the Art of Customer Service

Posted on July 14, 2012

There has been a lot of stuff in the news this week about banks potentially losing business because of the nation’s anger towards them after they have been exposed in one scandal after another. It is as if though they are all in a race to see who the most dastardly cretin amongst them is, with Barclays currently out in front after the Libor scandal. A common thing you hear is that you are more likely to get divorced than change your bank and with me this certainly the case, I have banked with the HSBC (formerly Midland) since 1986 and I was married from 1995 to 2008. So rather than being an urban myth it is probably the case, the only thing you are less likely to change is your football team.

I wasn’t always with the HSBC, I had a brief flirtation with the Nat West in Mortimer (where I think I still have £2.00) and I was also a holder of a Barclays Supersaver account. However, Mortimer was too far to travel and Barclays gave me the sack for deliberately attempting to go illegally overdrawn, so from then on it was the Midland Bank that had the pleasure of my business. As the HSBC, they now have my mortgage, my current account and my business account, meaning that if they did collapse, I would be, for want of a better term, royally fucked.

Could I get a better service with Nat West, Lloyds, Nationwide or Barclays? I very much imagine that jumping from one High Street Bank to another would be a largely fruitless exercise and the truth is that if my bank manager placed on his feet a pair of hobnail boots and took a one hundred yard run up before executing a perfectly timed volley that crushed my testicles in to oblivion, I probably still wouldn’t change. However, it is unlikely he will do that, because he is quite a decent and likable young chap who doesn’t seem intent on selling me insurance for everything from my kitchen kettle to my baby toenail. And that’s how customer service works for me, if I like someone and the feeling is mutual, everything is just dandy.

When I look at the people who benefit financially from me, they are all people I quite like not as friends, but human beings; in my eyes, my accountant, my payroll facilitator and my bank manager are all people who I feel at ease with. My old accountant (Brian) from Brighton was a marvellous bloke, a chain smoking, beer swilling mathematical genius who operated in an office that was like walking in to a 1963 Dennis Potter play. He was tremendous company and I was genuinely upset when he died, I still miss his tales of life in 1960’s Brighton. After his death, my accountancy practice lost its personal touch so rather than staying put, I moved to a chap in Winchester who I used to share office space with and though he is a completely different character to Brian, he isn’t an unflappable robot and I quite like that in someone.

Most customers I have think that I’m an alright sort of bloke, of course cost comes in to it, but a sense of common decency and flexibility generally wins the day with good clients. Some don’t like me, but the feeling is normally mutual, the last one who stopped using my service got all indignant because I wanted paying and I know another who would only deal with me if I grew huge breasts, which I don’t intend to do, at least until he wins some better projects. After years of experience I can tell whether a good business relationship will develop the instant I walk in to a meeting, it is an extinct that is not unique, it’s like everything, it all about hours on the job.

I think the biggest tip I could ever offer to someone starting in customer service or sales is to never attempt to be a friend or probe in to the personal life of a customer, I hate that and so do most people I know, yet many companies still allow their employees to do it. Some dickhead rang me the other day from a payroll company that wanted my business and immediately asked me what my plans for the weekend were, that ended it for me before price was even mentioned. People don’t want suppliers who are looking for friends, like I said earlier; my bank manager is, on the face of it a decent bloke, but an evening out with him and his wife couldn’t be further from my mind or his. Even Brian my accountant, a great bloke, was not a friend; I only met him twice a year for business reasons. Of course some friendships do develop over time, but they are organic, not instant and I would strongly suggest that you don’t use the friendship tactic; you will lose far more customers than you gain.

So unless my bank manager asked to be my friend I will not be changing banks, but if you are in a company that encourages the friendship method, I suggest you leave that company before your dignity leaves you.

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