Thursday, October 6, 2011

Customer Service is Dying in America, But It Can Be Revived.

When you hear companies mindlessly bloviate about their customer service, you really sense the fix is in and you’re interests, needs, concerns and problems are out . . . way out. The relentless and continuing degradation of “customer service” began accelerating about 10 years ago. Yet, there seems to be more talk about customers i.e. delighting them, surprising them, enchanting them, 110 percenting them., yet actual corporate, agency and organization behavior is delivering the opposite. Here are some of the goofiest example.

  1. Comcast: If you subscribed to any of its services, you have learned that the primary way to communicate with this company is through an android voice on a toll free number that tries to probe you for information and determine how it can pass you on to the next android voice or phone tree. It is extremely hard to get a person on the phone at Comcast. It is hard to imagine how this company can continue to promote itself with self-glorifying and self-satisfied comments about customer service when its every move is away from customers and providing direct help. Don’t get me started about its “service guarantee,” hogwash.
  2. JD Power Awards: I bet the last time you took your car to the repair service, as you paid the bill, there was a large sign there warning you about how to fill out the customer satisfaction form when it arrives by email, or by mail. There was undoubtedly also a note that if there was any category in which you couldn’t mark excellent, to talk to someone at the repair shop to get that fixed, so you could mark it excellent. These customer service excellence awards are institutional baloney, and total put-up jobs. If you purchase JD Power Services, you are guaranteed of getting a good result, because you bought it, you performed according to their specifications, and you will therefore own the result. It’s not about customer service; it’s about getting the customers to submit to a disingenuous process. Has JD Power ever published a list of those companies who failed? Any companies admitted it?
  3. Smart Stuff: Whenever you see the adjective “smart” tied to something else, you can count on two things, whatever it is that supposed to be smart probably really isn’t all that smart, and the company providing it is still figuring out what they really mean. This concept is especially prevalent in the utility industry which is talking about all kinds of smart activities from meters that can control your appliances to helping (forcing?) you to manage your energy consumption. There will be bigger bills, sometimes much bigger. Seems the age old monitoring methods and the meters are inaccurate and generally favor the customer. Smart meters work perfectly, remember everything, and will catch every photon of energy you use . . . Many of these ‘smart” services have yet to be invented, even though they are being talked about as if they exist today.
  4. Your local pharmacy: Whether you go to Target, Walgreens, CVS, or any of your major pharmacy, you find that you almost invariably make a second trip. Their inventories are so low, and so thin, probably forced on them by shareholder pressure that they too just assume that you will make a second trip, because, what else are you going to do? And yet, every one of them talks about being your family friendly pharmacy, being a member of your family, being your friend in need, protecting you against dosage error and conflicting medications. Is that how your pharmacy makes you feel? I thought family members bent over backwards to help.
  5. The Email Avalanche: If you have given your email address to any outlet retail, service, or otherwise, you will see an immediate bolus of emails which seems to be unstoppable. Since when does customer service mean filling our e-mailboxes. We need a “do not send” law, with teeth.
  6. My favorite this month is Wells Fargo Bank’s elimination of the deposit envelope. “Go Green” they say, but now, instead of just putting your deposit in a free envelope, then into the friendly 24/7 deposit slot, now you have to use your credit card, stand there and mess around with your deposit put it in the slot yourself in a certain way thus doing the bank’s job for it.. That’s the goal. Eliminate more people (the envelop tellers) and make the customer do the work. What gets greener are the bonuses of the bankers who find ways to fire more employees.
  7. Call centers are fading away. Taking customer calls cost money. Turns out that off shoring call centers has caused other unintended problems. It’s pretty easy to recognize that you are talking to someone from say India or another country. Language problems have become a prime customer irritant. Seniors, who are generally hard of hearing, have difficulty hearing people with accents. The solution has become eliminating people altogether, make the customer go to a web site and figure everything out for themselves. You can “talk live” but it’s really a typing exercise that often ends with the machine telling you to call the 800 number. And the androids take over.

It’s about time someone developed a universal code of customer service so that if a company actually used it, and lived up to it, customers would know, and maybe recommend them.

Here is my attempt at a simple sensible Customer Service Manifesto.

  1. Rather than interpose digital services and servants, genuinely move towards customers and personal contact. The other night my wife and I went to a local spaghetti place, which we do about every six weeks. The waitress came over, smiled and then simply repeated our usual order, then asked if we wanted to make any changes. She apologized for not remembering our drink order but that she probably would by the time we came in again. Holy cow, who cares? What a performance. She was having fun and so were we.
  2. Employ truly independent monitors and service measurement techniques to give the customers an appropriate and accurate assessment of customer service by reliable outside sources. Stop brow beating customers with telephone, web, and other survey techniques.
  3. Set a maximum of one email per week, the criteria being something that is genuinely a bargain, new information, or that customers truly must have to be safer, improve their living circumstances, or their quality of life.
  4. Keep merchandise in Stock. Measure and report publically the number of times customers have to return because stocks were too low. Self penalize when customers don’t get what they ask for. Report this information visibly in store and on website dashboards. Monitor and report customer accountability.
  5. Actually like customers, want them around, appreciate the relationship. Post examples of specific customer friendly, customer service-oriented actions, policies, outcomes and expectations. Show your customer what to expect of you.
  6. Make “live” chats truly live. If they are cyber-chats, then call them cyber-chats. Publish comparison data contrasting true satisfaction and dissatisfaction levels as registered by participants, without prompting.
  7. Be disclosive and candid. Provide lightly moderated forums where customers can freely and publically chat about their experiences.

What would be in your manifesto for customer service? What are your stories of customer abuse? Or obvious goofiness?

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