Dave Gorman has had trouble with his BT broadband. Reading his comments on BT’s customer service, I can sense his understanding that the people he’s talking to don’t have any power to help him.
Having worked in customer service I cringe every time I read stories like this because I know what it’s like to be between an angry but reasonable customer and an uninterested bureaucracy. Why is customer service done so badly? It seems like an afterthought, something that a company is forced to do apart from their core business. But in fact, it’s an amazing marketing tool. People only remember the couple of days when things went wrong, not the years of blip-free service. If you can fill those couple of days with amazing service, you can generate customers for life.
Here’s what is wrong with the current approach to customer service (specifically in the UK):
1. You don’t give your representatives any power to solve problems.
Even in organisations that don’t use scripted responses, front-line staff usually can’t do anything outside of a pre-determined scope. The difficulty with this thinking is that customers complain when things go wrong. That means that normal procedures don’t apply. Almost every customer complaint can be solved efficiently by dropping procedure right away and cutting the Gordian knot. Sometimes this requires creativity but often the customer will even tell you how the problem can be solved. It couldn’t be simpler.
2. They’re usually the least knowledgeable people in your organisation.
People who answer the phones aren’t engineers. This is because engineers are busy engineering. I can understand that. What sickens me, is that engineers, managers, CEOs, finance, HR or anyone from any other department would rather take a bullet than talk to a customer for five minutes.
And this isn’t a “training issue”. Believe it or not, training courses aren’t some kind of magic wand that turns minimum-wage phone answerers into physicists.
3. You don’t back them up.
Why do people ask to be transferred to a manager? Because managers hate hassle, and will do anything to exit a conversation. This means that after you’ve spent half an hour defending a terrible policy, your manager will bypass it in the blink of an eye so that he can get back to playing minesweeper. This makes you look like a dick and your manager looks like a “solutions provider”.
4. You bullshit them.
Who is more likely to go along with your stupid corporate policy? Someone whose salary you pay, or a customer who is having a bad day?
You can feed any line to your staff and they will sit there and nod, but a customer isn’t fooled for a second. And your staff will get more and more fed up with explaining something that they know is stupid.
5. You try to save money.
How much do you spend on advertising? Large companies spend thousands to put their name on a board in a sports stadium so that for a fleeting second it registers in the mind of an onlooker.
How much does it cost to post a part to a customer, or to ship their order for next-morning delivery? How much does it cost to say sorry? To refund a week or a month’s subscription? To send them a free gift? People remember these things for a lot longer and they tell their friends and family too.
6. You treat complaints like problems not opportunities.
Do you know what I do when I get crap service? I don’t go back for it. Usually, I don’t say anything, I just don’t turn up again. Every time someone is disappointed in your product or service and tells you about it is a rare opportunity to make your company better. It pinpoints with laser accuracy the problems that your customers have.
If you route these complaints so that you never have to deal with them directly, you’re missing one of the most important business measures you have.