I was advising a student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks the other day for summer and fall’s course selection. He said that since January he had been trying to reach his academic adviser. The poor student had left countless messages on the professor’s voicemail as the weeks and months of the cold, dark winter started to give way to the nearing bright summer. He said none of his calls were returned. I think we can all agree that, in terms of customer service, this situation defines the word “ugly.”
The student gave me the offending faculty’s phone number. My eyes started to twinkle as I looked at it, realizing it belonged to someone at the UAF Community and Technical College. Joy leapt through my soul as I dialed the number knowing that I would soon be mercilessly teasing a colleague over his, or her, offense. The joy quickly turned to horror as I heard my voice on the voicemail recording.
No — it could not have been me; I distinctly remember changing my message when I went off contract in December. But the evidence was undeniable, the jury was in, the verdict pronounced and I was shamefully guilty.
My pale, cold hand dropped the phone on the floor as my mind distinctly recounted changing the voicemail message last year, notifying my valued customers that I would be gone most of the winter. I remember giving my email and even my home phone number for emergencies. I really did! Still in denial, I started checking off the process of changing a voicemail message. I then realized I had 95 percent of the process right. The only thing I forgot was to save the new voicemail.
In business we might tend to think that to be 95 percent right is pretty good quality management. A score of 95 percent will get you an “A” in school, but according to a featured article in The Working Communicator, “Strive for Perfection — or else!” the author states that 95 percent does not get you very far in business: “If your business finishes a million pieces each year and 5 percent are defective, that equals 50,000 defective parts. That adds up to a lot of money: stripping, refinishing, labor, chemicals, etc. Not to mention the toll it takes on your reputation for quality and on-time delivery.
“If 5 percent of all the passenger cars manufactured in 1997 proved defective, at least 296,340 consumers would be pretty unhappy.” Also, if 95 percent right was the standard in 2017, hospitals in the United States would have sent 192,775 newborns home with the wrong parents.
Can we agree that, in Fairbanks, even though we are all human and prone to making mistakes, nothing less than 100 percent is acceptable for good customer service?
This then begs the questions: How could I have avoided my voicemail blunder? How can we, as very busy local business people, achieve the 100 percent benchmark? I confess that I don’t have all the answers, but simply checking our work when done would be an excellent start. It only takes 20 seconds to re-record a voicemail message that will let callers know every day when I’ll be returning calls; it only takes 10 seconds to call back to check if the change took. I’m now a reformed sinner regarding voicemail messages, and I’m double checking my work. I don’t want to win the next “bad” contest. I will change my voicemail every day as my availability changes. And I will check my work. How about you?
Finally, to my student: I’m sorry. May I have another chance?
Charle Dexter is a professor of applied business emeritus. He may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column is provided as a public service by the UAF Community and Technical Colleges.