Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Customer service - what business are you in?

Yesterday I spent two hours on the phone to my internet service provider.  The first hour was frustrating and pointless.  The second hour actually led to my problem being solved - after I called back and spoke to someone else.  I told a friend about this and she told me she had spent hours on the phone also, organising utilities in the context of moving house.

Our experience was similar, although with different companies.  Most call centres seem to be geared towards delivering a standard line.  The ability to listen to a customer and identify their needs is mostly absent.  Lately, I've noticed that conversations start with the operator telling me information I already know.  It's a bit like the game show host who makes statements about the contestants, but pretends they are questions:  "Next up is Mary.  And Mary you were a teenage Sumo wrestling champion."   It sounds like this: "So Tanya you're on the Anytime Plan for $x per month. Your next bill is due on 17 September." Fabulous.  I know all of this and none of it has anything to do with what I said I was calling about!

My problem yesterday was that I'm caught between two companies.  My provider was bought by another company.  Over three months ago I received a letter telling me that I would be "migrated" to the new system.  Details of my new plan were also provided.  I was pretty happy.  For the same monthly outlay my monthly data allowance would go from 12GB to 200GB!  Perfect.  Because of changes to my work patterns, television habits and the acquisition of an ipod, I've been regularly reaching my limit.  When this happens my broadband is "throttled", although they now seem to prefer the term "shaped".  It really means that internet speed is slowed down to dial up speed. Excruciating and unworkable.

Clearly, I've outgrown my current plan, but I'm supposed to be getting a new one so there's no point in changing.  No one can give me a timeframe for migration and the figures about the numbers of accounts being migrated have not changed over the last three months of conversation.  The attitude of the first person I spoke to was "there's nothing I can do about it; accounts are being migrated; when you are migrated, you will be on blah blah plan."

By the end of the first hour yesterday, it wasn't just my broadband that was going to be throttled!

The fascinating thing is that when I called back and spoke to Maria, there was a whole world of possibilities she was able to suggest.  The problem has been resolved.  She even called me back this morning to finalise the transaction!  Just like she said she would!

I wonder why customer service organisations wouldn't ensure that every person who calls in encounters someone like Maria.  Maria who listens.  Maria who is able to identify and understand a customer's needs. Maria who is then able to match those needs to the various company offerings.  Maria who honestly admits when she doesn't know the answer and follows up.  Why do we more usually encounter the defensive person whose job description seems to be to deflect and distract until the customer goes away?

My friend who is moving house has a theory.  She believes that this is actually the role of call centre staff in most organisations, especially utilities.  Most people will give up and the deflection will work.  This frees the staff up to churn through more calls.  When people like me or her call and we persist, my friend believes that we are then identified and the tactics change.  This is when options are offered.  If we are offered options we feel like our needs are being addressed.  Sometimes they will be.

I really hope she's wrong, but I fear that she is correct.

This morning I was sent a survey to comment on the service I had received.  I gave a very detailed response, as I do every time, in the hope that someone, somewhere may take some notice.

I think part of the problem is how organisations see themselves.  I don't think my ISP sees itself as being in the business of customer service.  I think it sees itself as being in the business of wires and nodes and megabytes.  If that's where your mindset is, the kind of response from call centre staff makes sense.

I spent some time working in a call centre for one of the big banks a couple of years ago.  My job was to call people about their overdue credit cards.  I did very well against my targets.  The reason I believe I was so successful was that I approached my work from a customer service perspective rather than from a debt collection perspective.  It made a huge difference to the people I spoke to as well as making the work more sustainable for me.

Where is the mindset of your organisation?  Are you focussing on the right things?  What are your people thinking about?  If you asked your people to describe their job role, are you confident about what they'd answer? I'd love to know.

I love helping organisations with this kind of thing.  Start a conversation by using the email button on my "about me" page.

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