Sometimes I think “customer service” is an oxymoron! Other times, I am wowed by amazing customer service. Customer service, be it in retail or professional circumstances, is critical. People accept good customer service, they wow at great customer service, and they abhor poor customer service. This applies to the sponsorship industry as well. It is critical to communicate, provide good customer service, and ask for feedback.
A year ago yesterday, I turned 60. We had a trip to Vancouver planned for the weekend, including a reservation at one of the three downtown Vancouver Fairmont properties overlooking the harbour. Our plans also included the Fringe Festival (yahoo—live theatre again), hikes, the sea wall walk, the art gallery, and plenty of eating! It was a dual celebration—my 60th, and getting back to family travel and holidays. We were also flying across in the float plane from Nanaimo as my wife and daughter had not yet been on it. Unfortunately, there was a torrential storm on the Friday. All flights were cancelled for the rest of the day and Saturday morning. Our entire weekend was thus cancelled. We were grounded.
I reached out to the airline and our tickets were refunded. I cancelled all our restaurant reservations to ensure the seats could be used by others. I connected with the Fringe Festival to say we could not attend, and to please resell our tickets or give them to someone at no charge. (It is a non-profit, so I was not going to ask for my money back!) But the Fairmont, the largest of the group, told me their policy stated that, because it was less than 24 hours, they could not refund my room nights. The fact that there was a torrential storm affecting the island and Lower Mainland with power outages and other issues did not matter. I would have to forfeit the hotel fees—they would not even provide a credit for future use. I will no longer stay at Fairmont properties. To me, hiding behind “policy” is poor customer service.
I thought back to when I once mistakenly booked the wrong date with a Holiday Inn (IHG) property. Rather than booking two weeks down the road when I actually wanted the room, I ended up booking for that same day. I had not adjusted the date on the online booking app (which defaults to the day of transaction). This was at 8:00 p.m.! Once I booked it, I immediately noticed my mistake. Before I had the opportunity to try and cancel, or even call the hotel, they reached out to me to ask if I really wanted the reservation, because few people book a hotel online at 8:00 p.m. for the same night! I said, “No, I need it for another date.” They laughed with me on the phone and changed the date for no charge! I now stay at IHG properties (Holiday Inn group) whenever I can.
Another great example of customer service is Fossil. I bought a Fossil hybrid watch August 2021. It worked great, but then I began having some connection issues. It was not connecting through my Bluetooth. Also, the battery was getting used up in 3-4 months. I would have to visit a Fossil store to get a battery replacement (which is free when you go in—good service and a great way to get you back into the store). But living where I do (Vancouver Island), there is no Fossil store, so the only time I could get a battery replacement was when I was in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, or Toronto. Murphy’s Law—I never need a new battery when I am in one of those cities—only when I am not! Eventually, I was in Vancouver, so I visited the store there. They thought the problem was a low battery and replaced it at no charge. I explained my situation and lack of access to batteries to the sales associate. He gave me a 6-pack of batteries (no charge) and showed me how to replace them myself if it got low and I was not near a Fossil store. Wow! That was great, but did not solve the connection issue ultimately. A few weeks later, I was in Calgary. I went into the Fossil store and explained the situation to the lady there. She tested the battery situation and then said, “Heck, I’m not sure what the issue is and you have had enough hassles. Go pick out another watch!” I did—and it works great. I would highly recommend Fossil watches and their level of service!
I am dealing with RBC, and have been for the past 18 months or so as executor of my sister’s estate. It is a gruelling process trying to find all the payables and managing bank accounts, closing down her business, and transferring funds while awaiting probate. This means I cannot actually transact or pay creditors until the courts, through probate, have approved my executorship. My direct contact at the local Calgary RBC branch (Krysta Marsh) where my sister kept her accounts, has been tremendous. She has paid bills on my behalf, always returns calls and emails immediately, and is a pleasure to work with. Remember, this is the closing out of an account. My sister is gone. There will be no future business from this account once it is done. But RBC and Krysta bend over backward to provide exceptional customer service. This is what we all need to do.
Customer service is essential in the sponsorship marketing sector as well. Like all sectors, it is a two-way street. If you the customer are rude, abusive, uncommunicative, or fail to be a good partner, don’t expect great customer service on the other side. But when both parties strive to deliver great service, great futures unfold. That means, as a rights holder, respond to the questions and needs of your sponsor quickly, even if the reply is just “I am working on what you need” or “Got your note and will get back to you ASAP.” Communication is an essential part of great customer service. But the sponsor has the same obligation. Too often, we see a company/ brand/prospective sponsor cry, “Urgency! I need a proposal from you ASAP” and then they don’t reply to follow-up for months. In my book, that is unacceptable. They should be communicating along the way. I always red-flag those companies as “If that is the way they treat you before you are partners, how bad will it be once they actually give you money and expect something from you?”
In our industry, reputation is everything! Provide great service and be a long-term success. If you are interested in learning more about customer service with regard to corporate sponsorship, register today for the October 2022 WSC – Alberta Forum.
I hope to see you in Edmonton next month!
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