Customer Service

Chris Byrnes – ByrnesMedia

I had two customer service experiences recently that got me thinking about how our industry serves its customers, those who advertise and those who listen. The first experience was rather minor and occurred at a Starbucks coffee shop. I ordered and paid for a coffee and cookie but it turned out the store was out of the cookie I ordered. No big deal I thought, I can live without the cookie. But the person behind the counter sincerely apologised for her mistake and gave me a voucher for a free coffee the next time I came to any Starbucks location. I told her that this was not necessary, but she insisted that this was her mistake and my next coffee would be on Starbucks. This was a simple gesture that did not cost this company much, but Starbucks earned some respect by this simple gesture.

My second customer service experience involved an airline. I was flying one of the smaller commuter airlines into a connector airport in order to catch a flight back to Toronto after a full week on the road visiting client stations.  Once in the air the stewardess informed us that they had to offload some bags because of weight restrictions and if our bags were not on the carousel we should check with customer service on arrival. At the baggage carousel it eventually became apparent that my bags and those of a few others did not make the flight so off we went to the customer support desk. They confirmed our bags were off loaded and should arrive on the next flight in four hours time and we were welcome to return to the airport to claim our luggage. But I was about to get on another plane and fly to Toronto. All the airline would offer was to put the luggage on a flight to Toronto the following day and it would be up to me to retrieve my luggage from Pearson Airport.  So I flew home wondering if I would be reunited with my luggage before I left for my next business trip on the Monday.

I called this airline’s customer support toll free line on the Saturday morning only to get a recorded message informing me that they were closed on weekends! Fortunately I had asked for the customer support desk at the local airport where all this unfolded and they told me that my luggage was put on a Westjet flight and it would arrive at 9am on the Saturday morning. So I then called Westjet hoping that they would agree to walk my bag to the curb and put it in a town car and I would pay the driver. They politely told me they could not do this, but rather than leaving it there, they offered to have my bag delivered to my house later that day at their cost. I told them that this was not their doing and I could not expect them to go to this expense. However, they insisted because I had flown on their airline for part of my journey they would be happy to help me. Sure enough by 3pm I had my luggage.  What a great example of customer service. I have told at least 30 people about this customer service experience and now our staff fly Westjet whenever we have the option.

I would also like to share this true story with you because it illustrates the importance of customer service.  It occurred a few years ago in New Zealand, at one of the radio stations of which I was a co-owner.  It was after 5:30 on a Friday evening and the drive jock received a call on the business line.  One of the policies of our company was that after hours, the business line should be answered whenever there was a live announcer in the control room.  (Overnights, both the contest and business lines were answered by a service, so you could phone the radio station anytime day or night and a real person would answer your call.)  This particular call was from a well-known, out-of-town client who apologized for calling after hours but asked for a copy of one of his commercials. But, it wasn’t a commercial from his current campaign to which he referred; it was a commercial that had run a few months prior.  Making the request even more complicated, the client asked if someone could drop off a cassette tape of the spots, along with copies of the scripts to a local hotel that evening since he was leaving very early the next morning. The jock asked for the client’s hotel phone number and promised that he’d either fulfill his request or phone him back.

As it happened, there was a staff function in the station’s boardroom that evening, and everyone who had finished work for the day was partying and having a great time. The producer said he could find and dub the commercials onto cassette and the creative director went off to print up the scripts.  Dave, the drive jock, volunteered to drop off the material to the hotel after his shift finished at 7, since he was “going that way anyway” to pick up his girlfriend.  We all thought nothing more of it and returned to the boardroom party.

The following Monday morning when Dave got to work, he told us that the most amazing thing had happened when he arrived at the hotel and asked for the client at the Reception Desk.  He was directed to the conference level and ushered into the main hall.  There were about three hundred employees from a company called “Tony’s Tires” in the room and they were attending their annual convention.   The person who had called the radio station, Steve Lange, was at the podium giving a speech on the benefits of great client service.  He stopped his talk and asked Dave to come up to the podium and hand him the package.

Steve then explained to the 300 conference attendees what he had done.  This client was one of the top ten advertisers in the market and invested a lot of money on newspaper, television and radio advertising to ensure his business was top of mind for anyone in the market for tires. He had called every media outlet in the market after 5 PM that evening and asked each one for copy from a previous campaign he had run with that company.  He got three no replies, and four services that either asked him to leave a message or informed him that he should call back during office hours.  He managed to speak to a live person in three instances.  One told him that no one could help him until Monday; one took a message and said someone would call him back but it may not be until Monday; and of course our station where Dave promised he would get it done or phone him back immediately.

One of the reasons our stations were #1 in revenues and audience share was because of our focus on great customer service.  This resulted in an outstanding, caring image among both our listeners and our clients.  In fact the motto of the company was “Service, Excellence and Fun.” and what Dave did was not that unusual in our eyes.  But it sure impressed our client and everyone in that conference room!  The client went on to say that no other media outlet had fulfilled his request, even though his company invested a lot of money with each media outlet in the city.

It was not long after that incident that Tony’s Tires changed its media buys in the market and our radio group got the lion’s share of the budget.  This example is a reminder to ask yourself if you really offer great service to both your clients and listeners.  If your radio station fielded a call to your business line after 5:30 on a Friday evening, would anyone answer the call and would anyone actually bother to deal with such an unusual request?  Is all your staff focused on service, excellence and fun?

It is a well know statistic that it is five times more expensive to generate new customers than to keep existing ones.  This is confirmed by the Gallup Organization. We also know that people make mistakes that can sometimes upset our clients to the point that we might lose them.  How do we keep this from happening?

Making a mistake can give you the opportunity to make a truly loyal fan.  But all too often it depends on how we respond to the mistake and how we rectify it.

First, respond as quickly as you can when you know there is a problem.  Putting off dealing with the situation, even if it might be unpleasant, will only make the situation worse.  Call, or if possible, go to see the customer in person.  Explain the mistake.  Take responsibility.  Be honest.

A good question to ask the client is, “What would you like me to do to correct this problem?”  Much of the time, what they ask us to do is much less than we would have been willing to do.  Obviously you need to do what they ask, if at all possible.  But if you can do more than they ask, you have the opportunity to strengthen your relationship with them.  They will remember the way you responded to the situation, just as I remember my experiences at Starbucks and Westjet.

You should also write a follow-up note apologizing for the problem and outlining what you are doing to correct it. Clients understand that we are all human and that we sometimes foul up.  If we handle the mistake quickly and professionally, we can create an even stronger relationship with our client.


Whether it is an advertiser who feels they have been given poor service or a listener who calls to complain about your product or an aspect of it, the key is how you treat that customer and how quickly you resolve their complaint. So take a moment and consider when was the last time you talked to or communicated with your top 25 advertisers? What systems do you have in place to ensure you P1 listeners can contact your radio station and feel as if their concerns are being addressed? If you rely on an impersonal web form chances are you are missing an opportunity to connect with the very people who contribute up to 80% of your tuning hours.