This blog was contributed by Michelle Payn-Knoper of Cause Matters Corp. She works to connect the farm gate to consumer plate through programs in agricultural advocacy, social media strategy, the translation of farm to food and community engagement.
Apparently I'm supposed to write about customer service. The last month has involved hours of conversations and a lot of headaches related to how businesses treat their customers. I was even frustrated enough at one point to inform our daughter that if she ever owned a business, she'd better deliver on what she promised. Funny enough, she knows what service is at a young age; she still talks about a restaurant that kept us waiting an hour for lunch a year ago. All of this makes me ask if I serve my clients with class — and does agriculture think about our customers?
Before we go there, let my try to succinctly explain a few of the issues. The most fun one is the tractor I bought for my husband. He had spent hundreds of hours researching what we needed, so I called the dealer and explained if they could find one to be delivered in two weeks that they'd have the sale. Kyle at Bane Farm Equipment was great; he responded immediately, treated me with respect and even translated some terms to my language (I had told him I was a farm girl but not mechanical, so we'd need to talk thing-a-boppers). The deal was finalized as I was driving to the airport, they delivered a nicely washed tractor to our neighbor and I drove it across our field as a huge Christmas surprise. We feel great every time we look at it in our barn.
Contrast that with our Direct TV experience. We only purchased satellite a few years ago, so we were excited to watch Spartan basketball. Our excitement diminished whenever we had to call them, but the final straw came when we returned home to a failed receiver after being gone a week. It deleted several recordings that we were looking forward to, such as Michigan State's victory over IU. We don't watch much TV, so it was very disappointing to have our favorites gone. Then they wanted $20 to ship their equipment and refused to guarantee delivery for a party we were having two days later. Their last chance came when I was trying to explain customer perspective to a manager and told him customers don't really want to spend 30 minutes arguing with their satellite provider about failed equipment late at night after they've been in five airports in 36 hours. His response was "I have no idea what you're talking about." We're no longer customers. If a business can't understand how valuable their customer's time is, they fail.
Another electronics saga was the TV system we bought before I was laid up with knee surgery in the fall. We've never had much of TV, but we invested in a HD system with a GoogleTV box, along with a sound bar. First aggravation was the cable that the salesman told us was necessary. It didn't attach at the right angle, so the the sound bar won't sit on a shelf . But the kicker was the remotes. Our HH Gregg salesman told us they'd all program together. I spent hours (and a few choice words) trying to get the sound bar programmed with the TV remote. We finally called HH Gregg tech support last Sunday and they weren't too keen to help us over the phone, but said they'd program the remotes if we brought them in. When I took them to the store (45 minutes away), no one had a clue. After getting shuffled around, I found a service person who would look at them. He picked up the two remotes and said there was no option they'd work together because of incompatible systems.
You can imagine my frustration level at that point with over-promise and under-delivery! The tech service person suggested I go back to the store and talk to a manager. I was expecting the worst, but was pleasantly surprised that the manager's first response was an authentic "I understand your frustration." He made it apparent immediately that he was going to work to help us. And he tried hard to find a solution that was compatible with our needs and set-up. Unfortunately, the new speakers didn't work, but at least we don't have a bad feeling every time we look at the TV. He made sure he personally connected so we knew we have someone to turn to. He listened. He responded. He cared enough to try to fix a problem.
Does agriculture do that when people ask questions? I'm not sure I can say we do enough. Most of society would say time is their most precious commodity. Are we doing enough to provide quick and easy info about food and farming so we're respecting people's time? I'd suggest we be more proactive than my experience with GE, where I had to tweet complaining about their lack of service to get customer service. Are you managing concerns of customers quickly and before they have a significant issue? By the way, if you farm, the people who are ultimately consuming products ARE YOUR CUSTOMERS. Do they know they can turn to you for answers - even if you don't have the perfect solution?