Seth Godin’s 2007 post called Starting Over with Customer Service still rings true on the reasons for customer dissatisfaction with service but his proposal of how to start over is oversimplified.
For those of you who don’t know Seth Godin, he is a well published author of 12 books, the latest called Tribes. (Get is free at http://bit.ly/fOzrg).
Seth writes about the changes in marketing and business structures necessary to survive in the New Internet Economy. I am great fan of the 2 books I have read of his, Tribes and Meatball Sundae.
In his article, written in 2007, he talks about 3 reasons why customer service is broken which I believe are still valid.
‘1. The internet has taught us to demand everything immediately (and perfect). As a result, we expect that every single time we pick up the phone or deal with someone in a retail setting, we’ll be dealing with the Senior Vice President of Customer Satisfaction, the head of accounting and the chief of quality control, all at the same time. We expect instant results and undivided attention.
2. The rapid proliferation of choice has taught us to demand that everything should be cheap. As a result, we won’t pay extra for superior service, which means companies need to hire cheap.
3. The availability of blogs and other public histories means that it is harder than ever to treat different customers differently. Word gets out.
As a result of these three inexorable trends, companies are on defense.’
Seth proposes that companies should try to divert some of the support from immediate to ‘overnight’ while still ensuring the customer that their problem has been heard, their data has been gathered completely and that they deserve great service. He feels that many customers will be satisfied with this approach, IF the company does execute on that promise.
There are cases where deferred service will not be practical as in the case of electricity being off, or phone service not working but many billing problems and other non critical issues can be handled this way.
I believe that Seth has captured customer feelings about ‘service’ requirements, ie I need something fixed. However as I have commented in a few of my other articles, (Customer Service using Twitter, Factors to consider when using Twitter for Customer Service, Comments about Customer Service using Twitter Articles and the recent USA Today article on Twitter for Customer Service) customers don’t only approach companies with problems that need to be fixed. They use the internet and particularly Social Media, to also provide feedback on products improvements that customers need or improvements needed or wanted in the way they are marketed to, sold to, or communicated with.
I believe the most important factors impacting customer service in the new internet world are attitude and responsiveness. Make the customer feel that you care and that you have heard their problem.
Repeat the problem in your own words. Seek agreement to ensure you have totally understood the issue. This makes the customer feel so much better. Then discuss an action plan to fix..what you will do, what they need to do, how long each step will take and ensure it is clear WHO has the next action step to take and by when. Some things will need immediate attention, others can be deferred. Still others, like the ones I dealt with at IBM software support, may take several discussions, and investigation to determine where the problem is and what the fix might be.
If you work with the customer on an action plan with clear ownership and accountability of next steps, customers feel much better about the support they get.
Finally, follow through with the action plan as promised and seek agreement from the customer that the problem has been really resolved from their perspective. If for some reason the problem is a feature not available, or something impossible to change, ensure the customer knows that there is feedback to the organization about the enhancement or new product requirement or problem caused. Customers like to know they have been heard.
I welcome your thoughts and comments.