Monday, 13 August 2012

Have call centres killed face to face customer service?

Last week, my virtually new ipod stopped working.  I had had an intense day and was looking forward to taking advantage of the thoughtfully provided ipod dock in my hotel room with some music to shake the day off.

I chose my favourite track and pressed 'play'.  Nothing happened.  Well, there was no sound, but the ipod started to flick through every track, stopping only for a few seconds before moving onto the next track.  Most unsatisfactory.

For a long time my life was perfectly fine without an ipod in my handbag.  My first iphone introduced me to having access to large portions of my music collection at my fingertips and the flexibility to create playlists specifically for use in my facilitation and mediation work was too good to pass up.  I rarely listen to music when I'm just travelling around Melbourne.  I like eavesdropping and  soaking up life too much to remove myself.  Occasionally I will plug in when there's someone annoying talking at the top of their lungs without anything interesting or amusing to say.

My ipod is now an essential item when I'm flying.  As soon as I'm allowed to, I plug in and enjoy my private cocoon.  The fact it wasn't working in a week when I had five flights to complete was a big deal.

When I arrived in Canberra I went in search of anyone who might be able to help.  The guy at JB Hi Fi was engaging and helpful with general suggestions, but couldn't really help.  Half way through our conversation he mentioned that there was an Apple store across the road and they might be my best bet. I thanked him and headed over.  I was surprised and disappointed.

I stood in the store - at the counter - for more than five minutes before I was acknowledged by a staff member.  A guy came over and asked me how he could help.  I explained that my ipod had stopped working and I was wondering where I should start.  Before I'd even uttered the word 'ipod' he had written down the phone number for a service centre and handed it to me, saying I should just call.

I said that I wasn't a local and was just wondering whether there was a suggested fix or list of things to troubleshoot first.  He asked me a question.  I can't remember what it was because as I answered he started to look at everyone else in the shop except me.  At one point, I stopped talking.  He noticed after a few seconds and asked me to "go on".  I resumed my answer and he resumed his lack of interest in me and acute interest in everyone else in the world.  Without another word, I walked out.  I didn't even finish my sentence.

As I left, the guy called out "sorry" to my back.  Sorry?  What for?  A complete failure of basic courtesy and the basic requirements of face to face communication between human beings? Hi previous employment may have been in a call centre, where multi-tasking during conversations is an essential on-the-job skill.  It doesn't work very well when the customer is physically present.

When I arrived back home, I went to visit Techville here in Yarraville.  The difference was refreshing. I was immediately greeted and within five minutes the paperwork was complete and my ipod was ready to go off to hospital.

I told the bloke in my local store about my experience in Canberra.  He was also appalled and said that if he had a staff member treat a customer the way I described, that staff member would not last long.  Fair enough too.

With all the pressure on the retail sector at the moment, I would have thought that a big brand like Apple would perform better in the bricks and mortar store.  On the other hand, one of my friends insisted that no one can meet the gold standard of service which I look for.  I am hyper-aware of communication - that's the field that I work in.  I'm also working with retail managers for a major client at the moment, so I know that I have expectations because of this work.

What do you think?  What do you expect when you walk into a retail store?  How would you react to the guy I came across?

As I contemplate renewing my commitment to divacultura for another year, I feel excitement and affection.  Thank you for sharing some of your time with me. As a thank you gift - and so I can gain a better sense of who's out there - I'll be giving away a pair of my hand knitted socks to two very lucky readers, where ever you are in the world (ie two readers will receive a pair of socks each).  To be in the running, leave a comment on this post by Friday 17 August 2012, stating why you like reading divacultura. My favourite responses will receive the prize (my decision is final).  Why not take the opportunity to sign up and follow too! 

And there are still passes to see The Sapphires available here for Australian-based readers.

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