It's Time To Call Your Customer Service Line
Following Up Business Software Investments with Real World Verification
While good customer service isn't easy, poor customer service is inexcusable and can be hazardous to the health of your business. In the age of online comparison shopping, if you aren't consistently good to your customers, they're only a mouse click away from identifying other places to make their purchases, across town or across in the world, thanks to the Internet and low cost shipping services.
That's why forward thinking call centers are continually improving their customer service performance through a combination of improved people management, more efficient business processes and investments in software technology, and in particular Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems, customer service systems and social media tools, often called Social CRM (SCRM) applications. In exchange for those people, process and technology investments, you hope to reap the fruits of your labor by improving the customer experience, retaining more customers and earning a reputation as a good place to do business.
When, however, is the last time you've actually called in to your own company's customer contact center to see how the planned implementations are meeting real world performance objectives? Have you ever made the call? Or do you leave this litmus test up to someone else? If you don't currently vet call center performance with some actual inbound calls, you should.
You invest significant funds in adding customer support tools through CRM software and more, but until you've experienced first hand results, you should not be confident that the investments are working well for your customers or paying off as anticipated.
This all came to a head for me when forced to use a toll-free customer service line for Oakland, N.J.-based Haband Co., a privately held mail order company that's been selling men's and women's clothing and accessories for over 85 years.
A friend of mine bought a reconditioned laptop computer from Haband in late November after receiving a promotional offer in the mail from the company. It arrived and she asked me to help her get online so she could e-mail friends and relatives. Unfortunately, I discovered the computer to be in bad shape, with broken Ethernet and power cord receptacles that wouldn't permit either plug to stay into the back of the computer. So I called Haband, and the nightmare began.
No matter when or how many times I called their customer service numbers, I was locked into an automated IVR hell. When the call center agents were consumed, I was told by the automated attendant to call back later, then the connection dropped the call. When I was finally able to get in without being dropped, I was forced to navigate a series of call options that again didn't help me reach a live human for help me. It was absolutely maddening.
But I persisted, and eventually, through six calls spread out over several hours, reached a customer service agent who calmly listened to my complaint about the defective merchandise and readily offered to take it back with a full refund, including return shipping. The call center agent was understanding and helpful and he overlooked the fact that it was almost a month beyond the 30-day return policy. This was a classic example of successful customer service, the kind that compensates for a poor IVR system and ultimately results in the supplier being considered for a future purchase.
Fast forward three weeks. I called Haband back yesterday, or should I say I attempted to call Haband, to check on the status of the computer return. Again I couldn't get through to a live agent for more than an hour. Why? Because again the call-in phone numbers dump callers – Haband's customers – into a hellish circular menu of options that make it near impossible to reach a live customer service representative for assistance.
Eventually, again by perseverance, I was able to reach a CSR and she was as fabulous and incredibly helpful as the prior CSR of a month prior. She updated me on the return and made another adjustment in the account to fully credit the amount of the defective purchase.
What a dichotomy I experienced - horrific automated IVR hell countered by absolutely helpful, responsive customer service representatives. Was this the system that Haband envisioned when they created it?
I imagine not. I don't think that's what Haband's executives planned when they invested in their IVR, customer service applications, CRM systems the like. I suspect they assumed that they're serving their customers well and getting the results they planned, but failed to fully evaluate.
I also suspect they've never called in to their own customer service lines lately, have no idea how ineffective the IVR systems is and how difficult it is to actually reach a agent inside their company.
So what's it all mean? As a call center leader or manger, It's one more thing to add to your list of "to-do" list on a regular basis. Just spending money doesn't ensure business problems are being solved and customers are being served. Be sure to periodically check in and use those same systems you are creating for your customers. Don't let your customers get frustrated, leave you, without even knowing why they are leaving. That's not why you're in business.