I’ve begun my 16 months of world travel, and the customer service experience examples I’m sharing with you today cover some of the good, the bad, and the ugly in the world of customer experience. Today’s examples include:
- Rental agencies in Canada and in the United Kingdom
- Wineries in British Columbia
- A bathing suit shopping experience
- Insurance brokers.
If you’d rather read than listen, here are the customer service experiences from the first phase of travel.
1. Edmonton Rental Agency
Last fall we sold our house in preparation for our travels. We put most of our belongings in storage and rented a furnished apartment to get us through the few months before we began our trip. We rented through an agency that specializes in such rentals.
Their service sucked. Big time.
We were paying top dollar, but It took repeated nagging to get basic things done, like getting the previous renter’s broken junk out of the apartment, fixing the windows so they could be opened (and closed), setting things up so we could actually buzz guests up our apartment, and on and on. We paid in part for a gorgeous picture window view over the river valley, but the blinds were stuck half-way and in the six months we were there they NEVER did get that fixed!
So, at one point, super-frustrated by their lack of response, I wrote an honest but very critical review on Google and on their Facebook page. It took months for them to even notice.
Don’t make this mistake! Your Facebook page should ping you if someone leaves a comment and you should reply right away. I’m not sure how Google notifies listed companies about reviews. If you can’t set it up for automatic notifications, you can at least schedule a daily or weekly check on it.
When did they finally notice? When I was pushing them to get our deposit back.
They wanted to charge for a final cleaning (which we’d already done). When I resisted they finally looked me up and basically said that if I took down the review we’d get our money back. If you email me, I’ll tell you what company it is that you should avoid. And once I have received and cashed the deposit cheque, I may just repost the comments. (I didn’t say I’d take them down forever. And, frankly, if you are blackmailing people to take down bad reviews, you don’t deserve to have them taken down.)
2. BC Wine Country
From Edmonton we headed off to Canada’s BC wine country. The wineries in Naramata have figured out great customer experience. We visited several and didn’t have one bad experience. (And no, its not that I tasted so much that I don’t remember!)
Lessons from there: they all had friendly, welcoming, attentive staff, high quality food and drinks, and clean, beautiful properties. The overall experience was fantastic.
Retail Store: Bathing Suit Shopping
We wandered past a store called Peaches Lingere in Pentiction. A bathing suit in the window caught my eye, so we popped in.
As I followed the clerk to find it on the racks, I commented on another suit that looked good.
“That one probably won’t fit you right” she said, “but let me bring you something else that would.”
She’d read me (and my body size) perfectly. The bathing suit she brought me was perfect! Never before in my life have I been able to try on only one bathing suit and have it look great. Amazing!
Lesson: hire good staff and train them well. Make sure they know the products and can “read” their customers. I don’t have a perfect bathing suit body. I’m short-waisted and a little on the heavy side. Things don’t normally fit me. But she didn’t waste my time with stuff that wouldn’t work; nor did she try to convince me to buy something that might have been more expensive but wouldn’t have suited me. (I don’t know if she was on commission or not.)
4. London Rental Agencies
Since we are travelling so much, we’ve also spent a lot of time researching and booking places to stay, mostly on AirBnB and VRBO, although for short stays we do also look at things like Booking.com. (I pretty much stopped using TripAdvisor a few years ago because the reviews on Booking.com seemed to be more reliable.)
London, as you can imagine, is a hideously expensive place to rent. And we made it worse because we were determined to be quite central.
There were several rental agencies that do short-term furnished rentals, and looked like they had some great places at reasonable prices (reasonable by London standards). So I tried to contact a few of them. …
It reminded me of trying to deal with rental agents in France 8 years ago:
- They often didn’t provide email addresses; you had to fill in their forms instead.
- They were slow to reply, often taking days or even weeks.
- A couple of them eventually left me telephone messages, instead of replying to my email. (Reminder lesson: always reply in the medium the customer used to reach out to you. If you think it needs a phone call, you can suggest that in your first reply.) They don’t seem to have realized that they live in the Internet era.
- And when they did reply the answer was “Oh, we don’t do rentals until about 6 weeks beforehand. There will be lots of places to rent. Just contact us then, will you?” … No, I won’t. Sure there will be lots of places, but at what price and where? Knowing that we are going to be there during prime tourist season, we didn’t want to gamble on a late reservation. The crazy thing was that we told these agents we wanted to rent for 3 months, which is pretty good for so-called “short-term” rentals! So why weren’t they taking us more seriously?
We found a lovely place on AirBnB. Perhaps not as nice and a bit more expensive than some of the places the agencies had listed, but this owner was willing to commit. In fact, I’d say she was downright thrilled to do the deal early.
Several months after reaching out to the agencies I have received a couple of phone calls from them asking if we are still looking for a place. Really?
5. Insurance Brokers
I’ve never been thrilled with my insurance broker, but have stuck with them because it seemed simpler than changing.
When we sold our house, moved most of our things into storage, and rented a downtown apartment, it took several calls and emails for them to understand and get us what we needed. We also discovered, after the fact, that my ebike was not insured to anything close to its actual value, even though we had asked if we needed special coverage for our bikes and been told no.
This time it is even more complicated. We will no longer be tenants in Edmonton for the next 8 months, but we still need coverage for the goods in storage. Our expensive bikes will be stored at a friend’s house. It would be nice if we could insure our laptops while we are away. And our daughter will get to use the car while we are gone. This is not your standard, plug ‘n play insurance request.
But the replies I got from our broker made it clear she wasn’t actually looking at the full situation. Nor was she looking at our customer records: I had to tell her that we had taken out storage insurance through them last fall.
Some of the advice she gave me was downright wrong, like saying that we’d have to have tenant’s insurance to keep the storage insurance. My new broker (at a different firm) checked with a few insurance companies and they all said that wouldn’t be valid given the length of our absence from Edmonton.
The last straw, that drove me to posting on Facebook for recommendations for a new broker, was her final email, which, from the tone of it, made it pretty clear she no longer wanted our business.
Oh, and this morning I got an email from their “personal retention specialist” saying “Just doing a quick review of your upcoming tenant insurance policy … and I did notice that there is no water coverage on your policy. If you would like, we can definitely add sewer backup and overland water coverage to your policy …. Please let me know if you wish to add this coverage to your policy or if you have any other questions.”
I’d say her “review” was a little too quick!
So I am switching insurance companies, and so far I’ve been very impressed by Seth Chartrand at Challenge Insurance, who’s working darned hard to make sure we get what we need, at a good price. Thanks Seth!
The Adventure Continues
Soon we hit the road again. Going back to Edmonton for our son’s graduation, then I’m off to speak Las Vegas (and take my 87 year old mother on a helicopter ride!), then to Colorado for another conference, and then over to Sweden, where the real adventure begins!
If you are going to be in Stockholm during the first week of July (2018), or in London between July 10 to mid-October, give me a shout! I’d love to meet up! We can go collect some more great customer service experience examples!
Links Mentioned in This Episode
The Frank Reactions Podcast on Customer Experience is a proud member of the Alberta Podcast Network, powered by ATB. You don’t have to be an Albertan to find podcasts in the Network that you’ll enjoy. And this month they are doing a listener survey. Since you listen to at least one of their podcasts (this one!), it would be great if you’d take a moment to fill in the listener survey. Thanks!
One of the podcasts in the Network is the Edmonton Community Foundation’s Well Endowed Podcast. This month’s episode features interviews with two Olympians:
- Paralympian Nordic Skier, Brian McKeever shares his passion for skiing, and what he has learned from his family.
- Jen Kish was the captain of the Canada’s Women’s Sevens Rugby Team for the Olympic Games at Rio in 2016. She shares her thoughts on diversity and inclusion in sports. If you are going to be in Edmonton June 14 you can see Jen Kish speak at the Edmonton Public Library’s Forward Thinking Speaker Series.