Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Carl Foster.
“Customer service can’t be turned on or off like a tap, it’s either part of the culture of an organization or it isn’t.” I heard that line from an executive at John Lewis, the quality British department store so famed for its customer service.
What never fails to amaze me though is that even if money can’t buy an improvement in customer service from your human employees, money certainly can buy a decent call center system. Why is it that some companies make it so easy while others seem to be intent on confusing and frustrating the customer? Some examples:
The Phone Company – I had been overcharged for some international calls. Mistakes happen. The important thing is how they are dealt with. I called the 1-800 number. “Hi, thanks for calling, this is Sam in Boise, Idaho, how can I help?” I explained the situation. Sam pulled out his calculator, worked out what I was charged and what I should have been charged and said the difference would be refunded on my next bill. Problem solved in less than five minutes.
Insurance (Vision) – I lost my insurance card so I called to get a new one. I gave some details, they gave me some numbers and within five minutes I was downloading a new card from the website. A call center agent and a website saying the same thing? That doesn’t happen often.
The Bank – My bank has perhaps the best automated telephone system I have come across. In fact, most of the time everything you need can be done automatically. One of the best things about my bank’s system is that it isn’t patronizing. It doesn’t t-a-l-k s-o s-l-o-w-l-y y-o-u t-h-i-n-k y-o-u m-i-g-h-t SCREAM! It talks at a decent pace with the minimum garble necessary. Also, if you do need to speak to a real person you get passed to one of their delightful and helpful people, who I believe are located in India. Jolly nice people those Indians.
BCIS – Formerly known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the Bureau for Citizenship and Immigration Services should be a vast monster of government incompetence and rudeness. However, I kid you not when I say it is a case study in efficiency, politeness and helpfulness. Considering the bureaucratic nightmare that immigrating to the ‘Land of the Free’ is I am amazed that they can do anything useful. But whenever I have dealt with an official from the BCIS I have walked away in wonderment at why private sector companies with paying customers can’t do better.
Speaking of which, here are some other examples:
Insurance (Car) – I called to cancel my policy. First mistake. I called the main number and was told “We don’t handle that here, you need to call the St Louis office.” Could they just transfer me? No. I needed to hang up and call a non-free phone number. I called St Louis. “Yes” was the greeting when they picked up the phone. They couldn’t deal with my request on the phone. Only take my details and promise that it would be dealt with and I would get a cancellation notice in the mail. To be fair, that is exactly what happened, but the process didn’t instill me with confidence in the organization or the people I was dealing with.
Appliance Company – I ordered a new filter for my fridge. Two weeks later it had not arrived. I called the main number on the website. Unbeknown to me I was transferred to a parts supplier. I gave my details but there was no record of my order. This was because they were just the supplier and didn’t have access to the customer service information. I needed to call back between 8.00 am and 5.00 pm ET so I could speak to customer service. Seriously? 8-5 ET? So, you don’t give a hoot about customers on the west coast? Next day, short on time and at work, I try the online chat function. I gave all my info but they have no record of my info and suggest I call customer service. I call. I was told my filters shipped 10 days after placing the order and they should be here in 7-10 days. Thanks for keeping me updated about that. I gave you my email address for what exactly?
DVLA – It’s not a private sector company but the British Drivers and Vehicle Licensing Agency has the most infuriating phone system known to man, or at least this man. It has more options than a Japanese buffet but I can tell you now, after going through almost a dozen layers of “press one for X” then “press five for Y” you will hear this: Information regarding X can be found on our website www.dvla.gov.uk” It once took me 30 minutes to figure out how to speak to a human.
According to Emily Yellin, author of “Your Call Is (Not That) Important To Us” and consultant to Peppercom, an American-based customer service agent costs approximately $7.50 per phone call, outsourcing the agent to another country brings the average cost down to about $2.35 per call and having customers take care of the problem themselves reduces the cost to 32 cents per call, or contact. Well, I don’t think I am the only one to think my phone company’s $7.50 investment in Sam’s phone call with me has made me a $100+ per month customer for life.
But, as I said at the start, it is not just about putting a human on the phone. Much can be accomplished with automated phone systems, just make sure you buy the right one and invest in the right consultant to help you install and run it.