Fresh out of college, I entered the workforce with a lot of enthusiasm, energy and the assumption that my education had taught me everything I needed to succeed. It didn't take long for me to realize I had a lot to learn, and that began one morning when my manager called me into his office.
One of our customers was unhappy with our product.
We built a complex software product that was known for having a steep learning curve. Our support department tried as best they could to solve the issues over the phone, but the customer was becoming increasingly frustrated.
Such issues were not uncommon especially during the initial configuration and installation. Less common was the fact that this customer lived in Germany.
My manager heard that I spoke German and decided I was the right person to send across the Atlantic to fix the problem. I felt confident in my knowledge of the product, but far less assured that my German skills would suffice in a potentially stressful situation.
As I sat across the desk from my manager, he didn't waste any time.
"Book your flight to Stuttgart. And don't lose the account!"
"How long should I stay?".
"However long it takes."
I booked a one-way flight to Stuttgart and prayed the software Gods would cooperate.
I arrived in Stuttgart and spent several days on the phone with engineers back in Washington State. With their help and my sketchy German skills, I was able to get the customer back on his feet and resolve his issues. He'd found a bug in our software that showed up when upgrading from an earlier version that we'd failed to test for.
Years later I would look back on this slice of my career and realize what a valuable lesson my manager taught me that day. This may have been the first significant assignment I'd accepted in my short career that didn't have an end date.
The larger lesson I learned was that each customer mattered. Customers meet up at industry events, and they chat over drinks, and they share experiences, both good and bad about your products. If you treat them well, they will share those good stories, and others will retell them again and again. But the flip side is true as well. Maybe even more so.
It doesn't take a lot of effort to say that we stand behind our product. Or that we "care about your call" or that your email is in the queue. But the companies that stand out focus on providing outstanding customer service. Every single day. I know this because our customers tell me so when I talk to them on the phone or visit them in person. Sure, we believe we build a great, reliable computer, but we understand we aren't the only ones with that goal. Service is often the differentiator.
I'm glad I work for a company with a culture and leadership that focuses on solving customer issues.
However long it takes.