The double spread print ad showed a lot of fluffy white clouds, neatly arranged in rows. Among them was one solitary black cloud. You couldn’t miss it. The headline read “If your failure rate is one in a million, what do you tell that one customer?” IBM ran this a couple of decades ago.
I remember being impressed by its focus when I saw it as a young account executive. I continue being impressed by the simple, powerful and sincere message it conveyed – the conviction that would have driven the creative brief, the statement of purpose that it would have demonstrated to IBM staff, and the focus on customer satisfaction that IBM had championed.
Business has evolved since then. Customer satisfaction too has evolved. We now talk of customer journey, customer experience, and customer delight; and use complex metrics to understand this elusive yet essential dimension.
We get so caught up in all this that sometimes we neglect the very essence – customer service. And it’s not rocket science.
My insurance claim hadn’t been settled for close to four months, and I was starting to lose patience. I rang their customer service team, hoping to sort it out. I was treated to a detailed explanation of why the claim wasn’t settled (not interested), but was no wiser about when the claim would be settled (my main concern).
To be fair, I did get my answer – though not what I had hoped to hear – finally, but it took me five further phone calls and two more weeks. Clearly no one there ever faced delays with their insurance claims!
Sometime back, I had a major problem with my telecom service provider, and tried to get it sorted out on the phone. Not much luck, but I did listen to several of Beethoven’s, Bach’s and Mozart’s works. At wits’ end, I fetched up at their sales point hoping to get a sympathetic ear and a problem-solving brain. Nothing of the sort happened.
The executive assigned to me stared at the computer screen as she saw my usage, billing and payment record. Satisfied that I wasn’t a defaulter (she actually said this) she proceeded to ask me what the issue was, and then advised me to ring their customer service team and place a complaint. It would be attended to, she promised me. I was dumbfounded!
What’s common to these examples? For the most part, it’s failure to empathise with the customer. Sadly, these instances are not isolated.
In stark contrast, my experience at a car rental company left me pleasantly surprised and a loyal customer. I presented myself at the desk 4 hours after the rental was to begin. The executive asked for a bit of time, and 20 minutes later I had the keys to my rental car. He explained the car needed washing, hence the delay. As I was getting in, he said, “If you’re going to be later than 30 minutes next time, could you please call and tell us. We normally do not keep a car this long. But we managed it somehow. Safe travels.” Amazing attitude.
He could’ve told me my car was no longer available since I had arrived 4 hours later than expected. Indeed, he would’ve been within his rights to do so. But he didn’t. He understood how doing that would’ve affected my travel plans and tried to solve the problem I had created. Once done, he made sure I understood the rules. He had attended to customer needs first. Obviously FOX Autorent has and will have my loyalty.
Service providers rarely, if ever, ring their customer service people with a complaint for a firsthand experience of how it’s handled. They’ve never stood in queue at one of their sales points, never been put on hold and been asked to please wait. So how would they know?
Few services realise that a dissatisfied customer really only wants his faith in the service to be restored. The customer wants reassurance that he made the right purchase decision in the first place. Solving the problem is only one part of this. How it’s done is crucial.
Customer Experience, Customer Journey, NPS etc. are all important, but the basis has to be customer service. It’s more than systems, processes and measures. It’s about developing and displaying the right attitudes and behaviour. While all this can be built and nurtured through training, the company behind the service must have the drive.
Indeed if customers are important to its business, no service can afford not to!