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We’ve all been left on hold interminably by a customer service representative or been forced to deal with a surly sales clerk. But what leads certain companies to provide truly wonderful customer service?

In the New York Times last Sunday, David Segal tried to answer this question by taking a closer look at Quicken Loans, which, he noted, “was rated highest in customer satisfaction among mortgage originators in 2010, 2011 and 2012, according to J. D. Power & Associates.”

Segal paid Quicken a visit and found a place where the heads of the company, Dan Gilbert and Bill Emerson, “spend a lot of time and energy instilling a very particular work ethos into employees.” This involves daylong speeches by Gilbert, full of pithy exhortations: “Every client. Every time. No exceptions. No excuses.” In short, the company’s culture demands that customers are treated right.

The need for such an intense focus wouldn’t have surprised Peter Drucker, who recalled that one of the first businesses to base its model on the customer-service experience was American Telephone and Telegraph under 19th-century industrialist Theodore N. Vail.

This realization meant radical innovations in business policy. It meant constant stress on dedication to service by all employees,” Drucker wrote in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices. “It required a financial policy which assumed that the company has to give service wherever there was a demand, and that it was management’s job to find the necessary capital and to earn a return on it.”

Customer SVCDrucker also understood that the cost of lousy service could be high. For instance, what lost Xerox market share was paying attention to the service needs of only its wealthy customers. “In the end it was dissatisfaction with the service—or rather the lack of service—Xerox provided for its smaller customers that made them receptive to competitors’ machines,” Drucker asserted.

One of the best ways for a company to up its game in customer service, Druckerexplained in Post-Capitalist Society, is to eliminate the extraneous tasks of those who are supposed to offer it. Nurses, he observed, often spend three-quarters of their time on administrative hassles rather than attending to patients. Similarly, in department stores, salespeople “spend more than half their time on work that does not contribute to their performance, that is, satisfying the customer.”

As Drucker warned, “This not only destroys productivity; it also destroys motivation and pride.”

Which companies do you think have the best customer service—and why?