What is good customer service?
How do we give it ?
Do we expect too much as customers?
Do some customers elaborate their issues?
Is the compensation culture killing customer service ?
Do managers know how to deal with customer issues?
Why do most companies nowadays try to hide their senior managers from dealing with customer problems ?

Let’s hope the answer to all of the above isn’t

The George Brick Cure for the Difficult Customer.

In the 1970’s I was sales manager of the Peugeot distributors in Northern Ireland, Gowan Garages Ltd.

It was located in Belfast but we were wholly owned by a Dublin based parent company. As mentioned in some other blog this led to fun and games with the various paramilitaries within the conflict as to who had the most justification in blowing up our dealership!

However, as was the case with most businesses in Northern Ireland, you just got on with it, forgot, or set aside your latest setback, and focussed on trying to make  the business successful, or just surviving.

In that business we set our stall out to offer the best customer service possible. Peugeot had some brilliant products at the time and were industry leaders in various important market segments : the long running 404 model was one of the most reliable cars in the world ( and quieter than a Rolls Royce ): the 504 saloon and estate were also quiet and sophisticated in design and performed better than any of their rivals; whilst the 204 and 304 models offered true Gallic style.

We rarely said ” no ” to our customers and this along with the great product and some extremely hard work accelerated our business performance to a level which was significantly better than our British mainland colleagues. We were a small, committed team, who got great satisfaction from responding quickly to requests  or queries  from customers.

“See the whites of their eyes ” was our maxim – whether it was for a sale or handling a problem.

And surely this is at the crux of the whole customer service debacle  today?

Is it me or do many companies today go our of their way to make being contacted by  ” people ” as difficult as possible?

I believe many organizations look at how huge businesses dump their customer relations operations off shore to reduce costs and they see this as a green light for them to barricade themselves inside a protective wall of IT and phone shields which keeps the customer from them – and them from the customer.

How often have you complained- tried to speak to the boss – and got precisely nowhere?

How often has someone said ” they will get back to you ” and bugger all has happened?

Today, in my book, we appreciate “average” customer service as “good “, and “good “customer service as almost non existent.

If we have a problem , and you can get hold of someone who does call you back, and who does make the effort to get a resolution, then, provided these people can make the running , the issue can get parked ,and we can all move on.

At least by most people.

Nowadays , we have this thing called “compensation “.

We live in an increasingly ” grabby ” society. More and more people want something for nothing. More and more people “chance their arm” and often expand the truth to help their cause, because they feel ‘personally affronted and aggrieved’.

What a load of tosh .

Many many times over the years people came at me after “compensation ” and rarely was it handed out. I would have been happy to offer some sort of good will gesture if our service or performance had been unsatisfactory or below that which we should have offered. This  goodwill could take many forms, depending upon the circumstances and franchise – ranging from a valet on their car, to an intimate dinner for two at the Ritz.

The last 26 years of my working life was spent in St Albans and Hatfield working with Porsche .

Most of our customers were highly successful people. People who had worked hard and expected levels of service commensurate with the product. They would usually give you the benefit of the doubt, but if you buggered them around they would know how to strike at the jugular.

Look after them consistently well,  and you had a long standing customer, and equally as important, you had a tremendous business advocate.

That old Belfast maxim still applied – ” See the whites of their eyes ”

If you had a problem call – take it. If you had a letter or email – lift the phone and arrange a meeting. Communication always worked .

Uniquely in my experience, Porsche , as well as attracting these high flying customers also attracted a small minority of ” chancers ” – people who had made money, or who appeared to be making money by any means – legal or otherwise.

They would be good liars and very experienced at complaining. Complaining was a way of life with them – they had a ” ….you  have a problem with me …” attitude with us normal mortals, and were always on the make whether they were dealing with us, a good restaurant ,hotel or whatever.

Bankers would comfortably fall into this category. We had so many issues with banking customers that they were the reason why I agreed to introduce the ” recording of telephone ” calls.

We knew that Bankers in particular would lie and confuse anyone and everyone they spoke to.  And worse still they had a blatant disregard for any person that they would deal with, being consistently rude and ignorant with staff members.

With the introduction of the recorded calls we were able not only to train our staff in the best way to handle difficult conversations – which was extremely beneficial, but also to verify exactly what was said by whom, and when.

As a result, following this introduction, in the space of less than 12 months our customer issues were reduced by over 50%. Time consuming nonsense raised by these City wretches was cut short as the recordings would usually reveal the real story.

Sorry chaps – no personal bail outs available from Hatfield – we have you on tape!

But what’s the “George Brick cure for the difficult customer” did I hear you say?

Back in those Belfast days George was my Service Manager. He was and still remains to this day, the best service manager I ever had. Hard working, extremely organized, firm but fair with his staff, and brilliant with customers.

George was instrumental in completing the circle when it came to delivering our customer service targets .

He was ” old school ” and quite a character. He stood ramrod straight, square jaw, had a red drinkers face with one of those heavily veined noses, and always wore a fresh brown working coat every day ( yes, like Granville in his corner shop ).

He was brilliant and everyone loved him – especially the customers.

But one customer pushed him just too far.

Dr. Dunfries was an extremely difficult man who George never said no to. And when I say extremely I mean tsunami extremely !

Over the years ( he bought 3 cars from us ), the bold Doctor demanded more and more of George – even getting his secretary to book him in ” that” day for George to empty his ash tray ( he didn’t want to get his own hands dirty  ! ). He would normally not book his car into the workshop he would just arrive, see George, and demand he was dealt with immediately, irrespective of how busy we were at the time.

And he seemed to call in at least 2 or three times each week to take advantage of George’s good nature.

It was starting to show on George.

When the Doctor would leave George would come over to me, light a fag and say, amongst other things –  ” does that effing man think I’ve got men hanging from the rafters – just for his personal use !”

I suggested that George speak to him but he wouldn’t do it.

I  offered to speak to him on George’s behalf, but George wouldn’t have it.

He would resolve the issue and resolve it once and for all, he said.

Anyway, later that week, Dr Dunfries’s secretary rang once again and told George this time  that the cars tax disc holder  had started to lift off the windscreen and that he was coming in shortly to have George stick it back on for him. ( I know, the straw that broke the camels back…)

So, in came the bold Doctor, and George was effusive in his dealings with him – making a great fuss of this pain in the neck , despite the fact that he was exceptionally busy .

With the tax disc back on the screen  and as the Doctor was walking towards his car George came over to me , handed me his brown coat, put his arms around me and said how much he had enjoyed working with me, but he had had enough and was leaving for good – there and then!

And he just walked out the door – despite my protests and attempts to stop him.

So as we saw George walking slowly up the road, never to be seen again, directly outside of the Garage another drama was taking place.

As Dr Dunfries was waiting to enter into the traffic to cross the road, a white Transit van sat in the road opposite.

When his Peugeot moved off into the gap in the traffic the Transit pounced, driving straight  into the front and side of the Peugeot. Two young men then jumped out of the van, opened the drivers door of the car, pulled out Dr Dunfries, beat him up, and left him lying beside the car before running away to a waiting car.

Fortunately the doctor wasn’t badly hurt – just some cuts and bruises and some sore ribs. The car however was quite a mess and took many weeks to get back on the road, it’s repair being interrupted by another bombing near our buildings.

What happened to George?

I telephoned the house but could never get to talk to him.

I called around numerous times but he was apparently never there.

So, eventually I moved on and got another manager in to replace him.

Just before I came over to work in England , a couple of years later, I received a hand delivered note which was from George .

In the note he apologized  for his behavior and sudden departure  – but told  me that Dr Dunfries  had finally got to him and he just had to do something about it. So using contacts he had in the UDA ( Ulster Defence Force – a Protestant paramilitary organization ), he decided to ” get his own back ” on the Doctor – and had arranged the road accident and beating !

He said it had given him great satisfaction to sort the bastard out, but knew he shouldn’t have done it.

The fact that he was now ” involved ” with this same paramilitary organization made it easier for me to let the matter drop.

Not a resolution I would recommend to anyone as a means of resolving customer issues.

Not even with Bankers .