Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Customer Service, or lack thereof

OK, yes, I know. Yet one more really late night (or early morning) post. Pain and sleeping are not good bedfellows unfortunately, so here I sit at 4:30 EDT typing. But my sleeplessness is not the subject of today's, well, rant. Customer service is.

Let me start with this - I know customer service, I have been trained in customer service, I have worked many a customer service job. What we have now IS NOT customer service. When you break down the words that describe the work done by these organizations you have two - customer and service. The main word to focus on here isn't customer, even though you may believe that to be the case. Instead, the word to focus on is SERVICE. As a customer service professional it is your job to listen to the needs of the Customer and Service them. It is not your job to yell at, put them on mute to make fun of them, roll your eyes or hang up - I do not care how obnoxious the Customer is, it is your job to make them feel as though they have been assisted in WHATEVER their problem is,even if they created said problem. This is how I have been trained in customer service for over 20 years. I have used this training in all my positions - from assistant retail store manager to major donor contact at the Kennedy Center to producer for America Online. You listen to the customer's needs and you service those needs. Period. End of story.

Unfortunately, these hard and fast rules of customer service seem to have fallen by the wayside. Today, customer service is most likely set up something like this: Tier 0 - route the problem, hope to do this through IVR (voice recognition software rather than human contact); Tier 1 - document the problem, try to fix the problem as quickly as possible, listening to the customer at this point is optional; Tier 2 - if Tier 1 couldn't do it in less than 15 minutes its a more difficult problem and goes to Tier 2, try to get it done in 20 minutes or less and there really isn't a need to listen to the customer as it is all in the computer; Tier 4 - read Tier 3 and so on. This is if you call a customer service call center and you can actually get past the IVR. (Hint - usually hitting 0 or * for non-voice recognition or saying the word "Agent" for IVR will get you through to a person. Not always, but usually.)

While I feel that the customer service call center lacks human contact and, in some cases, compassion it is really the lack of customer service in places where you expect face-to-face interaction that amazes and distresses me. Places like restaurants, hotels, retail locations - these are all locations that should have pretty good customer service training programs and should weed out those who cannot interact with customers - no matter how frustrated the customer becomes. A really good customer service professional can even take a very frustrated (angry) customer and turn them into a loyal customer for life if they use their tools correctly. And for those of you out there who say "I am not in customer service, I fix computers." don't kid yourselves - you are in customer service.

So, why the rant? Well, I got exceptionally poor customer service this weekend at a store that has a section where you can bring your broken or limping computer for repair. I even have the long term warranty/insurance policy for the computer so when I take it in, it shouldn't cost me anything as long as I haven't done something like spill a Coke on the keyboard. In this case, I hadn't. This is also the third or forth time I have brought my computer in since October for similar problems. I will admit, I went in as an angry customer. I was sick, my computer wasn't working, my baby was cranky and all I wanted to do was sleep - something I obviously have problems doing. I had even tried to get assistance via the phone and found out that the last time I took my computer in for service, they forgot to put the serial number for the computer back in the battery well so I had to go to the store anyway.

When I got to the store, I found the manager first. I didn't want to subject some poor floor person to a diatribe they could do nothing about except get a manager - so I asked for her first. She was incredibly helpful and set me up with someone who could help me, already turning me from angry to more apprehensive. Things went well until this incredibly talented computer repair person had to go to lunch, then things went straight downhill. The woman he passed me off to ignored me once he left. The guy she passed me off to was, let's just say he wouldn't have passes a customer service course I was teaching. In front of another customer he started snapping at me. He then erased all the work the original technician and I had done over the course of about 2 hours, reformated the drive in a way that had not been discussed with me without asking and then when I protested said "Well if you had done it right the first time you wouldn't have this problem." My response was to ask him to stop yelling at me and could I see his manager - his response was to storm off. Yes, this really happened at a major computer chain's store here in VA.

The good news is that once the manager got wind of the issue, he came out and apologized, told me that particular technician had been sent for a long walk and asked me what he could do to fix the problem. The other good news - the original technician came back and went to bat for me. These are examples of how to turn a bad experience or angry customer into a good experience or happier customer.

The bad news - I am without a computer. I am using my husband's until mine comes back, hopefully fixed this time.

For those of you who are customer service professionals, my main advice is to listen to the customer. I don't care if they just used the DVD drive as a soda holder or if they didn't check to see if the cable box was plugged in before calling you. They are calling you for help, for assistance, for service. Keep that in mind, count to 3 and listen. For all you know, you may be the only bright spot in their overly frustrating day.

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