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Published Articles by David Balovich

Title: Oxymorons
Published in: Creditworthy News
Date: 1/5/05
Over the years there have been numerous oxymorons that we have amused us. Jumbo shrimp, military intelligence, airline food, working vacation, civil litigation and completely educated are just a few of the contradictory words that come immediately to mind.  However, the one that is first and foremost in our mind and sadly a statement about our business climate today is customer service. Do you remember customer service? Where did it go and why did we allow it to get away from us?

In 1985 Karl Albrecht and Ron Zemke wrote a book entitled “Service America, Doing Business in the New Economy”. It was not unlike Tom Peters popular “In Search of Excellence” but the premise of the book went beyond just a few outstanding companies and supported the theory that in order to improve performance, management would replace the stoic customer service department by transforming the entire organization into customer driven business entities. So taken with their message, we wrote a seminar using the basic principles described by Albrecht and Zemke and persuaded the powers within the Dun & Bradstreet organization, who we had a contractual arrangement at the time, to include it in their program catalog. The seminar was more popular than we could have imagined and for ten years was one of the most popular programs D&B ever produced.

Somewhere between 1997 and today, the idea that the customer is our second most important asset (employees are number 1 and sadly we have lost sight of that as well) disappeared from the organizations business plan. Perhaps it was due to the explosion of the Internet and online purchasing, that business felt customers no longer desired the personal touch. If you were flying US Airways over the holidays and had checked your luggage we’re certain you were looking for a person, any person, to help you find your belongings. The “customer is king” is a tired business slogan as is “product and customer loyalty”. The real test is not in slogans created in marketing and advertising departments but the actual experience of the customer.

Customers are not concerned with, and do not care about, the day-to-day problems within the organization. Managers and subordinates can often forget this point, especially when they have to work with customers in less than ideal conditions. Add to the customers frustration by putting them through a gauntlet of keypad gymnastics while they attempt to get through your automated phone system and you have lost both product and customer loyalty and that’s if they have a phone number to dial. Two of the largest Internet providers, E Bay and Amazon do not even publish a customer service telephone number. Instead they provide an email address to contact their CUSTOMER SATISFACTION DEPARTMENT with assurance that the customer will receive a response within 72 hours.

In the 1970’s we belonged to a regional industry group where members of the group would make presentations about their organizations and how what they were doing to improve their operation. One presentation so impressed us that we flew to San Antonio and spent the day with the credit manager and observed what he referred to as the American Express System. It was fairly easy. When a customer had a complaint the invoice or deduction was immediately removed from their AR and transferred to a resolution department who had four working days to investigate the complaint and resolve it. If the customer was correct they never saw the transaction again but if the customer was wrong the transaction was put back on their AR and they were sent a letter detailing the reason the billing was correct. We took the system back to our organization and implemented it thinking the credit manager in San Antonio was a genius. Little did we realize at the time that he took a consumer law, The Fair Billing Credit Act, and implemented it to fit into his system. Regardless, the impact on both his and our customers was the same they were thrilled with the experience. Someone was not only listening to them but they acted on what they said.

We in the credit department have an excellent opportunity to assist our organizations in maintaining and keeping customers simply by providing real customer satisfaction. It has always been our belief that a happy customer is a paying customer.  

I wish you well.  

The information provided above is for educational purposes only and not provided as legal advice. Legal advice should be obtained from a licensed attorney in good standing with the Bar Association and preferably Board Certified in either Creditor Rights or Bankruptcy.  

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