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Customer Interaction Solutions
October 2006 - Volume 25 / Number 6


Sure We Provide Great Customer Service. It Says So In The Memo.

By Tracey E. Schelmetic
Editorial Director, Customer [email protected] Solutions

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I have always wondered why so many companies bill themselves as “customer service leaders” yet in practice fall down on the job so completely that they become the brunt of water cooler jokes. Many studies, including ones recently conducted by Aspect called “The Aspect Contact Center Satisfaction” indices for North America and Europe, indicate that there is a strong disconnect between the quality of customer service organizations think they are providing, and the actual level of customer service they provide, as judged by real customers.

It’s a phenomenon that can be likened to the fact that many dieters, when asked to estimate their total caloric intake for the day, often underestimate the amount by staggering amounts. Intention (“I would like to eat less calories today”) does not by definition lead to results (“A turkey sandwich has how many calories? You’re kidding!”)

I’m very fond of analogies. Let’s use the following scenario to help illustrate the customer service crisis. Let’s say that I’m a party planner. It’s what I do; it’s what I rely on for my income. There are many other party planners competing in the marketplace, but I attract customers by telling them that I’m the best. It’s my differentiator.

So, on the big day of your anniversary party or wedding, I put everything into play…I contract the caterers, the photographer, the bartenders, the band, the flowers, the cake, the tent and chair rentals. You hired me because I’m the best. I told you I was.
But rather than stick around to make sure everything goes smoothly, I take it for granted that because I left messages for the caterer, the florist, etc., everything will work. I promised you the event would run smoothly, and my suppliers promised me that everything would run smoothly. No problems, right?

But in reality, on the big day, the caterer’s salmon supplier failed to come through, and the caterer’s assistant, an ambitious person who wants the top job, decided on her own that prime rib would make a great vegetarian entree. The photographer sprained his wrist the weekend before while playing water polo. He left a message on my VM, but I was out of range and my wireless provider experienced a delay in delivering the message to me. The cake baker got a migraine…the cake was ready, but someone would have to go pick it up. The flowers got left in the hot sun in the wrong part of the party venue; because no one knew they were there, they were left for hours and wilted. The company I hired to provide a band promised me a swing band for Harold and Sadie’s sixtieth anniversary party, but the swing musicians couldn’t make it, so the entertainment company sent a Goth punk-metal band called “Death Kittens of the Black Plague” instead.

Your party turns out to be a disaster, despite my promises. Why? Because I wasn’t there to keep tabs on all the individual components and the nitty-gritty operations. I failed to troubleshoot the problems. I was utterly unaware of what was going on behind the scenes. I assumed that because I set everything up properly, events would run smoothly.

This is the process I see behind many companies that promise you “the best customer service,” but ultimately fail in most cases. They put a great CRM system into place, they bought an expensive e-learning system, they laid their training processes out in stone and told supervisors to adhere to it. They set thresholds, formed committees to address mandated compliance issues and launched a QA department. So what could go wrong?

What goes wrong is they don’t stay “on the ground” to make sure their best-laid plans go smoothly. They don’t pay their supervisors enough to care whether thresholds are met and training practices are adhered to. They have little communication with their IT department, so the IT department has no idea what the company has promised and what goals they, as support personnel, should be meeting. The threshold levels for things like average wait time have been determined, but no one has really been identified as the person who is ultimately responsible for keeping tabs on those key performance indicators. The IVR menu tree was set up by the Marquis de Sade. Managers are so busy with paperwork and training it takes them three days to realize that a single angry agent has been abusive to 465 customers since Wednesday. The company has an expensive monitoring system which is sending screen pops to a supervisor telling her that the rogue agent is addressing platinum customers as “mold-eating goat lickers,” but her son is in the hospital with a broken leg, and the supervisor covering her work was not trained on the system and, besides, “it’s not his job.”

Too many companies seem to convene meetings to talk about improving customer service, at which time they prepare a report of company standards for customer service excellence. The report is circulated to all manager-level and upward employees, and the QA team congratulates itself on crafting such a fine program. The marketing department and ad agency create print ads and television commercials boasting about the company’s stringent customer service.

But in reality, 60 percent of those quality standard mandate reports ended up gathering dust in employee mailboxes, primarily because no one checks their postal mail anymore in these days of electronic communications. The mailroom guy didn’t notice the decaying reports — he seldom turns on the overhead lights for fear of neutralizing the brain wave-blocking effects of his tin foil hat and alerting intergalactic agents as to his whereabouts.

For those people who did read the report, they were confused by the passive and rhetorical language in the manual. “Average wait times should be kept under two minutes.” No one was ultimately deemed responsible for maintaining the standards, and no methodologies were outlined to accomplish the feat. As a result, everyone who read the manual assumed the directives were “someone else’s responsibility” and ignored them in the same way they ignored the last 29 cheery e-newsletters from the CEO to the rank-and-file.

The result? The whole shiny new customer service excellence program was left out in the sun to wilt, and nobody even bothered to check if it was there, let alone working properly. Meanwhile, someone in the IT department decided that “Death Kittens of the Black Plague” makes for totally righteous hold music. CIS

The author may be contacted at [email protected]. For information and subscriptions, visit http://www.TMCnet.com or call 203-852- 6800.

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