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Customer Service from the Customer Side

Monday, 31 May 2021

I live on a floating home in the Columbia River in North Portland, OR. Daily life is just like living anywhere else, except occasionally my services are a bit wonky. For example, for the past months I’ve had issues with my cable/internet provider Comcast and thought maybe it was because my cable lines are under water.

Turns out that wasn’t the problem; it was a case of bad customer service. Seems me and my provider have two different definitions of what constitutes good customer service.

THE STORY

After 10 calls and tech visits in the last three months to get the same problem fixed, Comcast tech David Peters showed up. This time I was particularly annoyed because I had no cable, no internet, no tv, from Saturday til Monday. I love to read, walk, kayak. But geesh – Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic were playing and I missed them!

David was the last in a long line of young men (yes, all men) to show up. But this time there was a difference.

“I noticed how many people have been here to fix the problem. Seems they all did something different but each tried just one thing. But I’m going to fix it permanently. I’m going to think about your problem as a system. I’m going to change out the cabling from the source, give you all new switchers (Did he say routers??), and then check the frequencies to see where there are glitches. By the time I’m done the problem will be resolved.”

David was here for hours – apparently he defied the management calls he received telling him he’d exceeded his allotted customer interval (and most likely one reason my problem was never resolved to begin with, just sayin) – and was quite diligent.

He did it all: came into the house to check all internal lines, got a ladder and checked outside connections, went to his home office to get new cable, and actually got a special tool to remove the deck where the cable lines initiated under the water! And he fixed it! No more problems! Then he came and found me and asked me to check his work to make sure I was satisfied.

I told him he gave me great customer service and asked if Comcast ever requested ideas from him as to how to best serve customers, or on patterns he noticed in the field that the management could correct from their end.

“One would think they’d come to us, no? Hahahaha. But they don’t. Instead they send these bot calls to ask if you’d choose Comcast again because of the field tech’s work. That makes no sense! It’s an annoying, pointless question with no answer. Why not ask me? Why not ask me what they could do differently? Or ask what I need from them to give customers I’m visiting great service? I am not convinced they really want to resolve any problems.”

His response was spot on. But this makes me curious: how many companies really (really!) care about fixing problems from their end to make customers happy?

WHAT IS A CUSTOMER?

Best I can tell, companies don’t understand how, or even why, to put customers first. I recently read this sentence on a customer service site (Revechat): “With increasing evidence that customers are the backbone of businesses….” Do we really need evidence that customers are the backbone? Without customers we’re not in business.

The best service I ever received was in the health-food store Cyd’s in Taos, NM. He started each day with a staff meeting, asking “Who pays your salary?” and they yelled out in unison: “Our Customers!”

And who is a customer anyway? I believe our employees are our first customers. When I keep my team happy they keep clients happy. Remember the old myth that the Nordstrom customer service rule book was one line: Use your best judgment. Once you require employees to use best judgment, you must hire employees you can trust. And then you must trust them.

THE CUSTOMER VS THE COMPANY

The biggest misunderstanding companies have is that it’s about them. To truly care about customers, they must actually put the customer at the very center and TRUST that their service, their reputation, and the resultant customer acquisition will pay off the resource expenditure.

Most companies are rule-bound and tech heavy to save money, time, and resource. I was once called back by a customer service rep on his own phone, during his break. He wanted to make sure I got my problem fully resolved because there wasn’t time within the 3 minutes he was allowed per call to take care of me. That’s just wrong. They hired the right guy but gave him the wrong rules.

Companies must regulate at the values level and stop trying to police staff and clients at the rules level. It harms everyone and you lose just as many good employees as you do good customers.

I was recently hired by a well-known multinational to find out why they had such high turnover. I spoke with 30 department heads and middle managers. 4 of them cried (literally!) when recounting feelings of being disrespected and ignored. They had even stopped complaining because they felt the management didn’t care.

The company was paying them well above industry standard, so they just collected paychecks and no longer offered ideas, creativity, or enthusiasm. Most of them admitted they were looking for other jobs. And from their comments, sounded like they weren’t taking such good care of their customers either.

THE TRUTH BEHIND CUSTOMER SERVICE METRICS

Personally, I believe that most metrics in this area (CSAT, NPS, CES) are designed to gather specious, meaningless data. Frankly I have no idea why they are a ‘thing’. They certainly do not offer companies ideas with which to improve.

The NPS score is short term and merely highlights results following a single interaction, albeit in a distorted way. Indeed it’s spurious: if a customer has a good interaction they’ll provide a higher score, a bad interaction a bad score. How do I rate a poor call from a good company? Or… Useless. There’s no way to know what, exactly, worked or didn’t work, or what to do differently.

The CSAT score only tracks people who respond, obviously a biased sampling. It certainly misses any specificity of what a company can do to become better.

CES score is devious. While a customer might ignore a company they find difficult to work with, they won’t necessarily choose a company that’s easy. Not to mention ‘ease’ is not necessarily an indicator of good customer service. What, exactly, is being measured?

And save me from those chatbots! They don’t work, get people annoyed, and everyone I know figures out how to avoid them. A colossal waste of time, effort, and money. Maybe in 10 years when bots know how to have real conversation and show concern.

REAL METRICS

To have good data to improve your company, I’d create a wholly different type of scoring system based on surveys and questionnaires that provide the data to be better. Might not be perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction. Questions like:

  1. What would you need to see from us to be willing to continue working with us?
  2. What has stopped you from getting the best experience from us – the type of experience you deserve?
  3. What would we be doing differently for you to continue, or return to, using us?
  4. What would you prefer we add to our outreach to keep you happy over time?
  5. What could we do better to help you decide to buy from us going forward?

The answers will provide companies specific ways and ideas to improve and let customers know they are cared about and their ideas are respected. So much more specific than ‘happy’ or ‘easy’.

Current metrics don’t give companies the data they need to improve. But I’ve got some ideas. Since I believe that happy employees lead to happy customers, I’d take the company pulse first.

How much staff turnover are you experiencing?

A high turnover means unhappy employees and most likely unhappy clients.

Then, I’d look at customer retention/customer churn. Happy customers don’t leave, even if there’s a better price elsewhere:

How many customers are leaving? Do you know why?

I’d also want to know how long it takes, and how many contacts, for a customer to get their needs met. I personally believe it should be a first-contact resolution. It not only saves a customer’s frustration, but saves time and money and effort with staff:

Whoever answers the phone owns the problem or takes responsibility. This person will ask the appropriate questions and do whatever is necessary to solve the problem and get back to the client. It saves a company so much time, saves on hiring and training the folks down the line who quit due to customer frustration (After speaking with 7 people, repeating their problem over and over, and being on hold for countless hours, customers are not happy communication partners). The customer does not get served, the staff don’t get treated well, it’s lose/lose.

To provide good customer service, respect and serve your customers! Make it easy for them. They bought your service along with their purchase. Take care of them!

CUSTOMER LOYALTY AND RETENTION

As business owners, we are responsible for serving people – staff and customers. Our companies are the vehicles with which we serve. We must trust that by serving people we will profit and grow.

Here are my thoughts for improving loyalty and retention:

  • HAVE ENOUGH REPS Current customer service has been created for the ease and cost savings of the company. Long hold times? Hire more reps! It’s not the customer’s responsibility to be patient because you don’t hire enough support staff! Best Buy kept me on hold once for 13 hours! When the guy finally called it was 3:10 AM! When I answered he said, and I kid you not, “So how are you today?”. When I groggily said, “Not so happy to start my day at 3:00 in the morning with this phone call after waiting 13 hours” he hung up on me. 13 hours. That’s just wrong.
  • OWN THE PROBLEM The ‘not my job’ syndrome is endemic. Whoever answers the phone should own the problem! So many companies keep me on hold, then pass me along to many (many!) reps – each with long hold times – as part of the ‘not my job’ syndrome. It’s wrong. It IS your job.
  • NO MORE CONTACT FORMS Get rid of those damn contact forms on your websites. No one wants to fill them out because we know you’re merely capturing my name to send me spam. Give me an email address connected with someone who will take care of me and solve my problem.
  • STOP WASTING CUSTOMER TIME Most processes are set up to save companies money, not to take care of customers. We’ve all spent hours and hours trying to ‘get through’ to phone companies or tech companies or government groups. Why is my time less important than your time? To save you money? I’m the customer! I paid your salary for goodness sakes.
  • RETURN CONTACT WITHIN 24 HOURS How many days, on average, does it take to get a return call to solve a problem? I don’t know. I haven’t figured it out. Certainly more than three. Again, it’s just wrong. Makes me never buy from that company again.

Customer loyalty and retention are the same. When you put customers first they are loyal. And it’s never a price issue. Make customers feel cared for and they’re yours.

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Sharon-Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. She is the author of several books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell). Sharon-Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. www.sharondrewmorgen.com She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com.