Category Archives: Customer Service Commentary

Customer Service Observations

After recently having a delightful experience with Southwest Airlines Customer Service in the terminal, and because we are doing quite a bit of flying lately, we were going to sign up for a Southwest Rapid Rewards credit card for our business. However, after getting run around in circles with Southwest’s credit card company, Chase, we gave up on the idea (we only would have saved a couple hundred bucks anyway). It just goes to show that even when your business does a great job at service, there can still be issues with associates. In contracting this frequently occurs with subcontractors.
Shamrock Goes Upscale
Shamrock Materials has recently gone upscale, with a new remodeled stone showroom and phone tree for their San Rafael store. Hopefully, these changes will resonate throughout the customer service experience. Shamrock can get pretty busy, and getting good service over the phone can sometimes be a headache.

Service is the Key

I got a great compliment from a customer this week, the owner of a large custom residential project we are finishing up: (to paraphrase)-“You guys are the best with service and follow-ups of anybody we deal with, and not just contractors on the house, but companies in general.” It’s not the first time we received a compliment like this, customer service is an important driving factor that distinguishes our company from others, inside the industry and out. Are we perfect, far from it, we tend to dote on projects in construction especially; but, we do try to provide responsive, personalized customer service.

This is especially an issue with contractors. I wish I could bottle this concept for perspective customers at times when I am on my third unreturned call to a painting company for a sub-contract within the span of the week. With contractors especially, there are two important criteria for assessing quality- both workmanship and service!

Nextel and the Bully Pulpit

I try not to rant here too much, and instead try to keep things focused on
things landscape related with an occasional customer service commentary. But,
after a series of incidents with Nextel’s woeful customer service, I wrote a
series of blog articles about our experience several months back. The
interesting thing is the effect of these posts. Because they were a big hulking
corporation, with commensurately slow and hulking customer service, Nextel could
care less about our company as a customer. Maybe that’s nothing much to fault
them on there. But a quick Google of “Nextel
Problems,” puts our posting in the first page of results, along with other
Nextel dissenters. And, Nextel is the most often searched term on the blog,
which means people come here to read our experience.

Just another example of how the Internet and blogs can be a great forum for
voices, opinion and accountability. Just ask business consultant heavy weight
Tom Peters and his experience with the Boca Raton Resort
& Club: “an incredibly crappy (“die rather than go back”)

For More:
The Nextel

A Trip to the Hardware Stone- The Price/Service Axis

Today, while purchasing hardware for a project, we were amazed to find that one of the local hardware stores was 4-5 times more expensive for a turnbuckle (to tension wire rope) than all of the other hardware stores in the area.

This particular store is consistently outside of the cost range of their
competitors. In a commodity business like hardware, you better either be competitively priced (or look out for pressure from stores like Home Depot- often nick-named “Home Cheapo”) or offer better than average service. In the case of this particular store, both are missing.

Business author Tom Peters underscores the point, have the most competitive prices or offer the best in terms of your product or service.


Making the Switch to Verizon

Following up on a couple of previous posts concerning our cellular service
with Nextel (see… Problems
with Nextel
& Nextel
), we have made the switch to Verizon. In the end, it was a
question of service. Interestingly, Nextel was willing to talk about discounts
and work arounds when we were getting ready to cancel our service, but when we
first had our complaint they were unwilling to do anything. It just goes to show
that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, especially with a company as large as
Nextel. They were happy to charge us full price until we threatened to leave.
There’s a certain wheeler-dealer “car dealership” feel to these sorts of things.
It’s unfortunate that Nextel wanted to play games, instead they lost our

See noted business author Tom Peter’s
commentary on the Sprint-Nextel merger

An Empowered Employee at SBC

We received a notice in the mail today confirming the new DSL service for our
office. For only $44.99 a month, we would be connected to the “Pro” speed DSL
service. There was only one problem, we had signed up for service at $36.99.

Our DSL activation with SBC
has been a circus. We called before our move in, stating that we would be
assuming occupancy at the first of the month, and that the existing tenants of
the space should not be disturbed. The next day we receive a call from the
existing tenants, the SBC tech was there to hook up phone service- as if it was
even remotely possible to have service hooked up the day following one’s call.

When we were ready to move into the space, our original appointment did not
show up in the system, and the activation for our phone and internet service had
been pushed back. This required several calls to SBC, which did not result in
the usual greeting and promise of, “how can I provide you with excellent service

There were some bright spots in our dealings with SBC however. The tech that
was eventually dispatched was excellent. He hooked up all of our jacks and
configured our phones, and without charging us the standard per jack fee that
would have amounted to hundreds of dollars.

This brings me back to today’s notice. When I called SBC to inquire about the
bill, the representative, Steve, checked the account. Despite the fact that the
account was still pending, and he could not make changes today, he said he would
make a note and take the appropriate steps to fix the problem.

Wrapping up the call, we got to talking about the process of DSL activation.
That’s when Steve offered to credit me for a month because of the difficulty we
had with the process. That was a great gesture, and I appreciated it given all
the problems we had. When I compare this experience with the sequence of
indifference and denials I faced speaking
with Nextel representatives
, it is clear the value of empowered employees,
especially in large organizations.

It’s not that we never receive complaints concerning customer service. We
recently received a complaint from a customer with a concern about his bill. The
customer was a valued client, and rather than argue over billing, we just told
him to pay what he thought was a fair price for the work we completed. Again, to
do this, employees need to be empowered to think and make decisions, rather than
just blindly follow policies or procedures.

Outstanding Service

After some frustrating experiences recently with SBC connecting phone service
to our office, I reminisced on when the last time I received truly excellent
customer service. In the case of SBC, I made 10 separate calls to get the
automated DSL phone service to connect to a representative and had another 45
minute hold inquiring about our order (I have great luck with phone

The last truly distinct service experience with a large company was with
Microsoft. We had just updated our computers to Windows 2000 and there was a
problem with a conflict that was causing Windows not to operate properly. I
called the 24 hour support line at about 10:00pm and I think we did not wrap up
until 2 or 3 in the morning. The tech was great; he walked me through every
contingency until we found the problem.

The fact that the technical support representative was competent and able to
solve this complicated and difficult problem was impressive enough. For those
readers familiar troubleshooting computers, especially Windows, there can be
many set of variables involved. However, the crowning and memorable service
moment happened about a week later. I received in the mail a gift tower from
Harry & David and a thank you note from customer support.

Now I don’t know if this is standard operating procedure in this case. I
would assume not. Maybe the follow-up gift was because of the duration of the
call; maybe it was because Windows 2000 at the time was newly released and
several large companies were switching over at the same time- whatever the
reason, Microsoft
Support got a gold star in my book for great service and great follow

Nextel Service Update

We have been wrangling with Nextel customer care for the past week. After doing a bit more research we are getting close to making the jump to Verizon. A good resource for those looking for cellular ratings would be the Consumer Reports Survey: the results are not shocking. Verizon was best in our area, and best nationally- Nextel, on the other hand, was rated worst  nationally, with low levels of customer satisfaction. We can echo
that sentiment.


Problems with Nextel

Nextel has been the long time choice of many in the construction industry. Their walkie talkie feature made the beep-beep of Nextel phones common place on jobsites throughout the country. We have been Nextel customers for several years, our plan growing steadily over time to include more and more phones (we were laughing in the office the other day about how we ever got anything done in the days of pagers).

Our problems with Nextel recently started with one phone, (mine) going over its allotted minutes. We called Nextel to try to change the rate plan or add additional purchased minutes. We were curtly informed that they could make the change but it would not take effect until the next billing period. This, however, did not solve our problems, we needed extra minutes this month. The representatives at Nextel however hid behind their policy of no changes once the billing period has started (they no doubt relish the millions of dollars  in overage charges they receive). After trying via email and on the phone to speak to a supervisor, we were again informed that no exception could be made.

That was fine for Nextel, but did not work well to meet our needs. So now we are looking at other cellular carriers, who will actually help us with our wireless service. Imagine if we had been a huge company with hundreds of phones; Nextel’s policy may make their billing easier but it doesn’t help their customers.

After checking around, both Verizon and Cingular do offer pro-rated plans, as did Nextel a few years ago. It’s not that the policy was the problem, it was the impression that they did not care about our business.