My family just bought a new house – and we’ve had the pleasure (and sometimes, sadly, the displeasure) of calling to sign up for new service with a myriad of service providers. New cable, new phone, new electric service, new landscaping, new everything. It’s not our first time moving (my wife and I have lived in five houses in our ten years of marriage), but we’re hoping this will be the last move for a long time.
In all of our moves, though, this was the only time I needed to sign up for garbage collection. Where we now live, the city does not provide garbage or recycling services so homeowners are left to set up waste removal on their own. There are pretty much only two companies in my area – Waste Management and Veolia Environmental Services. This story was just too good (or, in reality, too bad) not to share.
When we moved in, we received postcards from both companies. Their pricing was very similar. Their terms were very similar. They both pick up once per week. Basically, I perceived little differentiation – in fact, the only difference I noted is that one picks up on Tuesday and the other picks up on Friday.
I asked my wife, “Which would you prefer? Tuesday or Friday?”
“Friday,” she replied.
So, that’s how I decided to hire Waste Management.
The first time I called I very carefully made my way through menu upon submenu on Waste Management’s phone system, only to be directed to voicemail greeting letting me know nobody could take my call. That took about three minutes to get to the voicemail, so I figured I’d leave a message. I never received a call back.
I tried them the next day two or three times to no avail.
Two days later, I tried calling again. I spent about ten minutes on hold before I hung up in frustration.
I often find that I receive better service by using a company’s website, so I went over to wm.com and filled out their “request quote” form. I gave them my address (which was already in their system because the former homeowner used Waste Management for eleven years), full name, phone number, and email address. About 24 hours later, I received an email from someone in their customer service department telling me that I should call (are you ready for this?) the exact same number I’ve been calling for days.
At that point, I decided that I really didn’t care on which day my garbage gets picked up – as long as it would get picked up soon! I came up with a plan. I would call Waste Management and Veolia one more time each, leave a message, and whoever called me back first would get the business.
Here’s what I happened: I called and left a message (again) for Waste Management. I then dialed Veolia prepared to leave a message when something amazing happened – they answered the phone! I was so surprised I almost left a message anyway. The guy was friendly, helpful, informative, and efficient. Three days later, I had new garbage and recycling containers at my house with Veolia’s name all over them.
I know I’m not a big customer. This service costs less than $40 a month. But there are hundreds of homeowners in my subdivision that base their buying decisions on the experiences of their neighbors. I now have a yellow-lidded garbage can on my driveway once a week. Two neighbors have asked me why I chose Veolia. When I told them my story one replied, “Yeah, Waste Management’s customer service is garbage. I think I’ll try that Veolia instead.”
So why share my story? Why gripe (a bit) and spend this time discussing something as miniscule as garbage?
Because it’s really not that miniscule. Waste Management is a $13B company. All that garbage adds up to a lot of money. But it makes me wonder how much they’re leaving on the table by not being easy to do business with.
I am always perplexed by the fact that companies spend millions of dollars on advertising to get you to call them but then treat you like crap when you do. Don’t be like Waste Management.
Here’s what they (and you) should do:
1. When a customer or prospect calls you, answer the phone. Quickly. Yes, it costs money to staff your phones appropriately. Deal with it. Or, charge more for your products and services to cover the costs. Look at the recent success of Time Warner’s Signature Home Service, in which consumers gladly pay about $50 a month more to have high-touch customer service.
2. When a customer or prospect leaves you a message, call them back. Quickly. There’s an inverse relationship between the amount of time it takes to call someone back and their excitement level for product. The sooner you call them, the better your chances are to make the sale.
3. When a customer or prospect uses your online forms to express interest in your company, reply with helpful information…not blanket form letters. If you really need to talk to your prospect before you can answer all of their questions – call them! Or email asking for more info and allow your prospect to reply via their preferred method of communication.
4. Use your brain. If the customer service rep who emailed me had looked up my address in her computer system, she would have seen that they’d already serviced my address for over a decade. I’m sure they had enough info to give me a quote and start service again the following week. But she didn’t. Instead, she asked all sorts of irrelevant questions and told me to call in with the answers. Think before you communicate.
5. If I have to call you, give me an easy way to reach you. I would have still called if the customer service rep had given me a direct number or an extension. I put my cell phone number on my business cards. Here’s a shocker: I want my customers to call me. Don’t you?
6. Don’t judge the prospect by the amount of money they’re looking to spend right now. There are additional opportunities hiding just below the surface. How did Waste Management know that I’m not a decision maker at a manufacturing company that uses a half-dozen roll-off dumpsters a month (which I am)? How did they know that I’m not the president of my homeowner’s association that is considering a group buying decision (which I am not)?
This might seem like common sense, but it seems common sense is not so common anymore (hat tip to Voltaire on that one). If you put these common sense tips into practice, you’ll become an uncommon success in your industry.
Oh, and by the way, Waste Management still has not returned my call.