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Ok everyone, on 3. 1, 2, 3!

1. Markets are conversations.

2. Conversations happen around social objects.

3. Social objects are products or services that are remarkable.

4. Remarkable is not just something special, but something worth being remarked about.

Ok, with this in mind, last night as my house mate and I stalked people on Facebook, my shiny, tiny god was in my room and having been for a run I was feeling very lazy, so I grabbed her obelisk of a laptop and logged in.

As soon as the page loaded I was greeted with the below screen – and apologies to anyone whose privacy has been invaded, particularly those who now are forced to acknowledge they know me in real life – advising me the browser I was using was IE 6 and my Facebook experience may be compromised by this fact.

Browser help in Facebook

Now, I don’t actually log in to Facebook all that often these days, it has worn a tad thin for me. In this though I thought there was a great point to be made about the things you can and should do for the people who use your services or products. It is so easy for Facebook to know what browser I’m using and to suggest upgrades or alternatives (for the record, I use Firefox on my own machine). WHat are the other ways service just happens because people no longer need to ask, they just do?

– The cafe across the road knows I only ever drink long blacks, so they just make them, they don’t ask

My favourite wine bar knows I don’t drink sweet wines, so they don’t suggest them when I go in

My favourite record store knows the music I like, but they also know enough to suggest things outside my radar

Those three examples rely on a human remembering and caring enough to act. So if you’re in a service industry and there are things you can automate, letting the technology take care of the service so you can do the things requiring a human, what is stopping you? Oh, I just realised I left one of the most important things off my list at the top:

5. Good customer service is the most remarkable thing you can offer.

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In a world where man-crushes are entirely acceptable Andrew Cafourek and I would be the best of buds. The fact that I’m pointing people to his site while he sleeps having been unable to complete his update I’m sure he won’t find remotely amusing…we’ll deal with that later.

Andrew uses Tumblr, a service I have signed up for but not slotted into my daily routine yet. These are direct from his Tumblog which is equal parts entertaining and…well…entertaining.

This is a brilliant commercial for the Discovery Channel:

This is a fantastic note on customer service:

Customer Service

This is a wry if pessimistic view of the future:

In the future...

This is Andrew’s Tumblog.

Long time listeners-first time callers may recall my recent troubles with Vodafone, mobile carrier to the masses starved for choice. I had come to regard their Australian operations with such apathy I barely had the energy to add a condescending tone to my voice when speaking about them, content to let the name ring out with a monotonous drawl and slide away into delicate traces of nothingness (much like their service). I was utterly flabbergasted when I had posted my lament to better days one evening, only to find a comment from an employee the next, wanting to help. The gesture was tempered in the ensuing days by the fact that, somehow, he worked for the UK division yet still managed to locate me while Vodafone Australia played solitaire in the back room of whatever faceless warehouse they stowed away in this week. How could Vodafone UK become aware of my problem and Australia remain blissfully ignorant?

The details of the ensuing days don’t really bear repeating. I eventually had my phone replaced, though I wound up spending almost three hours on hold to get a handset repaired that I had taken insurance out on months ago. All manner of incompetence was displayed, until the final straw came along when a lovely lady called Casey told me she would need to request the paper work from the store to take a look at my initial request for insurance on the handset. I calmly told Casey I understood the process they needed to follow, but I also explained I had been a loyal customer for five years (I have spent thousands with them) and if this was not resolved satisfactorily I would be taking my business elsewhere.

The call ended, but five minutes later she called back, saying the issues were resolved and I could organise a replacement with their insurance department. I was transferred, my call answered immediately and told I could collect a replacement handset from any Vodafone store.

I’m going to go double-time on this for the viewers playing at home; you should not have to threaten to take your business elsewhere in order to achieve good customer service! All I wanted was for Vodafone to acknowledge their mistake and replace the handset. It took weeks to resolve, hours of my time sent on hold, and an outcome arrived at solely due to me being unwilling to accept the situation as the company presented it. So, a few lessons for all the corporations out there, regardless of the space you’re in:

1. You need advocates for consumers inside your companies

If every person you employ is hell bent on justifying a bottom line, you will lose sight of your audience, cease to be relevant, and fade out of existence. Casey, while simply doing her job, at least understood my plight and went after a resolution internally after our conversation. Companies need people on the inside who are passionate about the consumer experience and not focussed on what it means from within the naive point of view of an operational cost. Vodafone’s loss here is a single handset, versus the hundreds of dollars I spend with them a month. You don’t need an M.B.A. to do the math there.

2 . Customer service is the new marketing

This is not a new idea, but I’m amazed at how few people actually get it. Good customer service is priceless. These people should not be paid poorly, stuck in a corner to deal with complaints every day until they have had enough and quit or leap off a bridge. They should be applauded and celebrated as the front line in the ongoing battle in an increasingly competitive space for eyeballs. These people should be empowered to make decisions based not on profitability, but on a mantra of “how do I make this person a fan of our company?”. Until I am given evidence otherwise, I will tell each person who asks me about car insurance to call AAMI. My circle of friends is one that AAMI stand to get a lot of business from.

3. You ARE being talked about. You’re either a participant in the conversation or you are a deer in headlights

My initial episode of being contacted by Vodafone UK showed how easy it was for the conversations you have to get out there; there being the wide open spaces of the inter-webs. I’m going to get in touch with the Vodafone UK people with a view to interviewing them on their approach to online media and how those interactions are changing the way they do business. While it wasn’t an optimal outcome for them, they showed it wasn’t hard to find the conversations going on and get involved, and I imagine they do that countless times a day. The fact is somebody somewhere is having a less than optimal experience with your product, brand or service right now; how much you care about making that better is in direct correlation to how much you care about being around in five years.

Consumers are changing their behaviour, demanding more and rightfully so. The companies that take the time to get this right have a much easier road ahead of them. By the token that money doesn’t make you happy but it does give you the opportunity to worry about other things, getting your customer service offering in order means your attention can be focussed on innovation in other areas of your business. And your competitors get left for dead.

Even Rome fell my friends.

Dear Vodafone,

We’ve been friends for a while now, since 2003. I was with your competition, but they were a touch incompetent. I’m an international sort of guy and I liked what you were about. Plus the girl I was seeing at the time used you, and if I can trust someone enough to swap bodily fluids, then surely I can take a punt on their carrier of choice.

Things were great initially, new number was easy to remember, the free calls to my true love, and after my friends finally stopped calling the old digits, it seemed like everyone was using you. Great! Nothing like being part of the crowd to make a guy feel good about himself.

Time passed, things changed, but you remained the same. The girl had other ideas but you stayed true, online 24/7 so my friends could call and console me, even offering me new phones every now and then so I didn’t think about running to your competitors. You even stayed online once new girls started to call me. You were good to me, and I was good to you. We were good to each other (and really, how many people can we say that about?!?!).

Lately though, things haven’t been the same. When my last phone was an absolute piece of shit, you weren’t there for me, even though you had offered it up under the guise of a “reward”. That wasn’t cool. You knew better. You’ve been OK (generally) about my new pride and joy, but as I sit here, waiting on hold to find out when you’ll be done assessing my insurance claim, I’ve begun to wonder if maybe it isn’t time to move on.

Last week, when all I needed was to give you my poor Blackberry Pearl to be repaired or replaced after a nasty run-in with the Great Southern Ocean, you kept me on hold for 40 minutes. FORTY. With the ear piece glued to my ear as, funnily enough, I need the damn thing for work.

After that I had to drive to a store. A proper store, with bricks and things holding it up. I was willing to at least experiment with the idea, we have after all been together a while, and I do want to try and make it work. But then your people (it is probably the best way to describe them, though it is in no way indicative of their true, insidious and hidden dark form) just didn’t care. Really. I don’t mean they were a touch laissez faire, I mean they did not care, the way a mother turtle might lay eggs and then waddle off into yonder sea, black beret tilted just so, cigarette in mouth muttering “C’est la vie…” as the gulls make ready to swoop. Not only that, they were poorly trained. Perhaps they had skipped the sections on product knowledge, retail management and general courtesy and focussed solely on Appendices with titles such as “101 ways to ignore customers” and “Things you can do to avoid doing your job”. Understand, I’m not being snooty. I worked retail for years while at university. In fact I worked it full-time while studying to help my parents pay their bills; what I’m saying is I know the job can be a bitch, and I know there are extenuating circumstances that may make you feel like not being there. And there’s a word for people like that, certainly for the people that manned your store that day: useless. I have other words too, like lazy, self-absorbed, and waste-of-space. Get over it or change your line of work; I hear they’re still short on sand bags in New Orleans!

I’m not sure which moment stands out more – the dull glimmer of acknowledgment once a particularly fine specimen of cro magnon man clocked my person in the store (I was the only one) or when I had to correct him on his own form, advising him that “Store contact info” probably did not mean my home address. I reluctantly left the phone in his ape-ish hands and, with little option wandered into the 3 Mobile Store located conveniently next door, to get a cheap, pre-paid Skype phone. Funnily enough, they were no better (maybe it’s just telecommunications retail staff in general, I know a website that can help you with that).

I was told it would be 3 – 5 working days before I had my phone back (or a new one). Great success, I can live with that. And being a little distanced from the office by not getting my email on my phone? Good for the soul.

So when it hit seven days, I became a little concerned. I decided to call your number for a chat, thinking I would show a bit of proactivity, touch base, get an up date. Not spend 45 minutes this time waiting for my call to be answered. Seriously, I know you have problems, we all have problems. But 45 minutes? Were you making souffl√© by way of apology? Did I miss the invitation? I’m pretty sure I played my part, I know this dance well as I did it once already.

The thing that really brings a smile to my face though is what your insurance people finally have to say to me, after the 45 minute rehearsal. It seems when my account was switched over onto the Blackberry and away from a device born from Satan’s own loins, the miscreant we’ll (for the sake of the argument) call “a customer service representative” didn’t move the insurance with it. So, I have an already broken and utterly useless Nokia 6288 that I haven’t had a call on since July under insurance. And I have the phone you helped me switch to meeting an untimely end on a beach in Lorne. This is the equivalent of trading in a Datsun, acquiring a Nissan Z and then the mechanic being surprised when you show up with it. “Where’s the Datsun?” they ask bewildered. “Datsun?” you say, “YOU WERE THERE WHEN IT LEFT!!”

So, my course of action is pretty simple here. We’ve had fun, really, we’ve had a ball. You’ve been there through thick and thin and captured some things on various media devices it’d be best if my parents never saw. I’m going to call in the morning and try to sort this out with your account people. If we cannot make it work, I’m going to cite irreconcilable differences. Nobody likes a drawn out custody battle, and I think we both saw this coming.

One more chance Vodafone, what happens after that is entirely up to you.

Yours sincerely,

David Gillespie
(disgruntled customer)

I’ve just spent the last 10 minutes sitting on the phone, it ringing and recorded messages being played ad nauseum, some kind of old world punishment for wanting to do something as banal as actually enter a brick and mortar bookstore. If it was the mum and dad run place down the road that would be fine, but then again they would be closed by 6pm at the latest, so I should count by (mixed) blessings.

Borders, listen.¬† I know you’re trying to get yourselves sold, but you have to make yourself attractive for that to go down. What patronage you currently enjoy is not going to grow if you do not make it easier for me to transact with you. It should speak volumes that I’m actually willing to go into a store to get what I want and not order it from your friends across the pond. I’m not asking for the bar to be any lower than it was twenty years ago, I want you to pick up the phone when I call. If that is too hard, then I have some unfortunate news regarding your remaining ambitions…