Avoiding “Utlity Syndrome” in Customer Service

What just happened?

I remember checking my bank account and being shocked at the balance.

Why was it all of a sudden $700.00 lower than it had been 24 hours ago and I hadn’t made any purchases?

At first, I thought it was fraud, but then when I looked at the transactions, I spotted the culprit. The power company had erroneously shifted a decimal and charged me 10x what my bill was using their auto-pay system.

I promptly called them up, and after dealing with a couple of unapologetic customer service reps, I was told, “Well you know we are a big company and these things happen on occasion. You’ll get your money back in 7–10 business days.”

It was funny how it didn’t take 7–10 seconds to take the money out.

You’ve all been there before if you have ever owned a home or rented an apartment. Dealing with electric or water company about everything from an incorrect bill to bad customer service to random fees.

It can derail your day.

Why is that?

I’ll tell you.

It’s because you are trapped.

Unlike cable, internet, phone, and sometimes natural gas, you don’t have options with power and water.

You have to use them; good, bad or ugly. Simple principles of economics show us what happens when a company has zero competition. They end up with zero reasons to actually improve. No one is going to pop up and all of a sudden lay miles and miles of pipe or electrical wire. They sit in a pretty sweet spot.

These utilities are able to function as monopolies and if you don’t like it, go find someone else… oh, wait you can’t.

So maybe your product or service isn’t as critical as electricity, but if you have had any level of success, you can bet that there is a small group out there that considers your service mission critical to their operation.

Maybe you are super specialized and fill a need that few others can.

Maybe you connect various systems to ensure that everything runs smoothly.

It can be very satisfying as a business owner to know that your clients really need you. After all, who doesn’t love to be needed?

That, however, is no excuse for mistreating your customers.

At Chop Dawg, we like to think that we operate with the highest level of integrity for every client. The world needs more of these companies. Avoid the “utility syndrome” of not caring. It isn’t even that hard.

1) Prioritize top-notch customer support

This isn’t only about customer support being knowledgeable about the product or service (although that is important). It’s also about hiring people to help your customers that have empathy, and that can understand why someone is frustrated and what result they are seeking.

2) Always strive to get better

I don’t mean a nicer screen or a faster processor. I mean real improvements. Added value, better communication and connection with customers, and improved user experience. I would argue that even though what you have might be good enough, your customers will reward you for continued improvement even though it isn’t mandatory. It’s goodwill that you can capitalize on in the future.

3) Don’t get so full of yourself

Humility wins the day. It is nice to be needed by your clients, but don’t think that can’t change. The business battlefield is littered with companies that thought they were invincible and didn’t need to change a thing. First, it was IBM, then HP, then Blackberry, then Kodak, to now brick and mortar retail and healthcare. You never know what is coming around the corner and how much time you will have to react. Today’s power company monopolies could soon be upended by solar panels where people can choose whether or not to be a part of the energy grid. You get the idea.

Minimal competition is always a beautiful thing in business, but don’t use it as an excuse not to do better. Your customers deserve it, and you’ll sleep better at night knowing that you are delivering the best you possibly can.