The ultimate test of customer service is how you deal with problems

customer service

My holiday in the sunny Dordogne is by now a distant memory. Well, almost. You see when I got back from France, I had a surprise. A nasty one. The car-hire charges came in at double what I was expecting. It’s not the first time it’s happened. Last year, I went to Rome with a friend. We decided not to pay the extortionate fee for a second driver, so it was just me at the wheel. But when I got back, I found I’d been charged for an extra driver. I phoned them to find out why. OK, they said, let’s just pull up the record, and…oh yes, the second driver was called Kevin Walsh. And the first driver, I mused? Erm, let’s see. That would be…Kevin Walsh. I got a refund.

Circles within circles

This time around, there was no extra driver. To complicate matters, I hadn’t booked direct with the car-hire company, but with a website that promised to scour the web to find the best deals. So my complaint went to them. They’d quoted a price that hadn’t been honoured. Right, they said. You see we quote exclusive of VAT, and they charged inclusive. Even then, the figures didn’t tally, so they gave me a partial refund. And the rest? That was for fuel, they said. But I’d been told specifically to bring the car back as empty as possible, and I’d be charged €20 for what had been in the tank originally. I’d agreed to the €20. But what about the extra charge on top of that – another €110? Fuel, they said again, as if I hadn’t heard the first time. You see the problem. And so, from the website (based in Ireland) to the rental company customer-service centre (based in the UK) to the local office (a franchise, based in France) my complaint has been batted back and forth. I’m still waiting, three weeks on.

Mirror, signal, manoeuvre

Customer-service promises are easy to make. But the real test is what happens is when things go wrong. When I was at Microsoft, I had one boss who had a novel way of dealing with people who’d been caught in the endless loop of customer complaints. First, he’d assume they were telling the truth (it’s amazing how many people think all customers lie). Then, he’d call them personally and turn on the charm. He’d apologise, and listen. And then listen a bit more. Finally, he’d ask them for their full postal address. Why? For the free software product he was sending them to make amends. It worked every time.