April 23, 2009

Customer Service -- the Good and the Bad

Ok, I'll admit upfront that this isn't a green posting exactly. But I was thinking about customer service after an interesting comment at the Fortune Brainstorm Green event i just went to in California (more posts to come). One attendee said he had seen analysis on companies with high customer service scores (by some independent organization that ranks customer service) vs. those with lower marks for pleasing customers. Through this decade, apparently, the higher group started having a significant advantage in stock market performance. To stretch the analogy to green, perhaps companies that get the intangibles right -- including some aspects of connecting to customers around social and environmental issues -- will be rewarded. The context of this comment was in a session on investing in greener companies and the higher performance (and lower risk) of greener stocks. The session included the always funny and interesting Matt Kiernan, founder of Innovest and one of the true experts on green investing.

But anyway, I was in customer service mindset when I drove my Hertz Prius back to LAX and had two diametrically opposed customer experiences within 5 minutes.
A few blocks from Hertz is the gas station, AM PM Arco, right on La Cienega and W. Century Blvd. Everyone stopping there was filling up a rental. When you pull up to the pump, there are no instructions and you can't put any money in. A helpful gentleman pointed to a central payment station. But that didn't take credit cards. So you have to go in, wait in line, give them a credit card...which they keep and make you come back in for. When I came back in and waited for register, I got to the 'wrong' one and had to wait for the other guy with my card (handing it over was not possible I guess). So nobody was rude exactly, but the only helpful part of the process was the homeless guy out front making a living helping people negotiate this byzantine process.

So cut to 10 minutes later at Hertz. I get on the courtesy bus #26 driven by John, the single best bus driver I've every had. He paused the bus before we left the Hertz parking lot and asked if everyone was sure they hadn't left anything in their cars. Then he told us what to do if we realized we left something in the car later, or even left something in the bus -- "call us and i'll turn my bus around and come back to your terminal." He offered candy to everyone and helped every person on and off the bus. It was remarkable. I actually sent an email through the Hertz website to commend him.

Yes, it's sad when people doing their job well is so noticeable, but we've come to that. It's relatively easy to be remarkable in this environment, so why not? (see the work of Seth Godin and the "purple cow" concept for more on this.

So, a strange Earth Day-week post from me. I'm sure there's a green connection here (like being remarkable, which truly green-focused companies generally are -- think Patagonia -- pays off), but I won't stretch too far to find it.

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