Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The good and bad of customer service

According to an article posted at Mainebiz Online, Androscoggin Bank will be opening a new branch in Portland this fall. That in and of itself isn't big news. However, Androscoggin plans to employ an "open layout," one which puts a premium on customer interaction, with free-standing customer service "pods" and floating "financial services reps," according to Paul Andersen, the bank's COO.

What I like about this concept is that Androscoggin Bank didn't merely opt for the pods, but also understood that some of its "seasoned" customers, and others, who might be intimidated by technology, would benefit from having real, live financial services reps, "floating" among the customers. Even better, Androscoggin views this as an "investment," which appears to be more than just a symantic ploy to score marketing points with potential customers.

An additional bonus with this people-centered concept, is that it will add positions, rather than eliminating them, as initially, two new staff will be added, with additional staff being planned later on.

This news story about Androscoggin Bank is the flipside of what I recently experienced with Budget, when I rented a car from them, at LAX, in Los Angeles, at the start of my recent vacation.

After a six hour cross country flight, I was jammed onto an overcrowed shuttle bus, like cattle on the way to slaughter, and ferried to the Budget lot nearby.

Upon disembarking from the shuttle, I saw a long line snaking out the front door of the Budget office. While four rental agents were trying to move about 25-30 people through the process of securing their automobile, there were five open stations that were not staffed. I knew I was in for a long wait.

After 45 minutes, I made my way to the next available agent, completed my paperwork, and was directed to my Toyota Prius. I then spent another 10 minutes trying to figure out how my hybrid operated, as there was no owner's manual in the car, and no lot attendants nearby. Finally, after punching buttons, and moving levers, my car lurched forward, and I was on my way, after nearly an hour, the direct result of poor customer service.

Additionally, on my next to last day of my trip, I attempted to call in to the Budget office, to ask about dropping my vehicle off, as the paperwork was unclear as to the procedure. After two attempts, and a 30 minute combined wait, I gave up and proceeded upon my assumption, which happened to be right.

It would seem to me that in a down economy, a company like Budget could add staff in order to provide a quality experience for consumers. Three to five additional staff would have halved the wait that customers experienced, awaiting their rental car. Obviously, Budget's corporate orientation is to do more with less, which always means the customer gets screwed.

Because of their shortsightedness, I don't intend to rent from Budget again, as they were the worst of any car rental company that I've ever utilized. I hope others consider doing the same.

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