Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Customer Service

Seth Godin takes on the beast that is Customer Service. He believes that the problem is essentially that technology makes customers believe instant gratification is always possible. Here is a start of his solutions:

Given the choice between amazing, guaranteed service with a one day wait or interminable waits on hold with people who can't really help you right now... well, the choice is pretty easy.

Imagine what happens when we take advantage of the asynchronous nature of this sort of support.

There's still a cadre of people answering the phone, but they are trained to do exactly two things. 1. Make it really clear to the caller that there is a problem, that the caller deserves great service and that things will be dealt with, and 2. Get every single relevant piece of information.

This isn't hard to train for. But yes, it needs and deserves training.

Here are my recommendations:
  1. Technology should be used to connect people to a product, not distance them from a product. For example, when I call the phone company, does anyone find it ironic that I'm given a complicated menu ten miles deep? There is a VERY good chance that the reason I'm calling the phone company is because my phone isn't working, in which case, getting a person on the phone from my inconvenient phone would be helpful as soon as possible. Answer the blankety-blank phone! Phone companies should have the BEST, most spectacular phone service. Now, perhaps a rep answers the phone, realizes that one needs their latest bill and with two seconds connects the person to his automated bill amount.
  2. Take lessons from direct marketing companies. They do an amazing job at getting answers to those who re-sell for them. My husband worked in a call-center for Amway (when it was Amway) and the people in that department had elevated status. If you wanted to move up in the company, you had to do that job and do it well. It required knowing the products and keeping the callers very satisfied and doing it quickly. They also divided the call center into regions, but other companies could do it other ways. For example, say someone calls and they bought their product on-line or at a store or from a state, the customers could be divided this way. And back to the technology thing, what about tracking how much product a person buys? For example, in the last year, I've made significant Apple purchases--I hope they know it when I call for help and not act bitchy when I have a question.
  3. Let people pay extra for extra service. You know what? I bought the extra service with Apple. It's great. I get more training. I get priority service. I get help whenever I need it. The training helped me connect to their products better. Airlines have a terrible reputation, right? What if Continental let fliers pay $99 to receive priority service? I bet there is a cut-off where people would pay a lot of money for first choice in seating, better food, better perks. I bet the airlines could make money upping customer service. And this could hold for other things, too--especially technology. For example, I've been needing a router for my computer system. It's daunting because it means switching up lots of stuff, of so I believe. I would pay $25 or $50 or $75 to have an appointment with someone to walk me through installation over the phone. That's right, instead of the defensive, "YOUR PRODUCT SUCKS!!!" It would be a proactive situation where I could feel great about the product and the company would make money and be saved a nastygram customer-service-wise.
  4. Prioritize customer service. Companies pay lip service to service. I called Time Warner the other day and the woman who answered the phone was laughing hysterically at some co-worker joke. Guess how that affected my attitude talking to her? Not. Good. And then she was barely articulate which irritated me further. I'd be quicker to blame the customer if the companies actually seemed to give a rats ass. I think on a theoretical level customer service is important, on a practical level, customers are ignored until they threaten legal action or are screaming. A friend had to do both (scream and threaten legal action) when the local energy company cut the ground line to her house and all her appliances got friend over and over and over. The amount of juice flowing through her house could have started the house on fire and they gave her the runaround for over a month. Her electrician was badly electrocuted, but imagine if her child had been? Imagine a fire? Imagine a gazillion dollar law suit for cruel indifference. Why must one scream to be respected? Godin's recommendation at tracking software is very good.

Where technology might be the problem, it is also the solution. I just feel that right now, technology is used to minimize human contact in the wrong way. There are ways to create happier customers. It is a problem that needs to be solved.


David said...

Customer service operations tend to be simultaneously undermanaged and overmanaged. The "overmanaged" part is the attempt to control everything the rep does or says, including specific phrases to be used. The "undermanaged" part is the failure to carefully think out the workflow required to resolve common types of problems.

A manufacturing analogy would be an auto plant in which the motions required to put in a particular bolt are scripted in great detail, but no one has noticed that it would be easier to put the bolt on before putting in the seats that cover it, thereby requiring them to be taken out again before the bolt goes in...

Anonymous said...

Dadid, what you're describing is related to displacement behavior, with a bit of tunnel vision thrown in.

i.e. Get tunnel-visioned on how to put in that particular bolt and micromanage it to death rather than put the seats in later -- that's Not My Great Idea and/or That's Too Much Work!