As a veteran professional from the service sector, trust me when I say that it takes years to build a relationship with a customer and just one major goof up to jeopardize that relationship. You need to know how to keep a customer.
One simply cannot downplay the important role that client facing employees or outsourced customer service representatives plays in being the face of a company.
Armed with the knowledge that the customer really is King (or Queen) and the presence of other service providers for the same service who would love to have their patronage, what is good customer service all about?
The story of how an internet service provider sent me to the Twilight Zone
Early 2014, newspapers were abuzz with 4G services and my internet service provider decided to move their core technical people into upgrading the system to cash in on the action.
It appears they also revamped their Customer Service Staff by enrolling part-time youngsters but forgot about induction training because the evening shift was manned by staff who obviously had not been trained to handle queries from customers with serious problems during the upgrade or had any real knowledge of the products that the company sold. It was as good as talking to a voice mail service except here there was a human reading spouting answers from a screen and looking for variations of possible frequently asked questions.
Here’s the story of my horrific trip to the Twilight Zone that forced me to walk away from, an up to then, highly trusted service provider after almost 8 years.
It all started on the morning of the first Sunday of January 2014 when I could not access the internet with my dongle card. Normally when this happens, it means an upgrade is in progress and services are restored after a few hours. The Customer Service Staff knows what is going on and informs the customer. I did not think too much about it and went about my weekend routine.
The fun started at 7.30 in the evening when I still did not have a connection and did a reset which normally worked but not this time. So I called Customer Service where the rep told me to uninstall my software and reinstall it as the problem was at my end.
I explained that the original installation had been done 8 years earlier using a CD and that I did not know where the CD was so if anything went wrong, I would be in trouble.
The rep told me that the software was installed in the Dongle and I should proceed. I was assured that if anything went wrong, I would be assisted in downloading the software.
No second guessing but when we tried to reinstall my software, there was nothing to be installed and the rep told me that it was my fault that I uninstalled it.
I was admonished for not having 2 internet service connections and nothing could be done about it until I got a connection. When I asked to speak to his supervisor, he disconnected my call.
After that, I was on the phone trying to find someone of the right seniority and 3 hours later, I finally got through to a real employee of the company who apologized for what had happened and informed me that my model of the Dongle did not have built in software which was a new product.
In any case the software that his junior had mentioned was not available for download as I had an older model of the Dongle and the company had discontinued providing the software download. He promised to report the matter at a higher level and proceeded to inform me that I needed to take my computer and Dongle to the nearest service centre which was 50 kilometers from my house.
It was taken for granted that I would do whatever was required to undo their mistake and I was expected to step out of the house in fog ridden Delhi and travel to some unknown place because they were The Company.
As you would have guessed, I did step out on Monday morning and based on the recommendation of my computer guy, changed my service provider. The way I saw it, why would I want to pay 2 service providers for the same product?
Once my new connection was in place, I called The Company’s disconnection department and after narrating my story asked them to terminate the connection as I did not have a working Dongle.
It seems that damage control only comes into play once the customer has left because after that I received dozens of calls offering to send someone to my house to provide me with a CD to reinstall my Dongle and I could use both service providers!
Perhaps the damage control department had not realized it but Elvis had left the building.
Then to my amazement, the threatening calls started telling me that I had to pay extra money since I was disconnecting the services mid-cycle and I just told them that if paying extra money meant that I was seeing the last of them, then so be it.
As I found out from the franchisee outlet where I went to make the final settlement, I was not the only one who was changing service providers. Quite a few disgruntled customers were walking in because their present connectivity had gone haywire and other horror stories. I thanked my stars that I had taken prompt action.
Out of the Twilight Zone and into the Light
Fast forward 2 years later, I am still peaceful and happy with my new service provider whose customer service is much better and I can manage any upgrade of my connection and payment without having to have any human interaction if I so desire.
On the one-off occasion when I have needed to make a call, there are friendly voices at the other end and no one troubles me with cold calls for sales. I receive emails whenever they have a promotion or if they believe there is something that could be useful for me. Guess what, I’ve even done upgrades and changed plans as needed with no problems!
I often wonder whether my previous service provider, a market leader and a highly reputed company known for being at the forefront of technological initiative and market penetration of the internet in India had ever thought through their upgrade project or did they just jump into it real time because they thought their customer base would accept bad service in lieu of better service in the future? Friends who had used their service and jumped ship before me had similar tales of woes.
Had they really trained their staff to deal with disaster management which is what this migration required?
I’ll never know and frankly, I don’t care. What I do know is that this company was again in the news recently for all the wrong reasons and clearly I jumped ship at the right time.
How to provide good customer service
The contrast in the service delivery and customer support of the two companies is so apparent that this week’s blog post is dedicated to what I believe are important tips that will help anyone who provides services to handle their customers better; whether you are engaged in over-the-phone customer service or operations involving interaction with customers.
Always Wear A Smile
Start every call with a smile. The caller may not see it but he will definitely hear it in your voice. Company B staff all sounded supportive and happy to be there for me on a national holiday. In a face to face interaction do smile and look helpful but don’t sneer or sound patronizing!
Put Yourself in the Customer’s Shoes
The fact that the customer has to talk to you means something is wrong and needs to be addressed. You are the face or voice of your organization and a lot depends upon the empathy that you are able to display. This will help you to choose the right words.
Listen and Be Attentive
There is nothing more irritating than a Customer Service Representative who keeps on asking the same question repeatedly. Listen to key facts and make it a habit to note down what the customer is saying. Paying attention to important details saves time and will give an impression that you are really serious on being of help. I had to repeat my complaint details each time and that really got my goat.
Watch Your Tone of Voice
Irate callers usually make a Customer Service Representative equally irate. But you should not allow yourself to be “infected” with their emotions. Remember, the customer is always right. So no matter how the customer is getting on your nerves, remain patient, understanding and again, empathetic. While it is normal for you to be annoyed, just make sure it doesn’t show in your tone.
Make a Recap
Once you have gathered and written down all the pertinent information you need from the customer, do a recap to make sure you get all the details correctly. Give the information that the caller needs and wrap up the conversation, making it clear that resolution was made or is being processed.
As a guideline, keep in mind that politeness and patience go a long way. Even better, be honest with the customer. If there is a problem technical or otherwise, inform the customer of a specific date or time by which the problem will be resolved and not the 48-72 hours estimate. If you do give an estimate, make sure the work will be done by then otherwise take the initiative to call the customer and explain the situation. If you don’t know the answer, tell the customer that you will revert and consult a senior who knows how to solve the problem.
These are my 5 tips for good customer service. Have I missed any? Do share your views and what you expect from your service providers staff in the comments box below.
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