Thursday, July 03, 2008

Dispatch from the front lines

Yesterday, I was trying to call a former business associate who had recently changed jobs. So I went to his new company's website, dialed the contact number and instead of the usual if-you-know-the-extension-press-it-now greeting, I reached the customer help line.

The woman was effusively polite and requested my name; and I was happy to oblige.

She then asked me what the problem was and I said I don't have a problem, I'm just trying to reach John Hancock (minor reference for anyone who's seen the movie), who works at the company. It was then I realized I'd made an error and asked if she could please connect me with the corporate office.

'Oh no', the perky woman replied. 'We can't do that.'

'You can't give me the number?'

'No, I'm afraid not.'

I felt myself getting a little hot under the collar, as my dad used to say. And I realized this was not worth an argument or even more of a challenge. I told her I would find the number another way, went to online directory assistance and had it in under two minutes.

My point is that here's a bit of public information and the customer help line folks aren't able/allowed/inclined to give it out.

That's not much help at all.

I've been to a number of business sessions lately where customer service has been identified as a company's best shot at making a positive first impression with customers. As a way of building strong relationships. But to do that you need to talk openly to people, offer useful suggestions, communicate.

Some businesses - certain cell phone companies that ask for your phone number after you've already entered it spring to mind - still have a long way to go.

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