Isn’t The Customer Always Right?

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Sections of this topic

    customer-service-repYou received an example of customer service gone awry. Perhaps now, an explanation and discussion that will stir up a training solution. That’s it really.

    This blog belongs in two major blog categories: Training and Development, and Customer Service. I wrote it for three reasons:

    1. I’ve trained customer service as have many of you
    2. I’ve live through many of its technological changes, (not improvements I said) as many of you, and finally,
    3. I’d like to see some new changes, including putting the personal touch back into customer service.

    So, if you are looking for a training solution. There it is. Convince employers not to go only for the easy, efficient technological way. Customers need people contact and the right kind of people contact, too.

    Customer service used to make or break businesses. It’s not so easy these days, with the worldwide, faceless conglomerates who often have so many customers in so many contries, the principals wouldn’t know who they were or care. The loss of one or two customers is no big deal. So customer service is not that important. Perhaps, it’s making a comeback with social media. Instead of one disappointed customer telling ten of his or her friends, we have one person telling hundreds, and hundreds telling hundreds. But that’s not important…

    Technology has brought us a long way to making customer service easier, and in some ways, more efficient. Some would say technology perfect for making it easier and faster for all for all customers. Those people would be the ones who want to know basic information and don’t want to talk to a real person, and, oh, are most likely computer savvy. I would say technology is best for the employer who wants customer service to be cost effective while giving the impression of having great customer service. In corporate minds it does the job adequately, according to their mixed up definition of customer service.

    Probably 90 percent of the calls that came into a call center before automation took over had to do with basic information questions that don’t need a person to look up; an early example would be a bank teller and an ATM. We still use bank tellers though if we have a more complex answer than is offered by the ATM. Of course, that is an automated system at its most basic. Ten percent of those calls were more complicated and needed a person to help resolve the issue; that would be when you went into the bank to see the teller or someone else.

    article400_man-phone-yelling-420x0Jump ahead to the more sophisticated automated systems where a voice a human or human-like voices (the first ones were kind of scary) asks you what you need help with. We’ve all been through those–some just to pay our bills. In some cases, a real person, (a representative) will help you, but not until you’ve jumped through a million hoops to get there. Be glad you aren’t immobile, handicapped verbally or physically, or just move slowly physically, or are less agile than you were 20 years ago because you won’t be able to get help unless you can talk to a person. Today’s online and automated phone customer service serves the twenty to sixty age group. The rest can’t do it themselves.

    It’s bad enough when the customer has done all he or she has been told to do by the machine and none of the categories comes even close to what the question or concern is, and then there is no way to talk to a person unless you know the secret. If customers are particularly smart or savvy with these kinds of systems (practice helps and we are getting it) they can punch “0” and get to a person. Not always, but sometimes. However, by the time customers talks to someone, they are frustrated and angry. A half an hour ago before that, they were a little confused and mildly upset.

    And, once past Automaton Lucy, when customers do get to talk to someone, they are referred to department after department, again and again, to repeat the same identification information in order to verify them as bona fide customers on the account, the issue or question if it fits the pre-programmed model, only to be told there is nothing the Frequently Asked Questions spoken verbally can do.

    bad-customer-service-rep-229x300 The customers ask to speak to the manager. Manager comes on: “It’s company policy.” I can do one better. I can do a couple better. It is policy that allows the company thirty days to hold the customers’ money that they withdrew from their account in error; the fact that it is an error on the company’s part is not grounds enough for expedited service to refund the cash sooner.

    Policy belongs to the company, not the people. It is not a law. It is flexible in that it can be bent, ignored or applied in a case-by-case basis. Does it hurt business to abuse it, or not use it every time? Or, is it there so the company benefits by the loopholes it causes? If it is policy to wait or hold something, it’s usually money in an account that gains what? Right. Interest.

    What else would be worth holding? Paperwork. Who wants to keep track of that? But money is electronic and in our account and earns interest–especially when added to a lot of other money we have in the account.

    What exactly is that policy? It is never explained, nor the rules for expedited service. No, answer, except that this particular case, which took a week to investigate, does not meet the circumstances for expedited service. What would expedited service entail exactly? Let see… A phone call. Nah, we don’t use phones much in business anymore. Probably an email. Cut so-and-so a check. Here’s the account number and the amount. The folder’s been on his or her boss’ desk for a week not being expedited, remember.

    corporations (1)The real issue here is that policies are not laws. My wife is a lawyer who is the chief of a policy department. She would know what a policy is, and what a law is. I would, too, for that matter.

    The slick company’s customer service is the best–it is the most efficient, and Marc Antony’s speech about Brutus being an honorable man rings true, too. Calling customers back in record time by several different customer service agents to give them the same answer and argue with over a policy point to show your company is responsive does nothing more than make angry customers go ballistic. Especially when policy doesn’t count to the customer. The old saying if a customer is badly treated he tells ten of his friends does apply anymore. You can multiply those number exponentially by the involvement of the customers in social media. And, if they have a successful blog. Oops.

    Who gives good customer service these days? Businesses that live and die by word of mouth, successful retail stores, restaurants–especially good servers in the U.S–who make most of their money on tips, virtually any successful mom and pop business that depends on face-to-face commerce, and big successful corporations and business who got that people are the reason they exist. Some of the obvious ones probably have always done it because the customer factor is right in their face, i.e., Disney, USAA, Ben and Jerry’s, motion picture studios.

    Who doesn’t get it? Multi-national corporations, big businesses and not-so-big businesses (yes, ordinary businesses, some mom-and-pop-sized business) who focus hard on the bottom line don’t. Also, there are compartmentalized businesses where one part of the company doesn’t know what the other is doing. They’re lost. They’re in danger of damaging that bottom line because they have forgotten their customers. Some customers even buy stock. And, some change their minds.

    There are those bottom-feeder companies, anxious to get rich, who have salespeople rush measure-quality-customer-experiencepeople to buy products or services. They have little flexibility when something goes wrong, and use policy as an excuse to get their way, hoping to appease customers by their slick “we’ll get back to you immediately” form of customer service; they use “policy” liberally to resolve most customer service problems, effectively making it the customers fault.

    When I was a customer service regional representative for five states and the District of Columbia, my job was to be an to “assist” those state offices where customer service efforts failed, or at least the customer thought so. And my boss expected me to resolve the issue even with customer positive or negative. It was up to me to be the voice of reason.

    With no real power to make changes to a client’s case as is the case with most customer service people at that level, I had to hand it off to someone who did. To work with my counterparts in the “company” and the client, I had to use–what’s that word: charisma? I say it in all modesty, of course. The penthouse executives regarded the customer with a problem as an annoyance and unpredictable. What happened to the customer is always right? That could solve the problem nearly every time without issue.

    Since I was a regional rep, the state and local reps didn’t work for me. So, for me the job had a double whammy effect. I had to research a problem other customer reps had already done so, asked my contacts at the State level (maybe they are slightly higher than the State reps themselves) to see if something else could be done, and provided an answer to clients; if nothing else could be done I still had to find out why. As I said earlier, policy alone wasn’t good enough. Often I had to explain why the state of national office had that policy. Sometimes that was enough, but mostly when a policy affects someone personally, and for customers, policy is still just a policy for the convenience of the company and there are always room for exceptions.

    What I could do was to get my company president talking or national rep talking to the state reps of the program. Sometimes the mere mention of that action got results to make an exception, sometimes not. Charisma played a part. One could hope my charges liked me better or they were more afraid of me than the unknown. I like to think the former. Unless the customers’ problem with us such a really big issue as to cause huge media coverage, I doubt my company president or even one of her significant vice-president’s would have gotten directly involved anyway.

    Sad to say, but the rooms at the top are often looking money columns rather than people’s needs. Oftentimes I developed a relationship with clients because I tried many different avenues, not that others hadn’t done the same; however, I was the end of the road for them. If it was a money issue or a problem that caused a lack funds at an extremely important time, I was trying to solve a problem that had a major affect on their lives.

    It seems we have lost sight of the truest definition of customer service and what our customers mean to us. My training question is this: who told them customer service was about saving money and only about giving answers–to hell with customers? I don’t know and I don’t care. If I could, I would kick some butt over it.

    Be honest. Don’t you hate automated customer service phone lines or being referred to a company web page (some have chat groups now) when you have complicated real question to ask? Sometimes there is no way out of the automation prison, but to hang up. Round and round you go otherwise. Bottom line: a machine can’t change an answer you’ve already received, i.e., a billing issue. Not yet anyway. Read one of my last blogs and you may see it in the near future.

    Not only do customers define our products, they define how we conduct business, and sometimes whether we continue in business. The latter was more the case in terms of smaller companies. Not so much now, but they should. If only customers go viral…

    Happy training.

    For more resources about training, see the Training library.

    For more on Jack Shaw, check his home site, where you can find access to other publications, including a fantastic novel called, Harry’s Reality.