makes a business rise above the rest of the crowd.
It starts at the top,
Charles S. Lauer