We had an interesting experience this past summer. Wanting to see if we could lower our home phone and Internet bills, we called around to get quotes. One of the giant companies offered a great deal if we “bundled” our phone and Internet service, so we decided to give them a try.

The deal didn’t seem so sweet after their installer had driven away. We discovered our computer no longer connected to the Internet and our phone line was dead. So Judy used her cell phone to call the customer service department. After about five minutes of playing “let’s try to talk to a real person,” she was connected to a woman in Montreal with a thick French accent.

The woman insisted we try to reset the phone ourselves and rattled off instructions. But between static on the call and the woman’s accent, Judy couldn’t understand her and asked her to repeat the instructions. At that point, the customer service rep raised her voice and said very slowly, “Lady, are you trying to tell me you don’t even know how to plug a phone cord into a jack?”

Now, Judy is generally a pleasant person but that was the wrong thing to say. We immediately cancelled their service and went back to our old provider.

Sadly, unpleasant customer service experiences are all too common and, as consumers, most of us have had them. But those experiences can have a positive outcome if they remind us to take a good look at how we treat our own customers.

Since the Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado regularly hears both good and bad sides of customer relations, we thought no one would be more qualified to give their opinions on this topic than its CEO, Carol Odell.

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We first asked about the most common types of complaints the BBB receives.

“Many times the common factor found in complaints is that the work has not been completed,” Odell said. “Companies receiving several complaints are usually soliciting for business at such a fast pace that they put their existing clients on hold to pursue more business. They do warranty work and finish jobs in between new jobs because they need the new jobs for cash flow. This can unintentionally compromise the service to the previous customers.”

When asked what types of compliments the BBB typically receives about its member companies (a/k/a accredited businesses), Odell said, “When a job is done completely, including clean up, in a timely manner and at a fair price, the customer is more than pleased.”

To further explore what constitutes good customer service, we asked Odell what she believes is most important. She answered, “People want to know the company appreciates their business by returning calls and keeping all communication open and positive. It’s about respect and trust.”

She offered this example: “A customer has a washing machine in need of repair. The service man comes, determines a new part has to be ordered, and establishes a return day to install it. If the company learns the part won’t arrive in time, someone calls the customer to set a realistic date to do the work. At that point, the company representative expresses concern for the inconvenience this is causing the customer. On the scheduled return date, the service man arrives on time and expresses his appreciation of the customer’s patience.”

To conclude our discussion, Odell said, “We know good communication is the key to success with any relationship, whether business or personal. As Jim Autry, author and past CEO of Meredith Publishing, said, businesses are just people. We all want to be respected and feel that people care about us.”

If you’re interested in improving your company’s customer service practices, you might consider participating in the Southern Colorado BBB’s prestigious Excellence in Customer Service Award program (EICS). This award, presented annually, was established 18 years ago to help local businesses improve and help Colorado Springs’ image by giving customers great experiences.

The application, information about the award, and criteria for consideration can be accessed on the BBB’s website at http://southerncolorado.bbb.org. An EICS Application Writing Workshop will be held on Tuesday, March 13th and you can sign up by contacting their office at 719-636-1155 or eics@bbbsc.org.

Providing good customer service should be one of the primary concerns for all of us because our customers keep us in business. And if we don’t take good care of them, our competitors will happily take them off our hands!

Laddie and Judy Blaskowski are partners in several businesses, including BusinessTruths Consulting. Judy@BusinessTruths.com.