By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about customer service via the telephone, even more so than usual. There are some things that I am excited about, while others are a concern.
On the negative side, consider a large telecommunications company that provides cell phone, Internet, and long distance. Another is a large national banking institution. You know them both. They are notorious for their consistently abysmal record of poor customer service. If I were to name names, there’s a good chance that either you or someone you know has had a bad experience with them. Actually, saying “bad” would be kind. Uncaring, unconscionable, and unethical come to mind.
With these companies, it seems that once a problem occurs, there is a strong likelihood that it will never be resolved. This is not an overstatement. People have only so much patience, and then they give up. Excessive runaround, hours spent on hold, and limited energy to pursue a satisfactory resolution eventually overwhelm frustrated customers. Either they decide to accept the problem or they switch providers.
Although some of these companies’ frontline staff truly do care and try their best, others do not. Regardless, there seems to be cumbersome bureaucracy thwarting every move and complex support systems that make no allowances for nonroutine problems.
There is a real opportunity awaiting these two companies—and others like them—if they can just provide effective telephone support. With best-in-class phone support, I envision their cancelation rates dramatically decreasing, customer satisfaction levels skyrocketing, and a whole lot less negative press.
Maybe these companies are simply too big or offer too many services to be effective. Perhaps their help desks are mismanaged or bogged down by bureaucracy. But I suspect the underlying reason is that upper management treats support as an expense item that needs to be minimized. The reality is that providing good customer service is good business—but one that requires an investment to fully realize.
I recently experienced the trials and triumphs of phone support after my house took a minor lightning hit, affecting our phone, Internet, and TV service. I called my satellite provider and spoke with a woman named Beth in the Oklahoma call center. The first time I encountered a call center agent telling me her location, I thought it was a bit hokey and an overreaction to the backlash against offshore call centers. But it actually helped me establish a personal connection with her. In the same way, I was positively predisposed towards Beth from Oklahoma. While waiting for various diagnostics to run, we had time to chat about call center stuff, which I greatly enjoyed. A service call was soon scheduled for the next day, when the problem was quickly fixed and service restored.
However, 2 weeks out and I’m still waiting for my phone and Internet service to be repaired. Multiple phones calls, missed commitments, wrong instructions, and conflicting information: that’s no way to run a business.