We live in a highly computerized society where more and more human interaction is replaced by computerized automation.
Very often when you call a business you hear, “Thank you for calling XYZ Company. Your business is important to us. Please listen carefully to the following options: For yadda yadda, press 1. For blah blah, press 2. For something or other press 3. etc…” More and more often there isn’t an option to speak to a live person. You have to guess at how to get through to someone.
These computerized voice response systems are really efficient ways to get to things like the business hours, address, fax number and other simple bits of information. In that regard they are beneficial to both the customer and the company. But if you have an issue with the company’s products or services they won’t help. You need to talk to a real live person.
Automated email communications can be helpful to remind you when your bill is coming due and so on. They can be a curse if they come from an email address that you can’t reply to. If you want to contact that company, you have to look up the correct email address (assuming they publish it somewhere) or call them and get their automated phone system… Frustrating.
Large corporations are the biggest offenders in these areas but they’re certainly not the only ones.
Some small businesses have started to do the same things due to new technologies that give them access to tools that were formerly only available to large companies. What small businesses should do is go in the opposite direction and provide a high degree of human interaction and exemplary service. If you treat your customers like important people and make this the cornerstone of your business, you will have a competitive edge over big corporations and those small businesses that try to emulate big corporations.
When customers do reach live customer service representatives, they must (a) know all relevant company policies and procedures and be able to operate all computers and anything else they must use to do their jobs, (b) they must be trained to put the customers’ needs first and how to deal with the various situations that might arise and (c) they must be empowered to either bend or break company policies when necessary to solve problems and help customers or there must be a manager readily available to help with such things. It doesn’t do the customer or the company any good to have customers talk to customer service reps who have to follow very narrow rules and end up essentially being of no more use than an automated phone recording.
Here’s an actual example of good vs bad service.
A couple took a short trip over a three-day weekend. They booked everything online through a well-known travel site and prepaid the car rental. Here’s what happened when their plane landed at their destination and they went to pick up their pre-paid rental.
They proceeded to the main car rental counter for the rental company they had booked with and were told as they got in line to go outside to the booth and someone would help them there because she was closing the counter. It wasn’t just this couple that was directed there it was about 10 other parties too.
The agent who was working the main counter took quite some time to get to the booth, which was manned by two people and servicing clients from 3 different rental agencies. The couple waited nearly an hour in line before they even got to the counter.
Upon getting to the counter to get their rental car, the agent said she needed the husband’s credit card. Then the agent tried to run the card for the “deposit” (on a prepaid rental). The couple explained that they had prepaid and as a result there wasn’t sufficient room on the card for the deposit. They had another card but it was only in the wife’s name but the agent wouldn’t take that because the reservation was in the husband’s name.
The obvious solution was to change the name on the rental to the wife’s and use her credit card. The only problem was that the agent “can’t do that.” She said that because they booked through the travel site, the name would have to be changed by them. She made no actual effort to try to change it herself or get a manager to help.
The husband called the travel site customer service. They said that the car rental company could definitely change the name. The customer service rep there asked if she could put the husband on hold while she called the car rental company. He agreed and was on hold for less than 5 minutes. The customer service representative came back on the line and told him it was all handled, she got the car rental company on the phone and they changed the name.
That couple will certainly use that travel site again, but will not rent a car from that car rental company again.
Outstanding customer service must be woven into the fabric of your business and practiced by every staff member.