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TOWN:The customer is always in the way

ON THE

July 15, 2006|By STEVE SMITH

My car was scheduled to be serviced yesterday at 8 a.m. So on my way home the night before, I planned to drop it off at the dealer where I bought it so I didn't have to deal with it in the morning.

When I got there at 6 p.m., however, the service department gate was closed. I went into the showroom on Harbor Boulevard and met "David," who quickly and enthusiastically helped me get my car over to the service department in preparation for the next morning.

Then, David handed me a form to fill out, put my keys in a lock box on the car window and wished me a good night.

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Easy, right?

No, it cannot be that easy because if it were, more businesses would be doing it.

These days, most of the time, the service we get is indifferent at best. We are served by people who would rather chat on the phone with their friends, finish their lunch or do almost anything but the job they were paid to do.

It wasn't always that way. I have enough life history to remember when gas was 35 cents a gallon ? for full service. The station attendant came out, washed the windows, checked the oil and water and the pressure in the tires. (He had time to do all that because the pumps were slower.)

Today, good service is the exception, not the rule. Even in stores where I expect a higher level of service, I am more disappointed than impressed.

In his book "It's Not My Department!", author Peter Glen argues that changing customer service policies can drive away business. "Companies that manage service the best are those that develop a policy, then stick to it. This is very difficult in the age of mergers, acquisitions and brand new management every week."

No argument here. When I think of the best service I have received on a consistent basis, I think of places that do not surprise me, places where I know what to expect and it is delivered at each visit.

That car dealership delivers it each time.

And I am pleased to report that the retail operation that disappointed me several weeks ago has not gone to the dark side. The good service is back.

That's the challenge with measuring customer service. A bad experience could be like a frame in a movie. We would not judge a movie based on one slide, or a book based on one page, but we often do not give shops a second chance.

In order to be fair, we should, because as good as service may be from day to day or week to week, lapses are bound to occur.

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