Even Big Brown Can Let You Down

We all mess up, heck even Big Brown messes up. My son ordered a new longboard for our spring break trip to Florida. He paid for overnight shipping so that he could make sure the board was there for our Friday departure. After two missed attempts to deliver by UPS during the week, I called to arrange a pick up at the customer service center. At 7:46 pm on Thursday evening I received a call back to tell me that I could pick up the package at the service center if I could drive the 24 miles across Atlanta in the next 14 minutes. With my private helicopter in the shop, I instead opted for a pick up the next morning when they opened at 8 am (pushing back our departure time by an hour).

We arrived at the UPS customer service center, a small office a block from the main distribution center. The clerk at the counter told me that our package would not be “down” until 10 am. I explained we are heading out of town and were told it would be available for pickup at 8 am. The “customer service” agent then told me that the package had been delivered to the distribution center (an entire block away). I asked if someone could walk over to the distribution center to pick it up to which I was told a definitive “NO.” Now defeated, I told them I would pick up the package when we returned a week from Monday. Ms. Customer No Service informed me that the package would only be held for five business days. I would have to call Customer Service to arrange for a longer hold. When I mentioned that they were Customer Service I received a glaring response and a “That is a different department.” When asked if they would let the other Customer Service Department know that I needed longer holding time, the attendant said, “No sir, they have to hear it from the customer.” Once my head stopped spinning, I said “but YOU just heard it from ME the customer.” She gave me a disapproving look as though I had just been caught chewing gum in the classroom. With the obvious stalemate ahead, I turned and left for spring break.

I knew immediately that this encounter was great fodder for an article. However, the lesson I learned changed greatly as I pondered the encounter on my six-hour drive to the gulf coast. My initial thoughts centered on how poorly I had been treated, how angry I was and how this should not happen to a valued client. But as I mulled the events of the morning over in my head, the real story became clear. Be good enough at what you do to survive making a customer temporarily angry.

One of the most repeated phrases I’ve uttered in my twenty-five years of parenthood is “I’m sorry.” I have become very proficient at being less than perfect in my personal life and in my work life. There is no doubt in my mind that our management team and our employees have our customer’s best interest in mind every day; however we still fail to deliver an exceptional customer experience 100% of the time. How can a company survive if it fails to meet client expectations?

The answer is simple. Make yourself and your business essential to your client’s success. UPS has figured this out. While I may have been livid at the clerk and her total disregard for true customer service, at the end of the day I need Big Brown in both my personal and business life. The vast majority of the time, UPS excels in providing the service we request. They do it better than anyone else. If I need to have goods shipped to me (thanks Amazon) or I need to ship goods to clients, then I NEED UPS…PERIOD. I need the reliability of their residential overnight delivery service to compensate for my inability to shop early for Christmas and anniversaries, and I need the reliability of their business delivery service to ensure that my clients receive the goods they ordered on time and undamaged.

How do we become essential to our clients’ success? Three components of UPS’s success come to mind; Systems, People and Partnerships. UPS has some of the most impressive physical and technological systems in the business world. Their distribution network runs like a recently tuned Swiss watch. Their industry leading technology allows their clients to easily track their packages movement throughout the shipping process. UPS does a great job of realizing that their most important people are those employees who interact with the client often (okay, with the exception of Ms. Customer No Service.) UPS drivers are well trained, hardworking, courteous and well paid. This insures they get the best drivers in the industry. The end result is great client interactions. The third component of the UPS client experience is the company’s ability to partner with other firms who need their services to extend their clients reputation. One great example of this is Amazon. If you are an Amazon Prime member like me, then those free shipping spiffs are largely due to their shipping partner UPS being able to provide quick shipping at low prices that Amazon is willing to absorb into the Prime business model.

I am not naïve enough to think that these three principles will work for all of us; however the core components of industry best system management plus well trained and highly motivated employees fit most of our business models. If we invest in improving our delivery systems (workflow processes, technology, etc.) then we will be more efficient and more profitable. If we understand how our client sees us and then use this lens to train our people appropriately, the client interactions will improve along with the entire client experience. Taking the time to understand, document and improve these two components of our business will dramatically affect our relationship to the client.

While there is no “one size fits all” answer to this question, it is incumbent upon us as business leaders and managers to identify the magic mix of products and services that will make us indispensable to our clients. Once we have identified and instituted these services in our business at a high level, we can expect the client to begin to rely on us as a trusted partner in their business.

If your firm needs help in reviewing internal workflows or improving technological systems, our team at Strategies Group would love to help you. Please reach out to us and let us help you become ESSENTIAL to your clients.