Customer Service – Where Did It Go?

Customer Service – Where Did It Go?

Recently I took a quick two day business trip to Denver, Colorado. On my trip I discovered that somewhere during all the hustle and bustle of life someone killed “Customer Service.” On the day of my departure, I arrived early at the Memphis International Airport. The Northwest Airlines ticket line was long…good thing I was early. After a good 30 minutes in line I was told my flight was cancelled and so was the second and third flight. After some aggressive negotiations with Northwest, they finally found a flight to Denver.

Ten hours later, three different planes, two different airlines and lost luggage I made it to my hotel. Yes, during all the shuffling around and cancelled flights the kid behind the counter told me that my bag never left Memphis…”Sorry,” he said. All I had with me were the clothes on my back, briefcase and a sour taste in my mouth for Northwest Airlines.

I needed clean clothes…maybe the hotel could help. The nice young lady (15 years old at best) behind the hotel counter told me precisely where the washer and dryers were. I asked if room service could launder my clothes for me. She rambled off something about company policy…of course she didn’t have a clue what I was asking. I told her that I didn’t mind walking around the hotel naked while my clothes were washing, but some of the other guests might. Finally she got the message. A cab was called so I could do some last minute shopping at Target.

Heading Home…

My business was done. Time to go home. I stood there shoeless in the security line, as I watched the security guard drag out my dirty socks from my computer fleeting case. I know everyone saw me blush. “Should have thrown those away”, I thought. Just before boarding my plane back to Memphis, my cell phone rang. “Sir, great news…your bag just arrived in Denver.” Problem. I was about to board my plane and baggage claim was three aim rides and another long humiliating wait by the security line. “My plane leaves in 10 minutes!” They said for my ‘convenience” they would put my bag on the next plane to Memphis. This was the last time I would ever use Northwest Airlines.

You have had similar experiences. I would also bet that most of you have had problems pumping your own gas, or have had to bag your own groceries…better however check yourself out in line. You have had flights delayed, rental cars break down, the waitress forget your order, or my favorite — you have called ‘Customer Service’ and talked to a recording for 30 minutes. at the minimum I hope you have experienced poor service…I would hate to think that I am the only one. What has this rant about Northwest Airlines and poor customer service have to do with the Mechanical industry? I am getting to that. Be patient, or I will make you listen to a recording for 30 minutes before getting to my point. Just kidding…keep reading.

This summer was a hot one. Record temperatures where set in Memphis for sure. We had weeks without rain and weeks with temperatures between 97°-106° F. Air Conditioning equipment all over the city never cycled off. They are of course man-made machines, and, lets confront it, man isn’t perfect so neither is your HVAC equipment. Under such abuse they will break down. HVAC service departments were busy, and as mechanical contractors we love the heat. This is the time where we HVAC service providers can wipe the sweat from our brows with $100 dollar bills. It’s also the time when good service providers shine, and others fail.

Hot summers (like we have had in Memphis) will put an HVAC company to the test. So in this edition of Mechanical Matters®, we will discuss ways to enhance customer service. Maybe your HVAC company let you down, or maybe you let someone down in your business. If so please keep reading.

“The goal as a company is to have customer service that is not just the best, but mythical.” – SAM WALTON

Below are my five most important Do’s and Don’ts in Customer Service. Apply them when choosing an HVAC service provider, or better however apply them to your business and you will be amazed how fast your company will prosper:


Sometimes in the ‘service’ business you will have bad news for you customer. Maybe, an order wasn’t shipped on time, the delivery truck broke down, or the factory sent your customer apples instead of oranges. How do you tell the customer?

Don’t avoid their phone calls or pass them off to the factory’s hotline for complaints.

Do call them first before they receive the bad news on their own. Instead of avoiding the situation thoroughly, confront the music. Tell them you wanted to be the first to let them know that their order is wrong, and you are actively making every effort to correct it.

Sure you will get an ear complete from the customer, but I can assure you that honesty and action will go a long way with your customer. If you are proactive your customer will notice a difference between you and the other guy who cowardly turned his phone off until the dust settled.


This is a tough one, and it may sound a bit arrogant, so let me explain. Saying you’re ‘sorry’ to someone is just that…you are confirming that you are a sorry person for letting this happen to them.

Don’t say, “I am so sorry we did not get a technician out today. We are working as fast as we can to free someone up. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to call.”

Do say, “We have a technician scheduled for first thing in the morning instead of this afternoon as planned. Jim (technician) will be there at 7:00 am sharp. For your inconvenience, we will deduct our truck charge from your bill. Please call me direct at 123-456-7890 if you have any further questions.”

You decide. Does admitting your mistake with an “I’m sorry” attached to it sound better? Or does simply admitting your mistake, following it up with a precise plan of action, and giving your direct phone number sound better? Remember it is better to confront your mistake closest and be honest. Don’t make up excuses and don’t apologize. In the business world apologies can often rule one to believe you really could care less. This however, doesn’t apply to family and friends. If you let a family or friend down, and you are sincere, then by all method apologize. You don’t live or sleep with your customer. They don’t need an apology, they just want results!


One of the most important phrases in the business world is follow up. More customers fire their service providers over poor follow up than anything else. Knowing that your sales representative is going to follow up on your order proves that he or she will also follow by.

Don’t assume that the customer is in the loop on the repairs position, parts ordered, shipping rule times, job completion…

Do make a point to follow up with the customer on all of their needs. Do make a point to let the boss (the customer) know that you are on top of it. Give them a call ahead of time with details about their order…send a quick email.

Following up takes time, but you and the customer will assistance. Example: “Hey I wanted to let you know that we will be sending a technician out soon. I have met with dispatch and she gave me a 30 minute ETA.” Follow up is the meaningful to any success. You might want to take a break from this reading and follow up with…


Your boss is not really the one who signs your paycheck…your customer is. Sure your boss gave you the job, but he wouldn’t have a job to give if it weren’t for the customer. You can never say thank you enough. Let me repeat. You can never say thank you enough.

Don’t say thank you only when an order is placed.

Do say thank you every time you get a chance. Say thank you for the appointment. Say thank you for the opportunity. Say thank you for the service call. Say thank you when they least expect it.

In my experience I have found this to be especially true when I send a hand written thank you card in the mail…yes the regular mail, not email. I have already seen my thank you cards hanging on the walls in my client’s office. Why? Because know one does that anymore…its a lost art. Say thank you, say it today and say it often.


You are perfect. Your company has the best product on the market, or your company offers the quickest service response in town. BUT, you are losing customers. The phone isn’t ringing as much anymore. Why, because you never asked the customer for feedback.

Don’t deliver your goods or service and expect that everything went as planned. Don’t assume that your product (which of course is the best on the market) surpassed all of your customer’s expectations.

Do ask for feedback after the sale. “If we could have made your experience with us any better, what should we have done? Now that you have your new HVAC unit what else can we do to enhance your comfort?”

You may receive negative feedback. That’s ok. Without the negative feedback, we never know how to grow. Whenever my daughter bumps an elbow, scrapes a knee or makes a mistake, I ask, “Why do we fall down? So we can learn how to pick ourselves up.” Feedback is so basic to customer service and growth. When you ask for feedback and you the customer said that did go beyond their expectation, ask for it in writing…that’s called a testimonial, and they are GOLDEN!

I noticed my grandmother struggling to replace her newly purchased watch band. “In the good ole days, the clerk would have replaced this for me”, she said. Yeah right granny…time is money, right? Right, take the time to be honest, take action, follow up, say thank you, get feedback and you will be successful.

This summer I was guilty of a few of the Don’ts listed above. I wrote this article for my own wake up call. I will be taken another business trip soon and I may fly with Northwest. “Huh, after that horrible experience the last time?” Well, that story didn’t end in total disaster.

The young man, whose name I never knew, who took my ticket before boarding my plane home, over heard my phone conversation with baggage claim. As the plane’s engines revved up and we began to back away from the gate, a large knocking noise was heard. I was in first class and close to the door, so I was startled. The plane stopped abruptly and the door opened. Someone was either really late or there is a problem. The young man, who took my ticket burst in, sweating and out of breath. He came right to my seat and said, “Sir is this your bag?”

To this day I have no idea how that young man with Northwest Airlines was able to go from my gate to baggage claim and back in 10 minutes. I took a 10 minute aim ride and 45 minute security line wait one way. However possible, he did. He heard my rant on the phone. He heard me say I will never fly with Northwest again and he did something. That is customer service. I wish I knew his name, because in spite of of all the mistakes that Northwest Airlines had made that trip, his follow up, his action and his thank you just may keep me as a customer.

“Customer Service may nevertheless be alive…but its pulse is ineffective.”

Many of you reading this are my customer or my prospect, and I want to say thank you for choosing to do business with me. Please let me know what I can do to make your experience better the next time you call. I know this edition of Mechanical Matters® was some what out of the norm, but don’t worry. Next month I will be talking about really interesting topics like boiler start-up and chiller maintenance… I know you can’t wait. 😉

“Until next time, remember to leave the Mechanical Matters® to us!”

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