As we come up to the end of 2020 we could all do with a little more festive cheer given the last 12 months. Everyone has felt the pressure including you I’m sure.
Lab analysis has been something that has become front and centre this year with sample turnaround times being something politicians now talk about on the news. We as a nation seem to have become far more interested in lab testing given COVID-19 even on non-covid related tests. In fact people realising I work in an oil testing lab now seem much more interested on what goes on and how it all works this year, even though nothing to do with covid testing.
It may be a different sample type but the dilemmas are still the same for every contract lab including the constant rush of samples, the wait on the postal systems and urgency in results once the samples reach the lab. In all this constant pressure on the lab it can often be easy to let the small things slip such as making the customer feel special or more than just a lab number.
I personally try to build a good relationship with every one of our customers, big or small. Not because that’s what some customer service book or management training course tells me, but because it’s the right thing to do. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I believe we offer service and support that cannot be surpassed by our competitors because surpassing customers expectations should be the “new normal” – another new phrase we have heard this year.
Don’t be just another lab number
I have had quite a few people speak to me about the services plummeting at other labs this year. Many were quite understanding like myself at first with lockdowns and furlough, but after a while the excuses became inexcusable.
One customer described having spoken to 7 different people at one lab over a space of 3 weeks chasing a routine, but very urgent oil sample. Only 2 of the 7 contacts actually replied and the 7th contact who after putting the customer on hold for 20 minutes said it will be with you in another 10 minutes took another 48 hours to actually send through the report.
Another customer contacted their lab provider to find out the lab had been sold (there have been quite a few lab sales/takeovers this year). He wanted to buy some sample kits but was unable to as there was a glitch in the new accounting system meaning his account was not transferred correctly. A teething problem, which although annoying can happen in big mergers I suppose. He filled out a new application form to be told he was no longer eligible for a credit account despite using their lab for nearly 10 years with a credit account. To make matters worse a month or two later he had a price rise letter with a rise nearly double the usual annual price rises he received.
Both of these customers now use ourselves for their analysis and are much happier. I don’t see these as necessarily as a demonstration of how good our services are because with services as bad as what these customers were receiving prior to moving to us, the bar was set rather low. Instead I welcome the opportunity to really show our customers how we can excel even against services that are very good already. This made me remember a story from last year, it was the night before Christmas….
Christmas Eve 2019 – being the benchmark in customer service
This is a story of a marine customer in the very northern most parts of Scotland who was actually quite happy with their current lab – a larger competitor of ours. The package our competitor provided routinely included a courier deal to fly samples over to mainland UK which we couldn’t offer. This was something important to the client and although I got on quite well with all the people at that company and they regularly send me technical questions through my learnoilanalysis blog, this was s company I thought would never use us. That was until I received a call on the 23rd December 2019 from the MD of that company saying they had some samples to ship, but there was an issue with their current lab meaning they wouldn’t be able to provide results before the new year. They asked if they put samples with a next day courier for 24th December morning could we get out before the staff leave (usually a little early). I said yes we could as long as they got them to us pre-9am.
9am came and went and I contacted the client and said no samples had arrived. They apologised and said the courier didn’t collect. They said one of their staff was visiting relatives for Christmas just an hour from us and would drop the samples on route. He had apparently left before 5am with the samples and would be with us by 1pm. 1pm came and went and still no samples. I spoke to the customer and he said the man was stuck in traffic and wouldn’t be here until 3pm now. I said yes we can do, whilst internally we discussed how to get the work all done in rapid timing so we could all get home for Christmas. 3pm arrived and the customer called to say he couldn’t get hold of the driver and didn’t know where he was. The customer agreed we couldn’t hold on forever and the customer said to process the samples after Christmas. The customer said he had left a voicemail for the driver to say drop off the samples after Christmas.
At 5.20pm just as I was getting ready to leave (I had actually set the burglar alarm and a couple of us were just walking out the door) a van pulled up and it was the driver. He had got lost and his phone battery had died. He was very apologetic and hadn’t heard the message not to come. He handed me the samples and said would I mind if he 1) used our loo and 2) put his phone on charge so he had enough battery to call his relatives to say he was going to be late. We said yes ok and while his phone started charging we spoke. He explained the importance of these samples, 2019 had been a rough year for them and that they could lose the contract because of these samples being late. The guy may have been playing for sympathy, but it came over very genuine to me. So much so we took pity and said we would process the samples now for him whilst his phone charged. My father (who is also my colleague in the lab) set the samples up and got them all going on the various instruments. I got the samples registered in the system, the data downloaded and interpreted them. In the end the customer had their results by 8pm Christmas Eve.
The customer asked what the additional charge was for processing so late and I told him “there will be no extra charge” and “to have a good Christmas”
Christmas came and went and was very enjoyable. January came and went too. In February I got a call from the customer again and they said they would like to move all their non routine work to ourselves – about 30% of the work they do. Ever since then we have had this customers samples and the customer although happy with the main routine work with his current lab is now using us for all their specialist analysis work. That lab too had problems this year, and we have also started to get some of the routine work as well. However, I am most proud that the customer despite being happy with their current supplier gave us the opportunity to exceed all their expectations and set for them a “new normal” in customer service.
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