Thursday, October 4, 2012

Customer Service: Courtesy

I have a few beefs that have culminated in a bit of a frustrating morning.

I rented an apartment after selling the house last year. Withint a week the 50-year old oil furnace burned out, so the landlord had to replace it. That was in December. It took something like 6 weeks to get it done--I really can't remember though. It was a long, cold time.

Oil at the time was near 4 bucks a gallon, and the apartment has 4 outside doors without insulation. Heating it is an expensive prospect. Luckily there's natural gas in the building and one of the units uses it.

So when the landlord chose to replace the old oil furnace with another oil furnace because the furnace was cheaper for him, and without talking to me about it first, that bugged me. Given the price of heating oil vs natural gas, as well as the relatively minor increase in furnace cost, I would have been happy to have made up the difference to avoid excessive heating costs if stuck with oil.

I'm stuck with oil--or electricity. In June I ended my pre-payment deal with Leffler Energy, and, I thought, the automated deliveries.

I've had my furnace off since April, and this year I've decided not to turn it on at all. Instead, I'll insulated the doors and use electric heat, which isn't ideal but it's adequate and a lot less expensive than oil.

So imagine my surprise when this morning I find a receipt for $602 on my door for an oil delivery. No notice, no warning, no courtesy call.

It's 68 degrees, and no, I had no intention of ordering oil, and I have no intention of paying for the delivery. I've asked them to come back and extract the oil they delivered, and I won't be paying the $602 for 156.4 gallons.

Instead I'll be using that to buy storm doors and electric heaters, for a total cost of maybe $800, plus about another $400 for the season, as opposed to the $4,000 it cost me last year. That's right, $4,000.

A simple courtesy call would have avoided this. The gentle reminder. Cooperation with the customer. Letting the customer know after 4 months without communication that you're about to stick them with a $600 bill.

As it is, I'm about to have to waste some time and likely some money dealing with their insistence on unseasonably early delivery without notice, which I'm going to guess has something to do with their cash flow.

And if I ever do go back to oil, it's unlikely I'll go back to Leffler, unless they propose something reasonable, like taking their oil back and closing my account.

It also makes me wonder what adding a little courtesy to my daily practice could do. I'm not longer running a company; mostly I support other founders, the school district, the gardens, and some alpha testers. How can I improve upon that? I'm certain I've been assumptive and discourteous at some point (and almost always with Palmer of Locengine--yeah, you buddy!).

So what about you? How can we improve our customer service through simple courtesies? What do you feel your customers expect, and how can you improve upon that?

A little forethought, a little sensitivity to your customers' world views and situations can develop into a rich source of good will and long-term loyalty.




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