Customer Service–Washington Style

I consider myself a good citizen, certainly one who loves my country. But I have to admit that I have some trust issues with the current crowd in Washington, on both sides of the aisle. So, you can imagine my response when I received a letter over the weekend from the United States Department of State. I was born right here in the heartland of America, so I don’t think they can deport me.  It’s doubtful that the current administration would appoint me as ambassador to anything or any place.  So. I was a little apprehensive about the whole thing.

I opened the envelope and was relieved when it didn’t explode or spew any strange white powder.  In fact, it actually contained money–a money order for $8.48!

It was so long ago that I had almost forgotten it, but last summer, when I applied for a passport, to be blunt, they screwed it up.  My official US identification said that I was born in Hannibal, Maryland.  (MO vs MD)  It’s a simple mistake except for the fact that (1) there is no Hannibal, Maryland and (2) my previous passport had the correct information.

I had visions of myself returning to the US only to be told that my passport was invalid and that I would have to go back to Ireland (not an altogether unpleasant thought) but for the sake of my wife and kids, I decided I’d better get the thing straightened out.  So I sent everything back so they could try again.  The second time was the charm.  Of course I had to pay to have photos retaken and to mail everything back to South Carolina.

The letter I received this week was the government’s “mea culpa”.  Here’s what it said:

Dear Mr. Buckley:

The Charleston Passport Center deeply regrets the error that occurred during the processing of your passport.  Please accept the enclosed money order as reimbursement for your costs associated with this error.

We apologize for any inconvenience that you may have experienced, and hope that our next opportunity to serve your passport needs will be more proficient. [emphasis mine]

Sincerely yours,

Timothy M. Wiesnet

Director

Don’t get me wrong.  I appreciate the $8.48 and will put it to good use.  Obviously the government is trying to get its act together when it comes to customer service.  But they need to work on the time thing.  It’s been about nine months since the original mistake was made.

Fortunately for you and me, we can learn from others’ mistakes.  When we make a mistake, own up to it right away.  We should correct our errors in hours, not months.  Own up to it, apologize, do whatever it takes to restore the customer to their desired state (refund, replacement product or service, whatever it takes) and you end up with a loyal customer.  Anything less just isn’t good enough.

Of course, the next time I need to renew my passport I won’t be able to shop around.  The government is mother of all monopolies.  Give them points for doing something when they didn’t have to anything at all.  But, you and I aren’t that lucky. Our customers do have a choice.  We have to do everything we can to make sure that they choose us.

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