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Bill Kalmar

Quality Insider

Quality and Customer Service On the Rebound?

That was the week that was!

Published: Thursday, May 7, 2009 - 07:51


ost of us, I suspect, have had a week that we would prefer relegating to our mental recycle bin. But every now and then we have a week that is truly remarkable. I recently had such a week that soundly confirmed my contention that customer service is rebounding and doing so in large leaps. (If our Detroit Pistons had rebounded better, perhaps we wouldn’t have been swept in the first round of the playoffs, but that’s a column for another time). Permit me to illustrate how a series of interactions with various companies in a one-week span left me ebullient, energized, and enthused.

Early in the week, I noticed that my OnStar subscription was expiring after one year of free service on my new Chevy Impala (Yes, living in Michigan means we buy U.S.-built cars). When contacted by the OnStar representative, I indicated that there was some uncertainly on my part about renewing the service. On the other hand, the “OnStar Turn by Turn Navigation System” had bailed me out on numerous occasions when we became disoriented while driving in unfamiliar areas, so I was reluctant to be on my own without it. The rep assumed that I needed more time to cogitate on the renewal, so he offered me three free months that will carry me through the summer, which is when we do much of our driving. So I don’t need to renew until the end of July. And it will give me ample time to use up the many minutes still remaining on the in-car phone.

Then I received a call from AT&T. Because we have a landline phone,  cable TV, and wireless for our computer, all from AT&T, we qualify for a $15 reduction on our landline phone. Normally people have to discover these discounts on their own, so I found it interesting that AT&T initiated the call. The polite young lady also offered us a free cell phone if we switched to AT&T from Verizon, but Verizon's $75 cancellation fee deterred me from doing so. Hmm, maybe AT&T will pay for that also. I will certainly make mention of that when the rep calls again. In any event, the deal on the landline phone just meant more money in our pockets and the week had just begun.

We then called AT&T U-Verse to discuss why one of our TV channels had been eliminated. It seems that we've had an HBO comedy channel since we subscribed to AT&T cable and for whatever reason it was provided in error. To compensate us for losing a channel we weren’t supposed to have in the first place, AT&T offered to give us all the HBO channels for free for three months. In addition, the rep noticed that my wireless speed could be accelerated so he gave us three months of a speedier package at no extra cost. He then topped it off by offering to send us a check for $40, which we received days later. Are you keeping track of all the money we are saving and the level of customer service we are encountering?

Last week, it was also time to purchase a new pair of running shoes, so we went to our favorite shop in Lake Orion—Hanson’s Running Store. Once again the company initiated the discussion of a discount, which is something completely unexpected. The clerk noticed that I was a frequent buyer of running shoes over the last three years, so he took $35 off the purchase of a $100 pair of shoes and also gave me a coupon for $25 off the next pair. I asked him if the new shoes would guarantee that I would win all my races.

A trip to K-Mart to make a purchase gave us our next windfall. A container of hair spray marked $3.40 rang up as $3.90. Well, you know the drill—Michigan law states that if the marked price differs from the register price the customer receives the difference (in this case 50 cents) along with another $5. Thus we walked out of K-Mart with the hairspray and $5.50 in our pocket. (Can you picture all the money bulging in my wallet and the coins jingling in my pocket?)

A frequent diner’s club coupon at Uno’s Chicago Pizza gave us a free meal, as did a similar coupon at Andiamo’s Italian Restaurant. It sure pays to belong to all those frequent diner clubs. Most of the clubs recognize your birthday by e-mailing discount coupons.

To wrap up the week, we bought a Shark Floor Steaming machine at Kohl’s that had been reduced by $20 along with a $10 coupon we had received in the mail—it was almost as if they were buying it for us. Because the purchase was more than $50, we received a coupon for $10 on our next purchase.

What with the weak economy and companies looking for ways to attract and retain customers, it came as no surprise to me that customer service has been ratcheted up significantly. All the interactions we had with store personnel either in person or on the phone were top-notch, professional, and extremely helpful, a far cry from what may have been occurring years ago when the economy was booming. Back then, it was a seller’s market. Now the tables have turned and companies and store personnel are looking for ways to differentiate themselves from the competition.

Each positive experience we have with a merchant solidifies our relationship with that company. In the case of OnStar, it’s highly likely that when the three months expires I will seriously consider renewing my contract. Of course, I will be returning to Hansons Running Store because of the $25 coupon I received. And if AT&T really wants me as a cell phone customer, I suspect that we will come to some agreement on my cancellation fee from Verizon. All in all these companies are looking for ways to shore up their customer base, and frankly, I think they’re doing an exceptional job. They certainly have gotten my attention.

As you can see, it was a week to revel in. Now I’m going to check my Lotto ticket. With the luck we've been having lately, coupled with extraordinary customer service, my next column for QualityInsider might just be written from Bali. And with any extra luck, the airfare might be free. I wonder if the pilot would like to utilize my free OnStar.


About The Author

Bill Kalmar’s picture

Bill Kalmar

William J. Kalmar has extensive business experience, including service with a Fortune 500 bank and the Michigan Quality Council, of which he served as director from 1993 through 2003. He served on the Board of Overseers of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program and has been a Baldrige examiner. He was also named quality professional of the year by the ASQ Detroit chapter. Now semi-retired, Kalmar does freelance writing for several publications. He is a member of the USA Today Vacation Panel, a mystery shopper for several companies, and a frequent presenter and lecturer.