7 rules for customer service

03.11.2009 | Author: Lynn Boyden
Bill McLaughlin

CEO – Select Comfort

Minneapolis, MN

Dear Bill,

I have the most wonderful bed in the world, a Select Comfort bed.  It has two air chambers zipped into a padded quilted mattress cover, and attached to a pump with two controls.  Each sleeper can adjust the firmness of the mattress to his own preference with just a button.  We’ve had it for over 15 years.

Its only flaw is that every two or three years one of the air chambers inside the mattress starts to leak, and pretty soon it mostly deflates every night.  The only thing to do is to get a new one shipped out from the company.

Because it was my side of the bed this time, I was pretty motivated to solve the problem.  I went to the Select Comfort website, found their customer support contact page.  It was late, outside of their call center hours, so I decided to get the process going by email.  I chose my problem from their dropdown list (“Previous purchase questions”), entered my name and address and phone number and email (all required).  I also entered a description of my product and my problem.  Oddly enough, this was not a required field.  I unchecked both the “o please send me more promotional material!” boxes and submitted the form.  Immediately in my inbox was an automatic confirmation that they had indeed received my email, and would gladly get back to me within two or three days.  And that if I wanted to call them, they’d take my call right away.

Rule No. 1 – Respect your customer’s mode of communication.

If you’re going to offer email customer support, it should be at the same level of service as phone support.  A real response should come by the end of the next business day at the latest.

Two days later I got a nice email from the customer support specialist telling me that my name and address wasn’t in their database, and asking me if I could send any other names or addresses that might have been used.  I did, and shortly received an autoresponse thanking me for my interest in their product and informing me that they would be sending out the DVD package that I had requested right away.

Rule No. 2 – Listen to what your customer says, and remember it the next time you speak.

I had already provided them with a description of my problem AND a backend database code for their use by selecting “previous purchase question” as my subject.  And remember?  I had also unchecked both boxes asking them to send me more promotional literature.  (I’m still getting it; the DVD arrived in less than a week, and I’ve gotten follow-up postcards every three or four days so far.)

I replied that I didn’t want any DVDs, but that I did want a new single-port chamber for my dual queen size bed and inquiring how I could go about getting one, just as I had in my original email to them.  I got another immediate autoresponse telling me that they had received my email and that they would gladly get back to me in two to three days.

In a couple of days another nice customer service rep gave me instructions on how to confirm that the problem was indeed in the air chamber and not in the pump, and asked me to get back in touch with them after I’d verified the problem.  I was pretty sure that the problem was with the chamber, but I followed the directions and confirmed it for them by email: definitely the chamber.  After getting the expected autoresponse from the customer service ‘bot (2-3 days!), I then got an email from the support staff that said that it sounded like I needed to replace the chamber, and that I should order it from Customer Service.  They gave a toll-free number.  They also let me know that they couldn’t find me in their database.

Rule No. 3 – Respect what your customer knows.

Not only did I already know what the problem was with the bed and what I needed, I also already knew that I wasn’t in their database, and I already knew that email responses were running at 2-3 days’ response time.  A full week was wasted with this back-and-forth.

Meanwhile I’m sleeping on stacks of pillows every night because I start out with a bed full of air and by 3am it is nearly completely deflated, my butt on the slats of the bedstand.  I can’t pump it up in the middle of the night because the pump makes a heinous racket to which the DH for some reason objects most obstreperously.  My neck and shoulders and lower back are all killing me.  And then fall rolled into Los Angeles, and I found myself at the mall, looking for sweaters.  And there, across from the Build-a-Bear was a Select Comfort retail store.  So I popped in, spoke with the nice man there.  He listened to my story, looked me up in the database (“Yep, you’re coded as a prospect!”) and surreptitiously gave me a queen dual chamber that he had lying behind a big cardboard display.  I took it home and pumped it up, but it turned out to have a leak as well.

I was at the same mall a few days later and returned it to him.  He gave me another one, but while he was digging around looking for it, another customer in the store who was purchasing a bed and some accessories asked me if I liked my bed.  O how I did wax prolific on the wonders of the bed.  I truly love it.  At least fifteen years of slumbering bliss on this bed.  A testimonial, dear brethren!  After this, the nice store manager gave me the chamber.  I asked him, “If this one doesn’t work, can I come back here and order it from you?”  No, he said, I had to order it from Customer Service.

Rule No. 4 – Empower your service workers to provide service.

There was a customer sitting at the counter while I was there, checkbook in hand, ordering a bed and accessories.  We all of us there in the store know that orders can be placed through the retail store.  Why can I not get the replacement item I need from the nice person I’ve now got a relationship with?  Why can the email support staff not take my order?

I got the second replacement chamber home, and it leaked even worse than the first one.  I’m not too upset, because I didn’t pay for either of them.  I girded my loins, picked up the phone, and called Customer Service’s toll-free number.

It was busy.

I called again.  I got a recording that said, basically, that they were too busy to take my call, and I should call back later.  Click.

I called three more times and it was busy.

The fourth time I got put into the queue, after selecting the most likely-sounding option from the voice menu.  After about 10 minutes I was connected with a lady who asked me briskly for the name on my account.  I gave her my name.

“I can’t find you in my database.  What’s the phone number that might be on the account?”  I gave her that.

“I can’t find you in my database.”  I tell her what I want to do, to buy a replacement chamber.  She begins to go through what I recognize as the troubleshooting script, the one I have already been through with the email folks.  I stop her and start to say that I’ve already identified my problem, and that I just want to order the replacement chamber.

“I’m trying to solve your problem!”

“You haven’t even asked me what my problem is yet.”

Rule No. 5 – The customer’s problem is the one that needs solving.

So far my primary topic of conversation with these people, across ALL their modes of communication, has been about their database.  Now I didn’t call them up because I’m not in their database.  I’ve got a bed that deflates every night.  I just want my good nights’ sleep back.  I called them up because I need a single port dual queen replacement chamber, stat.

I tell her that I’ve followed directions given by the email team and have confirmed that I need a new air chamber.  “Well you can’t buy that from me!”  She says she’s going to put me in the database and then connect me with the right department.  I give her all my information (again) and she enters it all into the database, and she gives me a customer number (2275984) that I can give to the next rep so she can pull up my record.  And then she transfers me.

After a few minutes on hold I am connected to a new person who promptly barks, “Name on the account?”  I give her my name and, she says, “I can’t find you in my database.” At this point my weasel is pretty steamed.  I tell her that I have just gone through this exercise with the previous rep, and that she had put me into the database.  “She even gave me a customer number so you could find me.”  She asks for it, and I give it to her.  She tells me, “I can’t find that in my database.  You’re not in our database.  What did she use to give it to you?”

“Her voice,” I said.  “And I wrote it down with a pencil on paper.”

Rule No. 6 – Don’t ask the customer for any of your internal codes or identifiers.

How are the customers supposed to know which of your internal systems were in use?  At this point I’m pretty sure that I am in all of their databases and that customer number 2275984 is CSR-speak for “Give this customer some serious hell!”

She begins the troubleshooting script.  I stop her.  “I’ve already done that.”  After a fair amount of wrangling I force her to take my order NOW for a non-returnable $200 item.  I ask for the name of the VP of Customer Service and she gives me the name and mailing address of the CEO.

And since it had been such a <sarcasm> pleasant </s> experience overall, I replied to the last email that I had finally managed to order the replacement chamber from customer service, and that I’d be grateful if they could let their VP know that he could expect me to pitch him soon for some business process redesign work.  A few days later I got this response:


My replacement chamber did finally come, and it has worked very well.  I still love my bed, and I’m sleeping great again.  But I am afraid that any recommendation I make for Select Comfort’s product in the future will have to be tempered by serious reservations about their service.  And in the 21st century, is there any difference between the two?

Rule No. 7 – Customer service is the product too.

Give us a call, Bill.  We can help.

Sogni d'oro,


FatDUX Los Angeles