Customer Service

Most of us have had some experiences with customer service before, positive or negative or neutral. We can probably find ourselves united in the unpleasant memory of one or two international service providers, if we start sharing our bad experiences. At those circumstances, we ask: why does this company not put their customer first, as they keep on branding themselves that way? Why do they not act according to what they say? Do they care about their customers? Are they not worried that we might tell all our friends about this bad experience such that many people will stop paying for their service?

I attended a customer service discussion today. Without repeating the exact customer issues presented to us, I would like to share the thoughts and questions popped up in my head. We were played this audio recording of the conversation between a customer who has been a victim of a fraudulent activity and the customer service gentleman (let’s call him Ray). Ray did everything according to the policies set forth by the company and did a great job of listening to the customer patiently, but at the end still had to deliver the message that “sorry, we cannot help you.” After hearing this conversation, we were asked how we felt. I jumped in right away “well, I would never bother with this company again”. The other audience gave much more emotionally charged responses: “betray”, “disappointed”, “no trust”, “screw the policy, the customer service could do better than that”, “what about the reputation of the business” and so on. The dilemma: (1) Ray’s handling of the case had no flaw at all, in fact he was very polite and full of patience and empathy. You can easily rate Ray as a star employee of the customer service department; (2) But he did not solve the problem for the customer.

What about the company policies? Could we not change those? Yes, certainly. But at what cost? Would it open the flood gates? Would weak policies become loop holes for malicious people to exploit? Should the majority customers (who never encounter this issue) foot the bill of the few customers who have this problem? But business providers still have the first and foremost responsibilities to their customers by delivering their service or goods to the customers’ satisfaction. How long can the company survive in business? Are there any components that prior to the customer service could be improved to prevent the issue occurring in the first place? If so, how? And what quantitative measurements can we design to evaluate the added values vs cost of such “improvement”?

I came out with those questions in my mind and cannot help thinking: it was much easier for me as a customer to expect that customer is the highest priority to any business, which I still think so. Business should always ensure that. It is simply much more challenging and complex to achieve that though.

Here is a quote I learned today that provokes further thoughts by Richard Branson: Setting customer expectations at a level that is aligned with consistently deliverable levels of customer service requires that your whole staff, from product development to marketing, works in harmony with your brand image.