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Gaming Guru

Jeff Simpson
 

Jeff Simpson says businesses that provide poor customer service are ripe for replacement by rivals

10 December 2007

If there's one thing that really irks me as a consumer, it is lousy customer service.

When customer service providers waste my time, treat me rudely or are unable to help me, I think: "Here is a business that's ripe for a competitor." Businesses that invest in hiring great workers and then in training them to provide first-class service will eventually crush their competitors in the marketplace.

And businesses that focus on the short-term bottom line and don't worry about customer loyalty are setting themselves up for extinction.

The business weekly I edit, In Business Las Vegas, ran a Question & Answer interview in its Nov. 16-22 issue with Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos.com, the Las Vegas-based leading online shoe retailer that is staking its future on service.

Hsieh told In Business that, frustrated by poor customer service, he was inspired to build a company focused on taking care of customers.

Zappos spends a lot of money to train employees, with a four-week program that includes three weeks of classroom focus on company history, customer service philosophy and company culture and one week of talking on the phone with customers and taking orders.

Every employee, from top to bottom, goes through the same training, with the goal of making sure that every Zappos employee is on the same page when it comes to customer-service philosophy.

"We empower them to do whatever it takes to make the customer happy," Hsieh said. "All we care about is that we go above and beyond for the customer.

"In theory, customer service should be an easy thing, but it's not easy, because, if it was, I wouldn't be so annoyed or frustrated with so many other companies."

For the most part, we're lucky in Las Vegas.

We live in a hospitality-driven market, alongside hundreds of thousands of folks who provide top-notch customer service every day.

Las Vegans know what quality customer service is, and presumably demand it when we conduct our own business.

A few of my favorite customer service providers are national outfits, including Starbucks, Southwest Airlines and FedEx.

Among local companies, in the casino business Bellagio and Wynn Las Vegas rank high among the Strip resorts, while Red Rock, South Point, Green Valley Ranch, Orleans and Sunset Station are among the local casinos with the best service.

Although lower-cost restaurants aren't known for customer service, one that should be is Sweet Tomatoes, the soup-and-salad chain.

At lunch on a recent Saturday I was struck by how pleasant the workers were and how diligently they worked to keep tables clean and customers served.

Of course it's not too hard to find poor service, even in Las Vegas.

I've been disappointed by the overall quality of customer service at mass-market grocery store chains in Southern Nevada.

Before I moved to Las Vegas in 1999, I spent 11 years in Sarasota, Fla., where the dominant supermarket chain is Publix.

Their employees were friendly and knowledgeable, kept their stores clean and were quick to help those who needed it.

Here in Las Vegas, Whole Foods, of course, has great service, but it is a little too costly for my everyday shopping.

Trader Joes has even better service - and great prices - but its stores don't carry as many products as do supermarkets. When it comes to supermarket shopping, I usually shop at Smith's, but occasionally go to Vons or Albertsons.

I find the service at all three chains to be poor to acceptable, at best. When I asked some of the folks I work with to name businesses that provide poor customer service, most people cited near-monopoly utilities, including Embarq, Southwest Gas, Cox Cable and Nevada Power.

I don't have a lot of experience dealing in person with the customer service providers at these companies, but based on the telephone customer service I've received from some of these outfits, they could stand a lot of improvement.

Other businesses cited for poor service were Wal-Mart (not enough checkouts open, not enough employee assistance, bad attitudes); Home Depot (not enough employee assistance, shortage of checkout lanes), and fast-food restaurants (and anywhere else with teenage workers).

I don't know why some businesses are willing to live with providing poor service.

The fallout may not be immediately noticeable, but eventually an entrepreneur like Tony Hsieh is going to target them - and put their customers out of their misery.

Jeff Simpson is business editor of the Las Vegas Sun and executive editor of its sister publication In Business Las Vegas.