Policies and Training, Security Hardware and Technology

Op-Ed: We’re All in Customer Service—Sometimes, Accidentally

When Bulldog Communications signed on as lock maker Kwikset’s PR agency of record back in 2014, we provided them with a contract that outlined all the services we would be providing. Though the program had a hefty number of deliverables, customer service was not on the list.

And yet, we’ve been doing it anyway, though we don’t charge extra for it. Doesn’t matter. We embrace the job. And to be honest, we get a certain amount of enjoyment out of it.

Mind you, it’s not that Kwikset doesn’t have a great customer service department; they do. I’ve had occasion to call them myself a few times, and they’ve been outstanding, answering all my questions, whether I required assistance with installation of my own Kwikset lock, clarification of a warranty procedure, or compatibility concerns.

Nevertheless, I began getting calls a few years ago from customers with a wide assortment of inquiries, issues, and interjections, ranging from their recent Kwikset purchase to replacement parts for a lock the company no longer offers.

When the first few calls came in, I simply provided them with Kwikset’s toll-free customer service number and wished them a nice day. After a few more calls, however, I began to wonder why they were calling me rather than the easy-to-find customer service number, nestled comfortably under the “Support” icon at the top of the website’s home page.

I asked one woman—who had called about a Kwikset mechanical lock she bought approximately 30 years ago and wondered if it was still under warranty—how she got my number. She explained that she had gone to the Kwikset website and clicked on the “News and Press” section. From there, she had clicked on a random press release and found my phone number.

I found her answer to be simultaneously mystifying and fascinating. Two questions immediately popped into my head:

  • How was she able to find my contact information, buried in the News and Press section requiring multiple clicks, but couldn’t locate the far more accessible customer service number?
  • My name was listed under “media contacts.” What would have given her the impression that I could answer a question about a warranty?

I kept these questions to myself. In fact, I was actually able to answer her question, breaking the news to her as gently as I could that the warranty had expired some time ago (a great deal of time, in fact).

After I hung up, it occurred to me how strange it was that a number of customers had obviously found my contact information the same way this woman had—through a highly counterintuitive process that was unlikely to produce even one call, much less the four or five I had received to that point. But I wrote it off as a strange coincidence and forgot about it.

That is, until the next call came in a few days later about how to change security codes on one of the company’s electronic locks. And there was another one later that day about a strike that was jamming. And over the next couple of years—that’s right, years—I received at least another 40 calls, all believing that I could provide them with solutions to their lock-related conundrums.

What’s interesting is that, for the most part, I could. Working with Kwikset as long as my agency has, I’d gotten to know the products very well. I had gained a pretty sound grasp of how they work, how they interface with other smart devices, even some troubleshooting tips. So I gave up thinking about why these folks were calling me and just started answering their questions.

I never found it be a chore. Most of the callers were courteous, friendly, and—when I provided the answer or advice they were seeking—extremely grateful. Because we handle the B2B side of the public relations effort, we don’t have a chance to talk with the end-user customer, and I found it quite refreshing.

When I was unable to answer a question, I always referred them to customer service, where I am confident they were able to get the help they needed. (I would not only tell them the number but point out its location on the website—you know, for the next time they called.)

For some reason, the calls have been dwindling in number over the last year or so; to be honest, I’m starting to miss them. The customer service number is still in the same spot, so I have no real insight into the drop-off. Still, the occasional call comes in, and when it does, I help the best I can.

There’s a saying I heard many years ago, and though I searched for it online I couldn’t find the origin. But regardless of who first said it or wrote it, it is one of the most insightful business-related axioms I’ve ever heard:

“We’re all in customer service.”

The truth of that sentence is glaringly apparent. It doesn’t matter what position you hold within an organization, you can affect the customer experience. Often it is an indirect impact, but you can affect the interaction just the same.  

As the PR agent for Kwikset, had I become involved in customer service? You bet I had. Wrongly or rightly, I was the first point of contact at the company for at least 50 people. If I had just said to each of them, “I’m not in customer service” and hung up, that would have conveyed a horrible impression of the company. Or if I had said, in an irritated tone, “The customer service number is on the website, go find it,” I’m certain it would have had the same negative impact.

But by taking the calls, providing help when possible, and courteously pointing customers in the right direction when I couldn’t, I conveyed the idea that their call mattered, that their issue or problem was important. That’s an attitude I know every company strives to project.

I certainly don’t expect thanks for helping out a few customers, answering a few technical questions, or gently directing callers to the best place for assistance. My only point is to stress that providing superior customer service should be every company’s top priority, regardless of the industry.

Maybe it needs to be taken even more seriously in the security market, since we’re dealing with people’s safety and peace of mind, and they want extra assurance that someone actually cares.

And though you may not specifically work in customer service—you might not even have a customer-facing job—your time to step up to the plate can come anytime. Whether or not you hit a home run or strike out is up to you.

Arthur Sesnovich is a principal of Bulldog Communications, a full-service, high-tech public relations and advertising firm.