Customer Service Redux

Just before we left for vacation, I wrote about the helpful customer service people at Southwest&#185. Friends of mine, frequent fliers, were surprised by this proper treatment.

I’ve got another story to tell. Last night after work, as usual, I sat in front of the TV (Boston Legal, Daily Show, Colbert Report) and played poker online. I’m a crazy multitasking fool.

I did well in my first little $5 tournament, so decided to step up to the $10 version. I played a few minutes and then… nothing.

The software attempted to contact the mothership, but to no avail. The rest of the Internet was fine. I just couldn’t get to the poker site, where my tournament chips were being blinded off.

There is a diagnostic tool within the Pokerstars directory and I ran it, keeping the log.

When I was, once again, able to hit the site, my tournament was over. My money was gone. I was out $11.

I wrote to Pokerstars, telling them what happened. When I woke this morning, there was an email reply (he used the word “whilst”). No one else was affected, just me. It probably wasn’t their fault. But, because I’m a good customer, they refunded my $11.

After I received the email, I revisited my diagnostic files and found the problem was in a router owned by Comcast. It had put my Pokerstars packets into a loop, going back and forth between two routers, never letting them out!

I re-wrote Pokerstars saying I had found the problem, it wasn’t them, and if they wanted their $11 back – please take it.

Another email reply (and another use of whilst) came quickly to say, it was nice of me to be so forthcoming, but as a good customer, they wanted me happy. The money was mine.

I am.

So, is there something to be learned here? I think there is. Both Southwest and Pokerstars treated me nicely. Neither really spent a lot of money to make me happy. For Southwest there was no incremental cost to move me to an earlier flight. For Pokerstars it was a drop in the bucket compared to what they make from my play (paid out of the losings of my opponents).

In both cases their employees had the ability to bend the rules. I sense that’s not often the case.

My opinion is, allowing your employees to bend the rules to help a customer is good for business. Customers appreciate it and are loyal because of it. Yet most companies seem to avoid anything that lets their employees divert from the ‘script.’

Do they need trust their own employees to do the right thing? How sad is that?

Are they that interested in each short term penny that they totally miss the long term? That would be sad too.

I was once a manager – not a very good one. I’m probably not the right person to question management style and policy. Yet as a consumer, the businesses that please me the most and have me as a loyal customer, are those where I feel my patronage trumps hard and fast policy.

When I look at the legacy airlines, cellphone companies, or other hard pressed businesses pinching every penny to stay alive, I seriously wonder they’re on the right track or just saving themselves right into bankruptcy?

Maybe I’m too innocent to understand big business?

&#185 – I don’t know if they’re all helpful – but these folks were.

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