Customer Service

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I happened upon this account of a customer service fiasco today, one of the best I have ever read. The author directs his anger at the customer service representatives, but the truth is that company’s management is to blame. They have trained their customer service representatives in how to be polite and courteous and how to use their internal systems, but they have not trained them in how to provide service to their customers. They have made the mistake of believing that a system could render service for them. Systems cannot provide service. To the extent that they can, the customer can self-service. When self-service fails, then customers need real service. Real service occurs when a customer service representative cares about the customer’s issue and is empowered to resolve it.

These representatives were concerned only with closing tickets, not with delivering results. Management, no doubt, measures their performance based in part on the number of tickets closed. That might seem like a good idea, but it depends a lot on what conditions need to be met to close a ticket. Having worked in customer service myself, I know how easy it is for employees to work the system to close a ticket instead of working the issue to resolution. Here are my suggestions for how to do customer service:

  1. The rep who takes the call owns the issue. That service rep becomes the point of contact for that issue no matter who calls or how many times. The ticket opened by the rep can only be closed by that rep or a supervisor.
  2. Empower the service reps to get things done. Let reps use their native intelligence. They will make mistakes and learn from them. Get rid of the ones who don’t learn; keep the ones who do. Trust your people to make decisions in line with company policy. If you don’t trust them, why hire them?
  3. Make sure everyone who touches an issue moves it forward. Anything else is a waste of time. If the repair department cannot move the issue forward, then it needs to go back to the service rep to communicate with the customer. The service rep who owns the issue must be the company’s face to the customer and the customer’s advocate to the company.
  4. Learn from your mistakes. I can’t believe that this was the first time the company had received a phone in a box with a different serial number on it from the phone inside. They should have already had a policy in place to scan the serial number off the phone itself, not off the box it was shipped in.

Always keep in mind that your company is people. People relate to people. They do not relate to systems. If your systems hinder customers from reaching service representatives, then you need to change your systems. For example, I never call for support if I can find what I need on the web. So when I call I want to speak to a representative. I’ve already tried all the self-help options suggested by the auto attendant. So there had better be an option to speak to a representative before I get to deep into the menu because the deeper I go without being able to talk to someone, the more irritated I get. If I’ve pressed 2 for the third time and entered my account number more than once, I already have a bad impression of your service.

Anyone else have suggestions for how to do customer service? How about service fiasco stories of your own?

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