Customer Service — good and bad

Update! 04-Dec-09 I wrote this almost a year ago, now, and it gets the most visits (I’ve written more: about functional programming, and even another customer service story); maybe I need to mention high profiles search keywords more often to generate more traffic to my blog…

I don’t mean to make this blog just a cathartic experience for me, so I’m actually going to offer “advice” on customer service, but first the story.  This is a long post, so if you want to just scan down to the underlined points, and the bullet list, feel free.

Over the holidays, I was involved with the following incident: my mother placed an order with Current, Inc.  [I’m thinking check blanks, or cards or some such, but I don’t even know what it was for certain — it doesn’t matter.]

At some point (after the 19th, but before Christmas Eve), she called to check on the status.  Where was it?  When would it arrive?  She was told it was at the Brooklyn Parks processing center on the 19th, so she was expecting it “any day now.”  That’s all well and good, but it never came — she checked the mail on Christmas Eve and found nothing, then she called the post office on Friday, the 26th, to see if she needed to come in the one hour they were open.  They didn’t have it, but could find out where it was if she had a tracking number.  She called back with the order number from Current — which didn’t help.  At this point, I intervened, seeing what was going on, I had her call Current and get a USPS tracking number (after confirming that, yes, it was sent thru the postal service).  Using that, and going to their web site, we found that it never started, much less that it was due to arrive on any date.

Track and Confirm screenshot

Track and Confirm screenshot

I’ve seen this before.  It basically means that the Post Office was told it would receive a package, but never did (Or at least, won’t confirm it).

So now, we called Current back, but after getting nowhere, mom was going to hang up; at that point, I said, “let me talk to them.”

This is where the story goes south.  The agent I spoke to didn’t know there was a USPS tracking number; it took me a while to understand (I thought) that she was using the internal [to Current] tracking program and it was saying it “left Brooklyn Park on the 19th.”  After I quoted to her the tracking number that the previous agent gave us, she realized that the “shipping number” (or some such tag) was really the USPS tracking number!  Get that?  I told her, about their own system.

God bless my wife, she sat down beside me before I completely lost my temper and just suggested that I ask for a supervisor.  Those are magic words, usually, and typically you get to talk to someone who understands or can do something, but at least has some authority.  Well, before you know it, the agent came back and said that the supervisor authorized her to refund the money or re-ship the order.  Interestingly, she didn’t seem to want to let me talk to that supervisor, but I persisted.

I pointed out to Pam (the supervisor) that customer service isn’t doing a good job when I understand more than the agent (at least about tracking numbers), but she made the point that (and I’m trying to be accurate here, but I don’t understand) they use a Fed Ex program (??) to track USPS shipping, and they can determine that our shipment actually made it to a Postal Service drop center [in Brooklyn Park] (would that I had known that!).  Also, Pam seemed unaware (or didn’t care) that the post office web site was giving me incomplete information, or info that I understood to mean they never got the package.  This she could have determined herself by five seconds on the Internet (doing the same Track & Confirm request that I did).

Finally, Pam seemed to express understanding, and offered to have the package express shipped.  (Win!  Nice save by a supervisor — that’s what they should alway do.)  Now, if I find out they’re going to try and charge us for that service, I’m going to be PO’ed all over again.

At the end of the day, there are three lessons to learn

  1. Customer Service should be well-trained.  The customer should not know more than anyone at the company.(*)
  2. Since they’re going to be dealing with frustrated people to begin with, a little training in relational skills would go a long way — this is not just for Current, Inc. but a lot of companies that make the mistake of thinking they can save a few bucks by outsourcing customer service.  The ill will created outweighs any “benefit” of money-saving.
  3. You’d better have your relationship with external vendors (shippers, or whatever) down to a science, and know what to do when there’s a snafu long before anything goes wrong.  When talking to a customer, I recommend taking the blame yourself, or at least admitting someone goofed, then dealing with that third-party separately/privately.

(*) I got a call at my desk the other week from someone looking to buy the [services] of [my company].   It doesn’t matter who I work for, or what they were seeking.  Now, I work in IT, not business, not customer service, not public relations.  But I was at least smart enough to answer, politely, “I don’t have that info, but I will track down what you want and have someone call you back [today].”  Usually, it’s just the typical, “I’m looking for so-and-so [who may have been at this extension previously, or I mis-dialed, or don’t know their number].”  And I’m quick to say, “if you give me a callback number, or some contact, I will track that down.”  But this was a first.

Point is, although I didn’t know the answer, I was pretty sure someone (inside the company) would, and I didn’t have to say, “I dunno!”  And that is not what I should answer anyway.  If I don’t know, I could at least make an effort to find out, before giving up.  And I’m in IT, for crying out loud.  This is not part of my usual job description.  Even so, I knew better than to give the I-don’t-give-a-rip,  It’s-not-my-job answer, because as soon as I’m talking to someone outside the company (and, in reality, even if I’m talking to someone inside), I’m presenting an image and re-presenting a corporate entity that has a reputation that I’d like to enhance, not tarnish.  Would that everyone remember that, and act accordingly!

A final lesson (and this not to Current, who redeemed themselves somewhat, but more to other companies, that people have told me stories about): in this day and age, when anyone can express their opinion to the world without much difficulty, it would be wise of any company to consider the ramifications of angering customers, or potential customers.

But even if it were not the case that blogs and social media web-sites can spread sour stories around the globe and amplify reputations, both positive and negative, a positive corporate image is a valuable thing, and a company would do well to teach all their employees to treat every customer as if they would bring in or drive out a hundred people.  I once heard the statistic that a positive experience gets told to one other person, and a negative experience [with a company] gets told to eleven!

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4 Responses to “Customer Service — good and bad”

  1. Aspect Contact Center: Unplugged Blog » Blog Archive » Social Media Shaping a New Contact Center Paradigm Says:

    […] horns” so to speak, and turn bad situations around. If a consumer posts or “tweets” about a negative experience with your company or products, why not use your customer service department to mitigate the damage […]

  2. Social Media Shaping a New Contact Center Paradigm : Consumer 2.0 Says:

    […] horns” so to speak, and turn bad situations around. If a consumer posts or “tweets” about a negative experience with your company or products, why not use your customer service department to mitigate the damage […]

  3. Social Media Shaping a New Contact Center Paradigm : Aspect Blogs Says:

    […] horns” so to speak, and turn bad situations around. If a consumer posts or “tweets” about a negative experience with your company or products, why not use your customer service department to mitigate the damage […]

  4. Social Media Shaping a New Contact Center Paradigm | Aspect Blogs Says:

    […] by the horns” so to speak, and turn bad situations around. If a consumer posts or tweets about a negative experience with your company or products, why not use your customer service department to mitigate the damage […]

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