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In which I add a real head-slapper to my customer service collection!

I have been assembling material for my customer service books for years now. I have — I’m not joking — seven three-ring binders full of customer service encounters both good and bad. I am, if such a distinction is an honor, the world’s most prolific collector of customer service experiences. As you can imagine, I have some real toe-curlers of bad customer service anecdotes. And every time I think, “Okay, that’s the worst,” someone comes along to prove me wrong.

And last week, the folks at Halley-Olsen-Murphy funeral home managed to push the bar to depths I never imagined. Just when you think you’ve run into the worst customer service judgement possible, when you say, “Here are the boundaries of customer service stupidity — you can go no further,” you look up and, standing a mile downwind from you, some clown is happily waving and smiling.

Two weeks ago, the father of an acquaintance of mine died. Suffice it to say, that, as is typical of dying people, the end took several days in coming. On Tuesday, as he rapidly slipped away, my acquaintance called the funeral home, Halley-Olsen-Murphy, to make funeral preparations. They had handled her mother’s funeral and, well, it’s enough to say that they were the devil she knew.

But they refused to make any preparations. “We don’t do that until the person has died,” they said.

Big old red flag number one was waving wildly in the wind, but, when her father died on Thursday, she actually called them back.

“We can’t do anything until Saturday.”

What, my friend asked, are we to do until then? Like, with the body?

“We can’t help you. We can’t do anything until Saturday.”

When she complained, the funeral home receptionist got extremely heated and said . . .

I do not make this up, I swear . . .

She said . . .

“It’s not like your father is the only person who died today!”

In my Ten Commandments of Customer Service (coming soon — watch for it!), my second commandment is this:

You never train for customer service.
You always hire for customer service.

The chapter goes on to examine the qualities a person must bring to customer service encounters. Customer service is a capability entirely derived from a person’s character; training only helps to pattern responses. No amount of training, class work, or motivational posters with washed out nature photos will change the essential personality people bring to customer encounters.

It is not a brand. It is not a marketing regimen. It is not a script.

It is always character.

Or, in the sager words of a more eminent philosopher, Daffy Duck:

“You can’t bounce a meatball, though you try with all your might.”

And this, my friends, is exhibit number one in why you always hire for customer service (and why customer service training means exactly squat).

Halley-Olsen-Murphy could have grabbed one thousand people at random wandering the streets of Palmdale and, with zero training, plopped them down in their receptionist seat. It’s pretty safe to assume that for about 999 of those randomly chosen people, it would never occur to them that it’s a good idea to say, in anger, to a bereaved family member, “It’s not like your father is the only person who died today!”

They got the one person who did think it was a good idea.

All the customer service training in the world ain’t going to bounce that meatball.

As I said in an earlier post, my first commandment of customer service is that it’s 100% or it’s nothing. There are only two scores in customer service: a perfect score or a failing score. There are no B’s or C’s, let alone D’s. One customer service failure can undo everything else you’ve done.

Take the case in point. It’s fair to say that if this customer service encounter was in line with normal funeral home standards, you would never have heard of Halley-Olsen-Murphy. But this blog gets almost 6,000 visits a week. Is that the kind of word-of-mouth marketing they want? And they are about to be snuck into the final draft of my magnum opus on customer service, which will, no doubt, sell millions!

Again, imagine this customer service encounter as a full-page newspaper or Yellow Pages ad with a big headline that says, “Halley-Olsen-Murphy: It’s not like your loved one is the only person who died today!”

If you wouldn’t pay to put that headline in front of thousands of people, then it should never be said to a customer. Ever.

Is it just me, or is that just plain old common sense?

(As a side note, I am actually somewhat of an old hand in the deathcare industry, having helped dozens of funeral homes, cemeteries, and other deathcare businesses, including B2B, with their marketing. The agency where I was creative director partnered with this country’s number two deathcare ad agency, Potter, Katz, Postal, and Ferguson, and I know perhaps more than I should how the business works. Without writing a dissertation, all you need to know is that funeral homes and cemeteries are high-touch customer service organizations. Customer service is the only value they bring to customers and their only means, outside of price, to distinguish themselves out from the competition. So this fit of pique on the part of Halley-Olsen-Murphy is a pretty major pooch-screwing.)

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2 Responses to “In which I add a real head-slapper to my customer service collection!”

  1. Kat says:

    Guh. Guh. Guh.

    *is speechless*

  2. Dr Gemma says:

    So mind-boggling that I had to refer to and read parts of this entry on my podcast about knitting and cognitive therapy.

    Just astonishing! Thanks!

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