Thursday, October 15, 2009

OfficeMax - Part II

On Tuesday, I wrote about the time wasted with OfficeMax in relation to a failed scanner. The photos and slides from Vietnam will be used in the film--only if we get them scanned properly.

After several hours on the phone with customer service representatives, one of whom blatantly hung up on me, I was finally escalated to a woman named Vivian who finally seemed capable of finding the answers I wanted to hear. She connected with the scanner manufacturer, had them send me a new one, and gave me a ticket to mail the faulty one to California free of charge. But I'm stuck with a phone bill that is twice what it should be, and an extra trip to drop of the faulty scanner when all I wanted was to return what I bought from the store originally.

It's unfortunate that it took several hours, and five OfficeMax representatives to finally find a mildly-satisfying resolution. Shouldn't the response, "Here's how we can make this right," be the first one? You would think so, but I suppose OfficeMax doesn't empower its employees to handle the situation right out of the gate. They have to stick to policies so they don't get fired, and even phone center supervisors are willing to hang up on a customer before extending some level of understanding and support.

Years ago, I read a book that highlighted Van Eure's customer service. If you're not familiar with her name, she helps run a little place called The Angus Barn here in Raleigh, N.C.--one of the nation's most successful restaurants with $10 million plus in annual sales. What can OfficeMax learn from Van Eure? The commandments of customer service, for sure. Not only does she get it, but she empowers her employees to help the customer as well.

One of the sections from Eure's chapter has stuck with me for many years. The book is Nine Lives: Stories of Women Business Owners Landing on Their Feet by Mary Cantando with Laurie Zuckerman. Here are excerpts from the book that I continue to enjoy:
This focus on the customers rather than the trappings of the business is the hallmark of Van's managment style. and she has learned that hiring the right employees is the foundation of customer is not uncommon for Angus Barn managment to interview 100 applicants to fill two positions. From dishwasher to office staff to head chef, each applicant faces elaborate reference checks and a series of interviews. Then, before a job offer is made, everyone involved in the decision must give a unanimous thumbs up. A safecracker could break into Fort Knox more easily than a mediocre employee could get on the Angus Barn payroll. As a result, all 240 employees wear their Angus Barn employment badge of honor. And, once they make it in, they guard the door to ensure that the next employee meets the same high standards...
Each night those employees are put to the test. With an average of 900 customers a night and all the variables that go along with each's just a matter of time before a slipup occurs...
Delivering a medium when a medium rare was ordered is bad enough, but the kind of slipups that Van hates the most are those involving special occasions like somebody's birthday or graduation party. Her approach in these situations is never to ask, "What do you want me to do for you?" but rather to say, "Let me tell you what I'm going to do." Then she always does more than she promises.
OfficeMax, if you are listening, please take a note from Eure's thoughts on management and customer service. Not only am I holding a grudge about your representative hanging up on me, I am angry that my phone bill is more than twice what it should be this month. You've ignored the opportunity to make things right. I'm fairly easy to placate in these situations but you have failed me many, many times this week. You, clearly, don't get it.

We're moving towards a society that engages with one another on a very personal basis using many different tools. Seth Godin writes about this in his book Tribes, "The tactics are irrelevant, and the technology will always be changing. The essential lesson is that every day it gets easier to tighten the relationship you have with the people who choose to follow you."

"Van has learned that people just want to feel special and small personal touches go a long way," Cantando writes. You have a huge opportunity in front of you, OfficeMax, but some part of me doubts that you'll capitalize on it.

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