Why does customer service constantly defy common sense?

There seem to be a spate of stories about bad customer service at the moment. Perhaps it is just that we’ve had a really bad experience ourselves and therefore notice them more. Perhaps it is that bad experiences get more attention than good ones, and the press therefore love them.

But if that’s the case, you have to ask yourself whether you have had a good customer experience in the last few months. Unlikely? In fact, it is usually so bad that calling (or trying to call) a company to get a problem solved is something that we tend to put off doing.

These days we are discussing the next generation of contact center strategies. We talk about an omnichannel approach, where customers can start a conversation via one channel and continue it on another, seamlessly. But some say that omnichannel is a step too far and we should first concentrate on getting a multichannel strategy right.

We say that companies need to get the fundamentals right, otherwise thinking about a new strategy is pointless. And, as usual, when we have a mess to deal with, we think that technology will solve the problem. That is rubbish.

We tend to focus our frustration on older, more established, larger companies. Yet the problem seems pretty universal – and huge.

The one key performance indicator that every CEO looks at on a regular basis is churn. Churn is discussed endlessly. The focus on customer service is spouted time and again by those same CEOs on conference calls and in keynotes. “Our focus on our customers is paramount,” they say. And they seem blissfully unaware of just how broken their own processes are. They are probably in charge of a company that has no phone number for customer problem solving.

The problem will only get bigger. We are moving into an era where the customers are, to our old world view, chaotic. As industry analyst Teresa Cottam said in a recent article on the next generation of contact centers, “Generation Z [the oldest just turning 21 now] members are not just problem solvers like their Y predecessors, but want to creatively reinvent their world – including the service paradigm. They are fiercely independent and detest the hand-holding required by Gen Y (the Apple Genius Bar is their idea of Hell)”.

It is not just speed of response that matters here, according to Cottam: “When we use the self-service screen in McDonald’s it’s not because it’s quicker or easier to use, it’s because we don’t have to speak to anyone and don’t need to remove our headphones.” So says a member of Generation Z.

The answer, of course, is to apply common sense. Your customer service process should mirror what you want from other customer service processes. And your focus on this area should be a priority, not just for the sake of press releases.

The question is why this doesn’t seem to be the case for so many companies. Maybe it’s because the CEO knows that the number of customers who churn because his customer service is rubbish will be matched by the number of new customers that come on board – either because his competitor’s customer service is just as bad, or his multi-million dollar marketing budget is actually working.

There are, however, slivers of light, however small. At a recent conference, we heard about the implementation of a billing system that managed customers’ balancesreally well simply by rounding properly. Yes, it reduced the telco’s own revenues but because the feature was communicated to customers, it helped bring churn down to under 1%. Result?

It’s amazing how just getting things working right improves the customer experience. CEOs might consider trying their own services, as a normal customer, to see just how good the experience is(or isn’t).

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