Service optional

After yet another soul-destroying fight with a large corporate entity I realized that, almost without fail, large corporations are unable to render anything close to resembling customer service on a consistent basis.

Although speaking from a South African perspective, I have been regaled with many tales from friends and family in the States and Brittain of downright despicable service. And it’s not that these companies are always terrible, no, sometimes you get great service. It’s this inconsistency that infuriates.

Companies need to realise that their positions of power are being eroded due to widespread consumer activism on social media, review platforms and functionality such as on Yelp and, in extreme circumstances, real-world installations. Furthermore, governments are catching on to this trend and in South Africa we now have legislation such as CPA and POPI that endeavors to protect consumers from corporate abuse.

Based on my experiences over the past few months, here’s my own list of do’s and don’ts of customer service (check out this list of places I recommend and avoid):

  • if you run a call center, make sure your agents are able to access the breadth of your companies’ systems so they are empowered to resolve all queries. Sending a customer from pillar to post to talk to 13 different people in an effort to resolve an issue highlights your businesses’ failings, system inadequacies and leadership incompetence.
  • don’t shield senior staff from customers. The CEO probably shouldn’t be fielding complaints from customers all day long, but when front line staff are unable to resolve an issue, there needs to be an escalation policy so that senior staff can, in a structured way, become aware of complaints and make decisions to assist the customer.
  • if you require upfront payment for services or products, make sure you can deliver. Nothing creates more doubt and frustration than having to pay upfront for a service or product only for the company to not fulfill its obligation and then having to fight to get your money back or force delivery. Once a date has been communicated, stick to it, only in extreme circumstances should you renegotiate a date of delivery and in these cases there needs to be constant and clear communication with the customer.
  • if you made a mistake, don’t just fix the mistake, go beyond expectations and overcompensate. The customer is already upset, placing them back in the position they were does not make up for the mistake, they need to be compensated above and beyond to earn back trust. Never ever hide the fact you made a mistake, this will make the situation worse and could lead to costly legal proceedings, loss of income and trust.
  • the companies’ internal systems and processes are not the concern of the customer. When a complaint arises, don’t hide behind internal restrictions and structures. The customer is not aware of nor interested in how you run your business, they are interested in how to fix the problem. Saying to the customer you can’t assist them because the responsibility lies with another department or the software system does not allow for the specific remedy only leads to frustration. The company needs to identify ways to ensure the compensation or remedy process is flexible and reasonable.
  • once a complaint has been lodged and a remedy been agreed upon with timelines, stick to the timelines. If, due to unforeseen circumstances there will be a delay, communicate regularly with the customer. Do not expect or force the customers’ hand to contact you, each phone call or visit from the customer will increase the levels of frustration and anger and further delay the process of resolving the issue.
  • when, after a protracted period where a customers’ complaint couldn’t be resolved and, the customer then wants to no longer do business with your company, don’t exact harsh penalties to cover the cost of the exit. That further embitters the customer and the customer will use any opportunity to dissuade friends and family from doing business with you.

In the end, it comes down to centering your business around you customer. Make it is as easy as possible for individuals to do business with you before the sale, during the sale and afterwards. Post-sale service is the most important part of the transaction and can make or break your relationship with your customers.

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