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In Sunday’s The Haggler (David Segal. “In Search of Romance and Maybe a Refund.” New York Times, July 28, 2013), David Segal examines how the matchmaking service, It’s Just Lunch, failed itself and its clientele through poor customer service.

In brief, a client paid $1000 for a minimum of three dates, but the customer service was so bad that she wanted out after just one. For those of you who seek to provide great customer service, It’s Just Lunch is a worthy business case of what NOT to do—and a great example of why you need a plan with core principles in place.

Starting at the top:

It would appear that It’s Just Lunch fell into the trap of thinking that offering great customer service is easy and obvious; if you hire nice people, great customer service will spontaneously happen. But as customer experience experts, we know it doesn’t work that way. Great customer service requires a plan with clear instructions and even clearer examples to be used by all employees who might interact with customers. It’s Just Lunch touts their superior customer experience with terms like “personalized” and “quality”—but simply stating these intentions doesn’t make it so.

The best customer service plans are based on core principles. Nine of these principles follow.

  1. Know your audience. It’s Just Lunch only used their first names when addressing the client. But when the clients are adult professionals this is tone-deaf. “I’m Ann” works just fine for teenagers or a casual audience, however, an expensive matchmaking service should sound buttoned-up. One way to do this is to introduce oneself and sign off emails using a full name.
  2. Be forthright. It’s Just Lunch representative, Thelma, told the client to meet at an address to discuss (potentially very personal) details about her first date. When the client showed up at the address, she found it was not an office, but a bar. Great customer service often surprises—but the surprises are pleasant, they don’t make customers ask “is this a real company?”
  3. Pass information on. The beleaguered It’s Just Lunch client had to keep giving the same information about herself over and over again—to staff who were supposed to be so informed about her they could pick her perfect companion. For great customer service, information must be entered into a system, and associates need to use that system.
  4. Communicate. The It’s Just Lunch client had to call and email and call and email again to get any kind of response. Don’t be a company that incites customers to say, “When I finally did reach someone…
  5. Put checklists in place. As a way to apologize for things not going well, an It’s Just Lunch representative sent a $25 gift card, but she forgot to load any money on it. It was an off-putting mistake that embarrassed the client. A simple checklist could catch mistakes like this, and prevent additional ill-will. If you think checklists are unnecessary, make sure to read Atul Gawande’s terrific book, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right.
  6. Brand everything. The gift card It’s Just Lunch sent (sans value) was generic. Instead, they could have appeased their upset customer with a great dating book or a gift card for a store like J. Crew, where the client could buy something fun or pretty—perhaps for her next date.
  7. Share your vision of customer service with the associates who will carry it out. The company’s president, Ms. Brown, stressed to the Haggler that their “clients are not assigned to just one dating director”; they work as a team. However, the associate who first interfaced with the client presented a very different picture when he said, “My name is Jeff, and I will be working with you on all of your dates from this point forward.” Associates should be in-the-know about the aspects of corporate vision that impact their jobs.
  8. Proofread. The It’s Just Lunch president wrote to the Haggler, “We strive to provide a level of service to our clients.” But what level? Obviously, Ms. Brown intended to say something like “a certain level,” or “a high level.” In any event, to err is human, so, when speaking with the press about your great customer service, proofread, proofread and, yes, proofread again.
  9. Cheapness never wins. Finally, It’s Just Lunch agreed to issue a refund. But here’s how: They calculated that the client got 1/3 dates, so they issued a 2/3 refund of $666.67. To top it off, they attached a “refund settlement agreement” that forbid her from disparaging It’s Just Lunch. Since she’d already passed her story along to the Haggler, this agreement could not be signed—and, at this point, who would want to? Refunds should be issued out of a genuine desire to make amends, not as an attempt to prevent bad press.

In sum, if your goal is to deliver great customer service, have a plan, execute the plan, and ensure your plan is rooted in core principles. If you want to improve your customer service in the quickest, smartest way, contact Interaction Metrics and we’ll get your customer experience scored, fixed and Haggler-proofed!

Improve your customer experience with Interaction Metrics. Start with our Free Solutions at InteractionMetrics.com.

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