Part I: The Rant
I really hate it when important, positive concepts get corrupted to the point that you don’t even like to talk about them.
Like customer service.
Literally billions of dollars are spent by companies explicitly touting their client service. Everybody espouses the concept, but only a tiny minority are actually client-forward. Typically, a customer is forced to endure inconvenience and aggravation. Many companies have multiple departments, but it seems the more layers of customer-something titles, the lower the level of true customer service.
The Reality of Too Many 'Customer Service' Calls
And customers know it. First, because you know what you will have to go through to get real help, you do everything possible to solve the issue yourself. I search blogs, dodging clickbait and popups relating to my last five internet searches, and wade through layers of YouTube videos promising answers — anything to avoid having to enter the labyrinth. Finally, I call customer service.
Employers intentionally screen out customers so 'more important' employees don’t have to serve the customer directly.
The phone is often answered by someone half a world away, sometimes with a communication-hindering accent. Most of the time, even though the agent starts out with full confidence they can solve my issue, they can’t. They are trained to thoroughly learn a manual of the issues they’re empowered to deal with. They generally cannot make decisions but can only apply the rules.
I don’t blame these guys for my frustration. I’ve been to their call centers. Hordes of young men and women pack into high-rise canyons of buildings devoted entirely to call-center activities. They work hard and they really try (by the way, if you take your frustration out on them, they can get demoted or even let go because they are not getting enough five-star reviews on their surveys), but they can only do so much. Their employers intentionally put them in place to screen out customers so employees with more importance (and therefore more authority) don’t have to serve the customer directly.
Inevitably, you get trapped in a game of Cold Potato, wherein the customer is the potato. I say cold-potato because if it were Hot Potato, they would not hold you very long. As it is, I find myself on mind-consuming hold. This continues until the last frustrated person who doesn’t have any more discretionary authority than the previous person transfers me to the department whose title frosts me most of all: Customer Loyalty, or Customer Retention.
At this point we get an agent who is amazingly diplomatic and highly empathetic. But by now, I’m so ticked off that I’ve vowed to dump this company and brave the pain of going back to my previous company that I dumped because of exactly the same kind of customer oppression. This agent, however, is armed with a bag of treats and I end up just like my dog, obviously unhappy but unable to resist the treat. So down goes my dog and down go I, mollified with a temporary discount, some waived fees or some free toys.
If you look at the expense of the hiring, training and facilities involved in replacing turnover, it begs the question, why not just train and empower the first level of customer service reps with the answers and the last-resort toys? It seems a logical thing to do but virtually no one invests in the customer to that level. I say no one, but that’s not totally true. There are the few — which concludes this rant, and introduces the rave — check back next week for part two.
About the Author
Randal is a results-driven, development and execution-oriented leader with more than 25 years of experience leading high performance teams. He’s a proven business professional, capable of leading change in both the boardroom and on the frontline, with a strong track record leading strategy development, entrepreneurship, performance and evaluation globally across a variety of social enterprises and functions.
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