It seems that "service" might be a word, not a virtue after all. Following years of hearing how important it was to differentiate yourself by adding service, I've now decided it isn't so much the service people add as the proclamation that they offer it.
It all happened when I contacted a branch of a well-known business to conduct a transaction. Not only did my request meet uncalled-for, petty bureaucracy, but the unfriendly letter I subsequently received was emblazoned with the motto "Getting it right through service". Service, it seems, is a rubber stamp.
Where you least expect it
And yet, I was given excellent customer service recently from an area I would hardly have expected . . . Telstra. I've long been a critic of Telstra's roll-out of ISDN services in Australia. It's been hard to find anyone in Telstra who understands the service, or why people want it. The PR and marketing people are able to mutter generalisations, but are never sure how much it costs or how easy (or hard) it is to get the service connected.
At a recent PictureTel product launch we were shown a transportable videoconferencing unit that sets up on a TV set, in a minute, anywhere you have an ISDN socket. The problem is that the unit is meant to be portable so that, for instance, people can take it home from work for an after-hours teleconference with someone overseas.
When we asked the Telstra person present at the launch how much it costs to get and maintain an ISDN service we were told that the person did not know such details and anyway, it wasn't the service type that mattered. Excuse me, but when a product only works on ISDN, I think the ability to have ISDN is somewhat important.
When I got back to the office I rang the Telstra business office. On asking for details on ISDN I was put through to someone who not only knew the basic facts, but was able to answer every subsequent question I asked. He didn't know I was a journalist either. It was a pleasure to be served by the person, and it went a long way to making up for the years of bad service I've received from Telstra.
I won't print the person's phone number for fear of swamping him with calls, but his name is Adam Benson. Well done Adam!
Anyway, we may be silly expecting service to be included with anything we buy. Perhaps we'll get like one of those overseas hotels that are honest enough to add a 15% charge at the end of the bill for "service".