When customer service is not practised in a professional manner
There is much talk and emphasis on what great customer service is all about in the print media and especially on social media. There are a number of blogs dedicated to the very important aspect of customer service in the total management mix. Many experts too have written books on this crucial subject.
Numerous customer service professionals contribute proposals, ideas and suggestions on a regular basis so that we may continue to enhance, on an on-going basis, this important aspect of service. Many companies, especially multinationals in particular, place great value and strive really hard to make a real and positive difference in their customer service approach.
Earning and Retaining Excellent Reputation Should Be the Goal
Given that prevailing, positive scenario, it is mind boggling to fathom why some companies appear to downgrade the importance and relevance of maintaining an excellent customer service reputation. Once achieved, such an excellent reputation is worth its weight in gold.
However, for some companies who seem to have lost their way, customer service is often relegated to a level of indifference and inconsequence within the company. It is as though the company has placed customer service on a remote control mode… with no one at the wheel actually monitoring what exactly is happening on a regular basis!
Attempt to Seriously Discourage Customers
There is, I suspect, a growing trend by some of these companies to seriously discourage customers from calling the companies. Yes, while companies on the one hand desperately want our business they do not seem, on the other hand, to wish to interact with us on a personal basis.
Why is that so?
They carefully put all manner of obstacles in the way to frustrate us in our attempt to reach the company.
Arsenal of Tactics in Play
These are some of the usual tactics they employ:
i. simply ignore a ringing phone ( best practice: answer within the first three rings);
ii. deliberately delay answering the phone;
iii. appearing busy when the customer calls on you in person and feign not noticing the customer ( they forget that we are not an interruption to their work… we are the reason they are in business );
iv. refusing to pass the phone to a supervisor who may well be able to sort out the matter; v. repeating the same statements again and again till the customer gives up in frustration.
This list should give you an idea of the lengths these companies are prepared to go to avoid speaking to a customer. This is a very strange, bewildering and recurring scenario in many sectors.
Pseudo Customer Service
These companies oftentimes choose to use call centres manned by foreigners who speak in an irritating and sometimes fake foreign accent. These individuals give one the un-mistakeable impression that they are robotic in nature and are incapable of discerning the actual problem or issue.
They reinforce the idea that they are reading from a prepared script… regardless of the nature of the issue or complaint! So much for their silly attempts at some form of pseudo customer service!
Often, they are just not able to understand the issue at hand and neither are they ‘allowed’ to transfer the call to a supervisor who may be able to assist. Like a broken vinyl record stuck in a groove, they keep repeating some nonsensical statement(s). And to make matters worse, often times one has to listen to brief advertisements promoting some services!
What is True Customer Service?
According to Paul McKinney:
‘Customer Service is the act of taking care of the customer’s needs by providing and delivering professional, high quality service and assistance before, during and after a customer’s requirements have been met’.
This is a fairly comprehensive definition of customer service.
When you study the various components of that definition, you will realise that what often passes for customer service in many companies is actually lip service! They engage in pseudo customer service.
These companies like to think that they are providing customer service. The harsh reality of that recurring, most unsatisfactory experience is they are forcing customers to move away and look for companies that actually believe in the value of great customer service!
We Are Experiencing High Call Volume Now!
Earlier on, I had boldly stated that such companies seriously discourage customers from calling them. Why did I make such a statement?
I made that statement because over the last three months or so whenever I tried to reach an international credit card company / bank about an issue that I wanted the company to resolve, I heard this message: ‘We are experiencing high call volume now. You may have to wait for sometime. Your call is important to us. Do continue to hold. We appreciate your patience. We look forward to speaking to you shortly’.
How long am I expected to hold on? Once I waited for about twelve minutes and my recent experience took about ten minutes! Furthermore, there is an attempt to force you to go to that company’s website if you do not wish to wait that long and register the issue there. The company then proposes to get back to you within 24 to 48 hours!
These companies, however, have no qualms whatsoever in imposing, often surreptitiously, all manner of new charges whenever it strikes their fancy! If one is not constantly vigilant, one might not notice the charges until much later.
Often irate customers have to bring the problem to the notice of the authorities and the central bank. It also helps to publicise the matter in the print and the social media before the companies concerned sheepishly cave in and cease these unfair, sneaky practices.
Trite, Insincere Statement
If this high call volume happened once in a long while, I am likely to believe in the sincerity of the recorded message. However, this is a daily occurrence… regardless of whether I call them in the morning, late morning, early afternoon or late afternoon. And it happens with monotonous frequency.
On the other hand, I am able to reach another well known credit card company / bank with relative ease. So what exactly is the problem with this company? To make matters worse, this problem surfaced about the time I was elevated ( unasked ) in status from a Gold card member to a Platinum card member. This was probably due to my spending patterns and prompt payment record.
Prior to this recurring problem, I had been able to reach the company with relative ease. I also had a good opinion of the company. However, it now seems that with the so called elevation in credit card status, I have also earned the dubious distinction of a lower level of service!
I have called this company, for the record, more than ten times over that many days and still the same message is repeated. That message has thus absolutely no value for me. It is a statement devoid of any real meaning… with a lot of finely worded fluff but no real substance.
Moment of Truth (MOT) Revelation
The legendary Jan Carlzon of SAS fame came up with this excellent definition of great customer service. He remarked that each and every time you interact with a customer, the interaction provides you with an opportunity to capture a Moment of Truth. That particular experience seared in your mind, can either enhance your opinion of the company or result in you forming a poor opinion of the company.
What is my MOT experience with this company? In one word: Terrible! And it continues to remain terrible.
If you refer to the definition that Paul McKinney provided earlier on, then you can also see quite clearly that what I experienced from this company was neither professional nor high quality. I also suspect that the relevant senior executive / manager of this company in charge of customer service, does not have his / her finger on the pulse of what is really going on in customer service!
Everything here, it seems to me, is on remote control and the recordings are there just for show. I say this because my conversations with the reps are supposed to be recorded. That is what I am informed by that recording which alerts me to the process. If that was actually happening and someone in charge had bothered to listen to the conversation, then the problem I am facing would not be recurring. Now that is a MOT.
There Are Outstanding Exceptions
There are, however, some companies that actually carry out great customer service on a regular, consistent and continuing basis. A few examples come easily to my mind. One is the excellent customer service experience I have enjoyed from a range of hotels, both local and foreign.
These companies need to keep their customers close to them and if through their cold, calculating policies they choose to drive away their existing and loyal customers, they have only themselves to blame.
I recently returned from a brief trip to Bandung and Jakarta, Indonesia. I stayed at the Novotel Hotel in Bandung and also at the Novotel Gajah Mada in Jakarta. In both hotels, I experienced consistently excellent customer service from all levels of staff. The staff seemed genuinely enthused and committed to giving the guest a great time.
I have also stayed at Regal Lodge Hotel in Ipoh on at least four recent occasions and at Bayview Hotel in George Town, Penang on at least three occasions. I must say that I have received a consistent level of satisfactory service at both hotels. Their response to enquiries is prompt, often same day and sometimes the next day and the service is friendly and efficient.
I have also experienced a level of excellent service from my Toyota workshop in Section 19, Petaling Jaya. They have a large lobby section with comfortable chairs and tables, a range of newspapers for our reading pleasure and complimentary drinks ( coffee, tea, Milo etc ) for customers while our cars are being serviced. They even call you a day before your service appointment to remind you. And this level of customer service has been consistent since I bought my car seven years ago.
Retention of Customers Is Equally Important
It is a monumental mistake if companies think that they can continue in this irrational fashion and with scant regard for the tremendous inconvenience that they pose to their customers. These companies need to keep their customers close to them and if through their cold, calculating policies they choose to drive away their existing and loyal customers, they have only themselves to blame.
Companies that spend enormous sums of money to attract new customers and at the same time are careless, indifferent and insensitive to their existing customer base are engaging in a grossly foolish exercise. Retention of your existing customers is an equally important component in this exercise. Failure to pay careful attention to this fact, will result in the customers choosing to deal with a more sympathetic and responsive company.
Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft once remarked quite succinctly and wisely: ‘ Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning ‘. Are these under-performing companies prepared to learn? That is the challenge.