Sunday 22 April 2018

Red alert showed how real customer service can deliver

The communicator: Gina London
The communicator: Gina London

Gina London

I'd like to present to you, The Case of the Missing Gown, also known as, 'Watch How Many Communications Lessons Gina Can Draw from One Story'. Let me set the scene.

I was in Dublin on a recent Monday evening, preparing to lead two days of presentation training, when my phone rang. It was one of the organisers for the upcoming Deloitte Best Managed Companies Awards Gala I was to emcee.

We chatted and then she closed our conversation with a cheery, "See you Thursday."

"Thursday?!" I thought the event was on Friday. Oh no!

Like so many Irish events affected by that snowy Beast from the East, Deloitte was forced to reschedule its originally planned Friday night event - to a Thursday. Somehow, I had mistakenly placed the revised date in my head and on my calendar for the Friday instead.

Since I live in Cork, I had only packed for my Tuesday and Wednesday training days. I envisioned taking the train home late Wednesday.

I'd spend time with my daughter, repack for the black-tie affair with the fabulous red frock the amazing ladies at Fran & Jane boutique had found specially for me - and take the train back to Dublin early Friday.

Whoops. Now what to do?

This being Monday night, I decided to have the dress overnighted to my hotel in Dublin. My thinking went that if it were sent first thing Tuesday, it would arrive Wednesday.

Plenty of time before the gala Thursday. The wonderful person back in Cork who agreed to this scheme was at the post office bright and early.

On Wednesday morning, I left the hotel to go lead my training session. I figured by the time I returned, my box with my dress would be waiting for me. It wasn't.

Before you dismissively (and correctly) say, "First world problem", as you picture my red gown lost in limbo - stick around.

The communications lessons are kicking in.

1 Keep calm

It was about 4.45pm as the lady at the front desk of the hotel shook her head and told me nothing had arrived. I knew I didn't have long to try and sort this before closing time.

Panicking or getting angry wouldn't help. Customer service representatives deal with a variety of tense and irate people. I didn't want to be one of them. So, I sat in a comfy chair in the lobby, exhaled slowly and dialled.

2 Try kindness

When the representative, named David, answered, I didn't rush in with my problem. It had been - and still was - a really, rainy day, so I tried to create a little rapport.

"Hey there, I know it's been a downpour all day so you probably are getting more calls than usual. How's it going?"

David told me about his day and then I explained my situation. He discovered my package had somehow been mis-sorted. Instead of making it to my hotel in Ballsbridge, tracking said it was stuck in a sorting office in Blackrock. It could be delivered next morning.

3 Be persistent and proactive

Taking a chance on waiting until Thursday morning was too risky for me. I persisted and asked if there was any way to verify that my package was there at the moment.

David graciously said he would try a speed dial mechanism to ring directly. But, he'd have to hang up and call me back. I held my breath. In just a few minutes, David called me.

My box/dress was indeed there. I ran into the rain and managed to get a cab. Out to Blackrock sorting office we went.

4 Use your head

I'm not suggesting anything unethical here, of course, but if policies can be made flexible enough, sometimes a rule can be bent if it's still in keeping with your company's values.

David used his own judgement and went above and beyond to make a direct call and call me back. Later as I arrived at the sorting office, Mike at the desk initially said he was sorry but he couldn't find the package. I politely urged. "David in customer service said he talked to someone who said it was 'in a cage with about 150 other mis-sorted parcels'."

"Oh," Mike replied, "If it's in a cage, it's already been loaded on the truck for tomorrow's delivery."

He sent me outside (in the rain) to see Brian who was on the loading dock near the truck. Brian lowered one of the cages from the truck and sifted through each piece of mail inside. But didn't find it. He went to the second cage in the truck. And found it!

My taxi driver Gearoid - whom I'd told the whole story to, of course, was watching and laughing at this adventure in the rain.

I ran back to the car triumphant.

The next morning, even before my gown had returned from the hotel's laundry service for pressing, David called me to check whether I had recovered the package.

My suggestions for customer service extend to all employees. Whether you're in marketing, IT or HR - putting people front and centre of any policy helps create a customer-centric company. And when you're the customer, don't forget customer service representatives are people too.

I know it was only a dress for a dinner.

But it's a real story that shows how real customer service must be empowered to really help. That's exactly what An Post's David Hickey, Brian Whelan and Mike Murphy exemplified. Thank you!

Write to Gina in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie

Gina London is a former CNN anchor and international campaign strategist who is now a director with Fuzion Communications. She serves as media commentator, emcee and corporate consultant. @TheGinaLondon

Sunday Indo Business

Business Newsletter

Read the leading stories from the world of Business.

Also in Business