Life at CSOFT

The Soup Nazification of American Customer Service

Matt ArneyThe recent news of Steven Slater’s F-bomb-filled tirade, which ended with him quitting his job at JetBlue by hopping down the emergency slide with a beer in each fist, got me to thinking… what has happened to customer service in the US? Mr. Slater has become the poster boy for flight attendant rights. There’s talk of books, reality shows, speaking engagements, and personal appearances—all as a reward for acting like a chowderhead and breaking no small number of federal safety laws.

Granted, there is something to be said for the daily pangs of the underpaid, under-appreciated working class in America. It’s not easy out there, especially while we’re still crawling in the shadow of a global recession. But being nasty to each other isn’t going to improve the quality of anyone’s life, nor is it going to patch up the wounds of an already bleeding economy. Now, more than ever, companies should pay more attention to customer service to attract what money’s still being spent.

No service for you!

Many of you have heard of the Soup Nazi from the NBC sitcom, Seinfeld—a rude, obnoxious cook who just so happened to make the best soup in New York City. He demanded that his customers follow strict rules of etiquette (including paying in exact change, knowing exactly what you want to order beforehand, etc.) before being allowed to buy his soup. Those that didn’t follow the rules were booted from the restaurant with his trademark catchphrase, “No Soup for you!” and banned from further service. I don’t mean to stew about this (A-hem.), but sometimes I can’t help but feel like Americans have resigned ourselves to fascist customer service.

Having spent more than 10 years in the Japanese software industry, I lived and breathed the phrase “お客様は神様です” (okyakusama wa kamisama desu), which literally means “The customer is God.” Go to a restaurant in Japan and, without exception, you’ll be greeted with a resounding “Come on in,” whereupon you’re quickly seated and provided with free side dishes, hot hand towels, tea, water and a menu.

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Food comes quickly, as does the bill when you’re ready to leave. As you walk out the door, the entire restaurant will belt out a friendly Arigatou Gozaimashita—Thank you!

When was the last time you felt like God at your local diner? How about the DMV? Safeway? Burger King? More likely than not, you waited around for someone to take your order, and then waited again when it was time to pay, while the establishment’s employees sat looking at their watches, counting the hours before they could go home and watch American Idol reruns.

Customer Service in the Localization Industry

A client of mine (let’s call him “Andy”) in the Life Sciences once shared a story with me about a large LSP that had flown its representatives over to sell a costly hunk of translation software that Andy’s company didn’t really want or need. As a value-added perk, this localization vendor also offered a free analysis of their technical publications workflow.

Sounds nice, right?

Well, after the free analysis, which took about a month, they finagled another visit to discuss the report. Two new representatives of the LSP, one of whom was their self-proclaimed “big closer” (he actually called himself that in front of Andy), began the meeting by saying flat-out that Andy’s processes were “disastrous.” After bragging about his fantastic sales record for a few minutes, the Big Closer—in a moment of what can only be described as megalomaniacal bravado—looked straight into Andy’s eyes and said, “I’m here because you need me and you need our tools. And for a mere $750,000 dollars, we can save your publishing department.”

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Andy stood up without saying anything and escorted his would-be saviors straight out of his office. Apparently, according to one of the company’s security officers (to whom the visitors had to return their badges), it was one of the shortest meetings in the history of the company.

I couldn’t help but laugh when I heard the story, because it was certainly a new take on putting the customer’s needs first.

The “we can” mentality

In this industry, there are over 23,000 language service providers (according to Common Sense Advisory), all of whom pretty much use the same technology and often draw from the same pool of translators. In my opinion, what sets a great LSP apart from all the rest is experience, people, and how these translate into superior customer service.

That said, I just wanted to take the chance to open up the doors to the rest of the localization community and start up a candid discussion about customer service. Whether you’re one of CSOFT’s clients or not, whether you’re a translator, or even if you’re another LSP… tell us about what good customer service means to you.

I don’t want to hear about all the horror stories out there, ‘cause there are plenty. Let’s make this a productive discussion, not about what so-and-so can’t or didn’t do. Let’s talk about what can be done better—what we can do for you. What are the hot hand towels and complimentary side dishes that are missing in our industry?

Feel free to chime in with your thoughts—we’ll even send you a free can of our delicious, custom terminology soup for taking the time to participate 🙂

A can of CSOFT Terminology Soup, rich in customer service, and good for your vocabulary.
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CSOFT International is a translation, localization, and globalization services provider that helps international businesses reach out to customers around the world.