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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

All about 'thank-yous'

I'm a bit of a maniac about customer service.  If a business gives me lousy service, I will never patronize them again.  Period.  End of story.

I don't care if they're right next door and the competition is miles away.  I don't care if they have the best damned product ever invented!  Simply put, if you you treat me so badly that I leave your store feeling neglected, offended or abused, not only will I never do business with you again... but I will take it upon myself to tell everyone I know about my experience.

The flip-side of that coin is that if a business goes out of its way to make my experience with them a positive one,  I will travel miles out of my way... even pay more.. and do business only with them!  Yes, my loyalty can be bought... but the asking price is measured entirely in the level of customer service.

The cell phone I use is supplied by my company.  It isn't fancy (no camera or other gadgets), but all my calls are free and it works.  I can't ask much more than that from a cellphone. 

But last week I got a memo saying that I was entitled to a new phone... a smaller/better model... and I should go to the nearest Cellcom (our cellular provider) office to pick up the new phone and have them install the new hands-free kit in my car.

As soon as I read the memo I cringed.  In the history of the State of Israel, no such transaction has ever been accomplished in less than 5 trips! I knew with 100% certainty that despite the fact that my company had arranged everything in advance... the people at Cellcom would have no earthly idea what I was talking about and tell me to make repeated trips to bring them ever-more-difficult-to-obtain clarifying documents. 

The potential for bureaucratic hassles was nearly limitless!

But besides the potential hassle, I was opposed to the whole idea on principle since there was nothing wrong with my phone!  I'm a big fan of the saying 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it!'.

So you can imagine my surprise when I walked into the Cellcom office ready for a fight... and before I could even open my mouth a young woman greeted me politely, invited me into her office and offered me a cup of coffee.  She immediately found my account in her computer... called the technician to take my car and install the hands-free kit... and even transferred all my stored phone numbers into my teeny-tiny new handset!

While we waited for the technician to finish up with my car, she gave me a quick tutorial on my new phone and loaded me up with free lanyards and belt holders for the phone.   When everything was done she escorted me to their installation bay and waited with me to make sure everything worked properly before waving me on my way.

As I drove back to my office I experienced such incredible cultural vertigo that I almost had to pull over.  Intellectually I knew I was in Israel... but the customer service I had just received was far better than anything I had ever experienced... even in the US!  There simply had to be a catch!

Just to make sure, when I got back to the office I called up the service center and asked to speak with the young woman who had helped me.   When she heard my name she immediately asked if everything was alright.  I told her I was just checking to make sure I hadn't forgotten anything or neglected to provide/fill-out/sign something.

There was a moment's pause while she clacked away on her computer before saying, "No, I think we covered everything... was there something else I can help you with?" 

I thanked her and hurried off the phone.  I was so floored by the level of service that I looked up the Corporate offices of Cellcom in Tel Aviv and faxed them a glowing letter about my wonderful experience with their company, and especially praising the professionalism of this customer service agent. 

Unfortunately I couldn't express my gratitude as extravagantly as I wanted in Hebrew so I had written the letter in English. 

Within an hour I got a jarring phone call from an aggressively abrasive clerk in the main offices of Cellcom.  In blindingly fast Hebrew she began asking rapid-fire questions:  "What was my problem?... What exactly was I complaining about?... Why hadn't I written my complaint in Hebrew?!"

It took my several tries before I could convince her that my letter had been a thank-you note... not a complaint.  And even then, she seemed to accept the news grudgingly... as if conceding a difficult point in a political argument. 

Even more bizarre... even though we had spoken only in Hebrew, her parting shot before hanging up the phone loudly in my ear was the following in heavily accented English:

"Vy dontsyou send a senkyu note in eebrew nex time?  You lives in yisrael now... so if you send somsing in eenglish peoples donts know what you is wanting and sinks you is complaining!"

Ahhhhh... now that's the Israel I know and love!

In other senk, er, I mean thank you-related news...

I'd like to formally and officially thank each and every person who cast a vote for treppenwitz in the JIBs.  I am deeply honored that this journal received the Gold Medal in both the 'Best Life in Israel' and 'Best Post' categories. 

I waited to extend this particular thank you because many of the JIB winners had not yet received their medal icons from the Jerusalem Post.  But looking around I see that pretty much everyone has them now.  So, thank you for visiting... for reading... for commenting... and, of course, for voting!

219_44

Posted by David Bogner on February 28, 2006 | Permalink

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Clearly, the next note will be in Russian and sent directly onto her fax machine. And make sure you fax the whole paper loop.

Posted by: a. | Feb 28, 2006 5:27:29 PM

Very enjoyable and rings so true! Its posts like these that illustrate why you won the award for best "Life In Israel" blog.

Posted by: wanderer | Feb 28, 2006 6:42:57 PM

I would be almost (almost?) afraid to write a thank you note out of fear that the good-service people would get fired. "Oy, at friar? (is there a feminine term for friar? friaret? friarah?)" OTOH, that's too much effort.

There is good customer service in this country from some companies. Too bad it often just comes from the lil guy (including the lil guy in the big company).

Posted by: amechad | Feb 28, 2006 6:45:44 PM

LOL! I worked in retail for many, many years, but took a hiatus while living in israel for 2 years (i was a student and a nanny), where I learned to appreciate not only the US retail establishment, but US customers as well! I would not want to work in retail in Israel, let alone do major shopping there!! LOL!

Posted by: ezer knegdo | Feb 28, 2006 7:20:38 PM

Heh..nice story. So what phone did you get in the end?

Posted by: tnspr569 | Feb 28, 2006 7:24:52 PM

That's a great story.
Great post.
Also very telling that people "sinks you is complaining!" if you write in English. Americans do have a reputation for being whiny I guess...

Posted by: Shifra | Feb 28, 2006 7:37:00 PM

I'm just like you on this issue. Few things hack me off like someone with their hand in my pocket being nasty about it at the same time.

I have the same sort of story about customer service in Israel. My wife and I were robbed at the Dead Sea and my wife lost here passport and credit cards and most of our cash. Tami, the assistant manager, at the King David Hotel literally saved us. She took over personal management of our lives for about a week. Either obtained herself or helped us obtain all the documents we needed, liasoned with whatever functionaries had to be delt with and pulled us out of the fire singlehandedly. All this while running the hotel as well. I still think about the whole experience and marvel.

Posted by: Scott | Feb 28, 2006 7:59:59 PM

I come here for the great blog service.

Posted by: Jack | Feb 28, 2006 8:23:01 PM

I find myself marveling at great customer service when it happens, as it so seldom does and then I think to myself, "that should be the norm" and "how are these places staying in business"? But it's because most people go for the convenience/1stopshopping experience and go places and just grit their teeth when it comes to dealing with the teenage help that works at most retail places.
I usually go for the convenience factor, but if possible, and I'm in need of a 'fix', I stop in the local hardware store where they smile and give my daughter a lollipop and give me the assistance I need! I feel good rewarding them when they are competing with the Home Depots of the world.

Posted by: Val | Feb 28, 2006 9:42:53 PM

How funny! No good deed goes unpunished. :)

I got a kick out of how blunt and brutally honest so many of the Israelis that I encountered on my trip were.

Posted by: Stacey | Feb 28, 2006 11:05:55 PM

Customer service has been my business for over 25 years. I see so little of it, but enjoy hearing the few good stories. Thanks for the post.

Posted by: Tim | Mar 1, 2006 12:02:09 AM

yasher koach treppenwitz-now that i live in israel i can really appreciate your post.
totally random incident that just entered my brain and i dont think has any connection to what you wrote-i walked into a jewelery store a few months ago and asked the woman behind the counter if she spoke english. her response? the dirtiest look she can muster, some muttered words and a 'uf courze. vat you sink ve dunt knowing ingleesh? vat kinda place you tink dis is??'
dont know why i thought that was so fabulously funny.
(perhaps it has to do with the current time)
perhaps

Posted by: the sabra | Mar 1, 2006 1:17:33 AM

I think I'm going to try complaining here (U.S.) in Hebrew and see what happens.

Posted by: Randi(cruisin-mom) | Mar 1, 2006 2:54:34 AM

I also try to patronize places that have good customer service. Unfortunately, convenience and teeth gritting sometimes win out. But that is pretty funny that she thought you were complaining because you wrote in English :)

Posted by: Essie | Mar 1, 2006 3:20:31 AM

It's great to see that you appreciate good service when you receive it. I, too, will sacrifice the long drive to go to a place that offers great service vs. the place that has bad service.

Thanks for sharing!
~Maria Palma
CustomersAreAlways.com

Posted by: Maria Palma | Mar 1, 2006 4:32:06 AM

Funny, but the only service experience with an Israeli was actually pretty good, though under weird circumstances. I was stopping in Mexico on a cruise, and wound up in a jewelry story, with my parents. We were talking in Russian, when a girl vendor called out to us and asked whether we're Jewish. She turned out to be an Israeli, who ran out of money traveling across Mexico from the U.S., and got stuck working there for a few years. She was very, very sweet and helpful.

Posted by: Irina | Mar 1, 2006 7:37:02 AM

a. ... I learned a long time ago not to start a flame war with customer service reps. They have unlimited time on their hands and a free telephone line. Not only that , they often have access to computerized consumer information about you that makes the 'Patriot act' seem tentative and luke warm.

Wanderer... Let's just say I have good material to work with. :-)

Amechad... I've noticed that most big companies have started implementing organized customer service programs, but as you say... it is often left to the little guy to act on while the back office continues dealing with the public as numbers and annoyances.

Ezer Knegdo... I agree, retail in this country must be a difficult area to retain a positive outlook on life. :-)

tnspr569... I got the Nokia 3120. Maybe I'll post a picture of it on Friday.

Shifra... I really have no place to make fun. Whenever my secretary hands me a thick document of closely spaced Hebrew I usually ask her for a synopsis... or even simply to tell me how important it is that I read it. Good thing I trust her. :-)

Scott... I'm not surprised that you had such a good experience at the King David. They are geared to deal with western visitors who are accustomed to a very high level of service and attention to detail. I've very glad to hear there was a good ending to the story.

Jack... And here I was thinking it was for the sports commentary. :-)

Val... I enjoy dealing with the mom & pop stores anyway. Having a relationship with a store owner provides a level of advice/expertise unmatched by any of the big chains. And it also feels good to walk into a store and be greeted by name.

Stacey... Yup, blunt and brutally honest. That about sums it up. :-)

Tim... From what I've learned about you on your blog, I imagine you're quite good at it.

Sabra... No, even by the time I read it the story was still funny. Thanks for sharing.

Randi... Let me know how that works out for you. Considering you're in California, the PC capital of the western world, they will probably be too embarrassed to admit they don't understand you. Must respect other cultures at all costs! :-)

Essie... It didn't occur to me until a couple of commenters made reference to the specific fact that it was English that I looked at it that way. Yes, I'll have to admit that we anglos are a bit higher maintenance than the typical immigrants.

Maria Palma... Wow! A whole blog devoted to Customer Service related topics! Who knew such a thing was possible?! I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

Irina... I think Ex-pat Israelis tend to be a little mellower. :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Mar 1, 2006 9:18:08 AM

Isn't free-market competition wonderful?

Cellcom got its act together when other network operators started stealing customers on service alone (not much competition on price as all the networks are relatively new and have the same basic capabilities). The leader was the local orange affiliate - which brought an international standard of service to this sector.

Contrast this with the "wait 4 months for phone line" that was typical when phone service was a government monopoly here.

Some of my Israeli coworkers also connect this to the large numbers of Israelis who have traveled overseas and experienced good service - that is, the ones who didn't go to France...

Posted by: Ben-David | Mar 1, 2006 12:17:19 PM

I had that phone for less than a year, and recently had to replace it- it was falling apart on me. Both the 3100 and the 3120 are bad phones- stay far, far away from them!!! You may find yourself with a phone that doesn't get service randomly, gets poor battery life after a few months, has poor audio quality in calls, and is just generally flaky...if I had known you were going to get that phone, I would have recommended that you simply ignore that upgrade notice! Oy vey. What phone did you have before?

Posted by: tnspr569 | Mar 1, 2006 1:57:58 PM

How about this for a retail story- I went to Home Center in Talpiyot to get some Draino for a clogged drain. I couldn't find it and asked for help from a salesperson. He helpfully handed me the last bottle on the sale rack. It had some tape stuck to it but I didn't think much of it.

I pay for the bottle and put in the shopping bag with some other things. I reach in to put my reciept in and it's wet inside. I take out the Draino bottle and I find that it's leaking because THE TAPE WAS COVERING A HUGE CRACK IN THE BOTTLE. I was so shocked I was shaking ( not to mention my fingers were getting burned from the stuff) I just could not believe it. I asked for another bottle and all they had was another brand for 10 shek more. And of course, they wanted to charge me the 10 shek.

I said I just want my money back, almost in tears, ( and of course the sales guy who got the second bottle did that Israeli whine "Well, why'd you make it bring it all the way to the checkout if you don't want to buy it?!)

They gave me cash back even though I paid with Visa. Completely whacked.

Posted by: jerusalemom | Mar 1, 2006 8:52:57 PM

Ben-David... I agree that they aren't treating me nicely out of the goodness of their hearts. Competition is always a good thing for the customer.

tnspr569... Well, aren't you just a wellspring of good news.

Jerusalem mom... Unfortunately, I can so see that happening. SO many stores here still have no clue about customer service and only see you as an obstacle between them and your money.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Mar 2, 2006 5:11:37 PM

Just warning you...I'm sure you could exchange it for another model. At least you're warned now.

Posted by: tnspr569 | Mar 2, 2006 8:20:51 PM

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