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Customer Service is a Mindset

There is a special place in Heaven for the folks who invented automated answering systems. I’m sure you have stories to tell. How much time have you wasted trying to get a human being when you needed help from a provider?

There is a special place in Heaven for the folks who invented automated answering systems. I’m sure you have stories to tell. How much time have you wasted trying to get a human being when you needed help from a provider?

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I recently came across a database that includes the best-known numbers for companies. Find help from credit companies, government offices, software providers, shipping and travel companies. The list provides instructions on what to do when you reach the number so that you can get a human on the other side of the phone (e.g., press 0 and then say “customer service”).

As I looked through the list, I did not see an entry for ING Direct, where I bank. That’s quite all right, because as they say in their outdoor ads, “To Speak to a Person, press 1 then 800 ING Direct.” I had to call them yesterday: I had locked myself out of my online account. When I dialed their number, after one touch-tone selection, I got a person.

Not just a bored or routine-sounding customer service rep. She was cheerful and energetic and I could only fairly describe her as prompt, professional, and pleasant. We sorted out my problem in a few minutes and I was on my way. I’ve done business with ING Direct online and over the phone for a couple of years — that has been a consistent experience for me.

Not very sexy, right? If you think about it, and if you’ve read the articles about the latest JetBlue, Verizon and other companies’ customer fiasco stories, you know that what happened to me is not the new normal. It’s still pretty rare, especially when rated on the consistency scale. When nothing bad happens, we have nothing to talk about. Or do we?

Customer service is a mindset, that’s why I chose “Customer Conversation” as the title for this column. The word conversation explains that it’s much more than you are just doing things right on the phone or at critical touch points as you deal with your customers. It includes all the activities you engage in when operating your business and the impressions you leave in others as you do so.

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Why is ING Direct such a good example of that? Although they have no physical bank buildings you can walk into, you can still reach them in person at any time by phone and mail in addition to the Web — that is nice, even when you happen to lock yourself out of your online account like I did. Wait a minute; did I say that I could reach a human online? Well, yes, in a matter of speaking.

Have you ever been on their Web site? Take a look at the link there and hear the company’s voice and brand promise come through in every page and prompt. ING Direct is *the* bank that will help you save money. Period. High interest rates, flexible account arrangements with your existing checking account from another bank, and funky Cafés where you can meet live people and do your online banking. There’s one in a busy corner in center city Philadelphia: it looks more like a fun place than a stodgy environment where you make financial decisions.

The recent JetBlue example made me think of ING Direct because both companies have a no frills attitude. That’s because they want to provide a service that makes the most effective use of your money. This can mean cheap as in low cost, not in experience. JetBlue Airways says: we exist to provide superior service in every aspect of our customer’s air travel experience. They had to reaffirm this after the recent incidents. They did with a completely volunteer initiative: a Bill of Rights for their customers.

What does ING Direct promise in their communications with their customers? Save your money, they say. As in “money doesn’t grow on fees”, “money in the bank changes everything”, “your money may experience growing pains,” etc. This still doesn’t mean making trade offs and sacrificing in their relationship with you. Remember, you can still lower the cost by being efficient — you don’t have to be boring and disengaged doing that. Customer service is a mindset: what are you focusing on?

Valeria Maltoni • Conversation Agent • Philadelphia, PA • ConversationAgent@gmail.comwww.conversationagent.com

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