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A practical approach to dealing with customer service frustrations

irslogoNo doubt, it has been a tough week for customer service. Internal Revenue Service acting agency head, Steven T. Miller who is resigning from his post stated earlier this week:

“I can say generally, we provided horrible customer service. I think that what happened here was that foolish mistakes were made by people trying to be more efficient in their workload selections.”

And if that didn’t capture enough of America’s attention, how about the Maserati owner only identified as Wang who smashed his $420,000 Quattroporte with sledgehammers to protest the dealer’s poor customer service while shocked onlookers watched?

Of course, the normal customer service experience for disgruntled customers rarely take on the profound consequences as these two examples, but the importance of being able to successfully and calmly maneuver through a maze of frustrating obstacles before getting problems resolved can seem insurmountable to consumers at any moment. With that in mind, the better part of valor calls for the customer to wait until he is calm before instituting contact for a bad product, poor service, or any project requiring the help of an organization’s customer service department.

In businesses that continue to concentrate on the value of great customer service, “chat” lines have become great assets for a positive link between customer and service personnel. The lines of communication are open immediately, and consequently there may be a quicker and friendlier resolution to the problem. Winding one’s way through the phone maze may be infinitely more challenging however, but staying calm and listening to the voice commands will hopefully get you to a representative. Of course, one can always just punch in “0” for operator; that works fine on some systems. If you get the music and are asked to hold, why not place your phone on the “speaker” option and continue with your other work while waiting?

Have all of your paper work available when speaking with the customer service representative. Have the notes in front of you of people you have already spoken with, what correspondence and emails you have already received, customer reference numbers, and any other pertinent information you may have to make the process move along quicker and more efficiently. As you speak with the representative, remember not to be rude, never curse, hold back on sarcasm, and remember that the person you are speaking with isn’t the enemy and probably is not the person responsible for the defective product, lack of promised return, refund, or the cause of the poor service. Human nature commonly follows the basic premise of the more gracious you might be, the more interested the customer service agent will want to extend her arms of helpfulness.

Suppose the telephone conversation and subsequent actions or promised actions of the customer service department doesn’t solve your problem or meet up with your expectations? A popular solution is to take it to social media. Post on Twitter or the company’s Facebook page that the action taken has been less than what should have happened, or that no one has ever returned your call. More than likely, that action will garner attention. And when it’s clear that you need to move up the complaint ladder to a supervisor, again it is suggested to be cooperative and complimentary to the representative you have been dealing with – please don’t say you don’t want to deal with them anymore, but thank them for their time and ask to speak with a supervisor.

By this time most customer service problems have been resolved, but if it’s a fight to the bitter end, then it might be time to email the CEO. Surprisingly enough, some correspondence does make it to their desk while others have had to rely on television news anchors for the latest IRS complaints.

Dealing with the frustrations of poor customer service

It’s no exaggeration that most of us have become truly frustrated by poor customer service at least once in our lives. We dream of screaming, yelling, and throwing defective products over a steep cliff, but that still doesn’t take care of our economic loss,  lack of convenience, or a gap in productivity. Instead many of us have turned to retaliate against bad service via the use of blogs, Facebook, and Twitter. No doubt public admonishments catch a company’s attention; a good customer image remains vital in any economy, but more so when times are tough.

We always have the option of taking our business elsewhere when customer service doesn’t meet our expectations or rather our demands, but there are acceptable and professional methods to work one’s way through a bad experience and hopefully a satisfactory resolution. Any organization worth their weight and the expectation of success will want to lean over backwards to resolve our conflicts.

  • Begin with the most obvious and either call, email or visit the organization first and explain your problem. Don’t exaggerate and don’t get emotional. Be specific about your complaint since many times a problem can be resolved through better communication between the customer and the store. If the customer service person is not helpful, ask for the manager. Remain calm and polite.
  • Register your complaint immediately. Don’t wait weeks or months to address your problems with either the product or the service. Have copies of records and receipts, names of representatives you have spoken with, the dates and times; any information pertinent to the problem so as you progress up the company’s ladder of executives your entire argument already speaks for itself.
  • Suggest a resolution or a way to correct the problem. Be open for a compromise when applicable.
  • Maintain your professionalism at all times. Customer service agents have a tough job, and they want to help resolve problems, but an angry customer is likely an unreasonable customer. Remember that the representative you are speaking with is most likely not the person who caused the problem, and everyone deserves to be treated respectfully.
  • Still no resolution? Now it’s time to write a letter, but you don’t want it collecting dust in the mail-room. Go to the company’s web site and research the name of the CEO or president. You can use Hoovers or Vault to research company executives. And even though you are gritting your teeth in pure frustration, be polite. Begin your letter with pertinent information; this isn’t the venue to carry out a Joan Rivers “insultathon.” At the end of your letter, thank the person in advance for the help you are confident they will provide.
  • Give the company a reasonable amount of time to resolve your issues. Consumers always have the alternatives to contact the Better Business Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission, consumer affairs departments and even the state attorney general’s office depending on the scope of the issue. For others, there is always the option of changing businesses because there are always many other companies who are interested in doing their best for you. Whereas the customer might not always be right, the customer can always expect the best customer service.

Customer Service Frustrations 9-10

Today I’m going to cover frustrations number 9 and 10 and finish up the mini-series on the top 10 customer service frustrations. The whole thing is explained here.

Frustration 9: Company’s computers are often down.
As I customer, I think this has to be one of the most frustrating things that could happen during a customer service experience. The excuse that the company’s computers are down is probably the worst excuse a company can come up with and an ultimate customer service failure. This is not a business operations blog and that field is not really my specialty, but I’ll try to give some suggestions:

  • Have operating procedures. Seeing a theme here? Companies need operating procedures. In case the computers go down, have a backup plan. Have agents take notes on paper and input the notes in the computer once the system is back.
  • Have backups. Your call center should already have a redundant system in place in case the Internet goes down or the call logging program breaks. Have lots of redundant systems that can address problems in case things go wrong.
  • Don’t depend entirely on web-based systems. Unless your office has multiple, redundant internet connections, do not depend entirely on web-based systems (helpdesks, customer databases, etc.) or route your network utilities through the Internet. If you do use a web-based ticket system or customer database, at least make a daily backup that can be accessed by all agents in case the Internet goes down.
  • Get better computers. Get better stuff if you notice things are going down a lot. Does your network go down a lot? Get a better IT guy and/or a better network. Does your helpdesk break a lot? Get a new one.
  • Have guarantees. Get guarantees from providers (i. e. internet service providers, web-based application makers) for uptime and reliability. That way, if the systems do go down, at least you don’t have to pay that much and you can tell the customers “We have a 100% uptime guarantee with this company and they broke it.” It usually isn’t a good idea to pass the blame on, but in this case, it works and doesn’t cost the customer any extra time or money.

Frustration 10: Company asks for too much personal information.
I know I have covered this before. In fact, it was covered here. That post explains everything you need to know about asking for and verifying personal information.

See, solving customer service’s top 10 frustrations isn’t as hard it seems? If each company invested some time, money, and effort into improving their customer service operations, they would notice a big difference. When customers are unhappy, it will cost a company money, so why shouldn’t companies invest in making customers happy?

If you have a common customer service frustration that I haven’t covered, feel free to let me know what it is by posting in the comments. I’ll post my thoughts on it and how companies can (try to) avoid it.

Customer Service Frustrations 6-8

Today I’m going to cover frustrations number 6, 7, and 8. I’ll finish up the series with 9 and 10 tomorrow. The whole thing is explained here.

Frustration 6: Company is too slow in addressing concerns.
I’m not too sure what Forbes means by this frustration, either. However, my guess is that companies can’t fix problems fast enough and can’t resolve elevated issues fast enough.

  • Have operating procedures. What are agents supposed to do when issues get elevated? What do programmers do when bug reports come in?
  • Have internal systems with reminders. Have bug tracking and elevated request tracking systems and procedures that make it so agents and programmers are reminded about elevated issues and how to solve them.
  • Set definitive dates. Tell the customer you will follow up with him on September 1, not “in a few weeks.” Then, set a reminder for September 1 so you remember to actually follow up with the customer. Same thing goes for programmers – set due dates and be sure to meet them.
  • Solve issues on the spot. Probably the easiest way to address the problem with being too slow to address concerns is to solve issues on the spot. Get the supervisor, the customer, and the original agent on the phone together and resolve the issue before you hang up.

Frustration 7: Agents aren’t personable.
This is a tough thing to come up with a definitive answer because it varies from agent to agent. Some possible reasons agents aren’t personable:

  • They are too busy and don’t have time to be personable. In a lot of companies, agents have to get through a lot of calls or a lot of tickets and just look at each call as “another call” and want the quickest way to solve it.
  • They don’t smile (http://www.serviceuntitled.com/smile/2006/06/12/).
  • Companies don’t hire for attitude (see above post). Attitude is extremely important in customer service.
  • Companies don’t care about hiring personable agents. They want people who can answer the phones, solve issues, and repeat the process from 9 AM to 5 PM.

Frustration 8: Customized solutions aren’t available.
This is more of a company problem than an agent problem. Companies have to be flexible and give agents the ability to do things. This is often called empowerment. Companies have to empower employees and have set procedures for elevating issues when problems occur.

An agent should never say “I can’t do that.” because it is a lie. The agent just doesn’t have the access or power to do it. The agent should say “I can’t do that myself, but let me check and see if my supervisor can come up with a solution.” This is a better way to spin it and the customer will at least know that the agent tried.

Simple solution: give at least one group that customers can access the power to come up with customized solutions. This may be the agent or the supervisor or manager, but just make it someone.

Customer Service Frustrations 3-5

Today I’m going to cover frustrations number 3, 4, and 5. The whole thing is explained here.

Frustration 3: Agents lack the necessary answers.
This is a hard one to give a definitive solution for (like many of these problems). However, here are some ideas:

  • More training for employees. Consider mentor-based training programs, longer training periods, more intuitive training periods, etc.
  • Have a set operating procedure for agents to get answers when they don’t know them or can’t access them. This could mean asking a supervisor, asking another agent, or whatever.
  • Keep both your employees and your customers in the loop. Update employees often about things like outages so they can provide the latest updates to concerned customers.
  • Provide agents with lots of great documentation they can use and access. Allow them to search the Internet for technical answers, ensure help databases and documentation is easily searchable, and more.

Frustration 4: Agents try to sell other products and services.
I have talked about this before. Don’t pitch customers while they are on hold and don’t pitch them once you are talking to them either. See this post as well as this post. Trying to sell customers other products and services (especially when they are having problems with existing ones) is not a good idea.

Frustration 5: Agents are inflexible about solving problems.
I am not 100% sure what Forbes means by this, but I’m assuming it means that agents don’t have the power to solve a lot of problems. Very few agents will actually go “No, I don’t want to help you.” unless you have been rude to them or done something else that would aggravate anyone. This would be better worded as “Companies are inflexible about solving problems.” In most cases, all the agent can do is elevate to the problem to someone else.

Regardless, here is what companies to do to avoid this frustration all together:

  • Give agents power to resolve things. Allow them to apply credits, upgrade accounts, change subscriptions, etc. Let them do it and save the customer the problems.
  • Have operating procedures for elevated problems. Make it so that when a problem is elevated, that it isn’t A) bad for the agent’s performance record or B) that the agent is done with the issue. It isn’t rare that agents are frowned upon for having to elevate issues. Companies say that if they make it no big deal, then the agent will just elevate every issue. Not true! Make it so the agent has to remain involved and continue to work with the customer until the issue is resolved (even if it is elevated). The ideal situation is the call is elevated and the customer, the original agent, and the manager all talk in one conversation and come up with a solution right there.
  • Ask the customer what they want. It won’t kill the company to actually ask the customer what they want. You’d be surprised with what customers say. Some will want to take the farm, others won’t. Ask them what they want and if the request is reasonable, go for it.

Unrelated advice:
Be nice to the agent. Chances are, if you are nice to them, they will not only be nicer to you, but try harder to help you.

Top 10 Customer Service Frustrations

There was an article in Forbes not that recently, but within the last few weeks about “Call Center 2.0” and the most common call center frustrations. The article is interesting (and I’ll talk about it more later), but today I want to address the top 10 frustrations with possible solutions.

Here are the top 10 frustrations customers experience, according to Forbes:

  1. Waiting on hold too long.
  2. Repeating information to multiple representatives.
  3. Agents lack the necessary answers.
  4. Agents try to sell other products and services.
  5. Agents are inflexible about solving problems.
  6. Company is too slow in addressing concerns.
  7. Agents aren’t personable.
  8. Customized solutions aren’t available.
  9. Company’s computers are often down.
  10. Company asks for too much personal information.

I am quite happy with myself that I have actually provided solutions on how to avoid a lot of these problems. However, I will be covering them in a bit more detail over the next week. Not a ton of detail (otherwise it would take too long), but definitely more detail than Forbes provide and more detail than a two line explanation.

Let’s start from the top.

Frustration 1: Waiting on hold too long.
This is a classic frustration and one that is hard to avoid. Simple answer: hire more representatives to answer calls. Ultimately, that will make the service experience best for everyone, but maybe not for the shareholders who have to pay for all of those people.

I like the idea of using operators to do things like verify information, look up past problems, etc. They can do a lot of things and leave the complicated things for the actual representative (kind of like a nurse seeing you before a doctor at the doctor’s office or hospital). This is also costly, but a bit more efficient than just hiring additional representatives.

You can train representatives and give them the tools to do things faster. For example, ensure all systems that have to use (computers, databases, etc.) are fast, make procedures relatively simple (getting things like personal information down quickly), etc. This will speed up the call times.

However, don’t ask representatives to rush the call. They should confirm before hanging up: “Do you have any other questions that I can help answer?” or something of that nature. Representatives should take their time and explain everything fully.

Frustration 2: Repeating information to multiple representatives.
I have actually talked about a solution to this, but I can’t find it at the moment. Putting my lack of memory/disorganization behind, customers should never have to repeat information to multiple representatives. How hard is it for a representative to log something in the person’s account or ticket so the information doesn’t have to be repeated? In most cases, not that hard.

The only things customers should have to repeat are things like a ticket or reference number, their name, and maybe one security question. The customer should never explain to the problem again, go through the same troubleshooting steps, etc. – this is a waste of everyone’s time and costly for the company.

Tomorrow’s post will cover issues 3 and 4, and maybe 5. I hope everyone had a good Monday! They can be tough and as I found out today, a certain company’s busiest day. The weird thing is, so is Wednesday (the last time I called) and Friday (another day I had called on). More about that another time.

The top remedies to quell ‘customer rage’

Cliente enfadado?

In the world of social media, where consumers publicly speak out against poor customer service, it has been estimated that U.S. businesses can lose $60 billion in future sales of goods and services. A recent report from a cloud contact provider stated  85% of consumers retaliate against a company with bad customer service. “Customer rage”, as it is called, has caused 49% of consumers from doing business with a particular organization, and interestingly enough, the 18 through 34 year-old age groups are three times more likely to vent their frustrations out on social media.

For at least 70% of the purchasing population, the first line of complaint begins with a phone call. As so many  large organizations utilize call centers, customers get easily frustrated with the maze of number presses, the disconnects, rudeness from call center personnel, language barriers, and of course, the incompetent service representative.  That adds up to a lot of complaints when 43 billion calls a year are processed through these call centers.   The major companies which notoriously press a customer’s “rage button” include cable television providers, satellite providers, telephone products and services, electronics, retailers, banking institutions, and automobile manufacturers. Ironically these most often are big ticket items; thus involving more hard earned income and therefore more serious consumer consequences.

So what enrages customers the most and how can we improve our services? Oddly enough, out of the ten most popular solutions to improving customer service, six suggestions have no bearing on prices. The overwhelming top response from unhappy consumers centered around being treated poorly and the lack of respect. Although we may laugh at some of the popular “customer rage” videos popular on YouTube, the message to be conveyed is not to have to call back, explain the problem to someone else, and repeat the vicious cycle of ineptness until the proverbial cork pops out of the bottle.

It’s hard to find a company who actually admits blame, but unhappy customers want to hear a company acknowledge they are sorry, and then to make an offer to correct the lack of service or fix or replace the defective product.

“I’m not asking for a miracle, but I want the company to acknowledge my time is valuable, my business with them is important, and they will try their best to make it better for me,” explained Pamela Davis, a former AT&T Bell Labs executive assistant. “I’ll even settle for mediocre now before I change companies, but I want them to resolve my conflict.”

Customer service, despite all of the edginess of progress and innovative tools available to businesses,  still boils down to the importance of communication. “I’m sorry you are unhappy,” and “Thank you for your business,” aren’t  complex formulas, but it brings the humanity back from a very complicated world; and although it doesn’t cost a lot, it certainly encourages brand loyalty.

Mayday! Customer service guaranteed to rescue users in times of need

Amazon is stepping up the customer service game for users of the new Kindle Fire HDX. For those of us who might be a tad technologically challenged or for any problem that might occur, Mayday is a built in remote support and instant helpline available to the consumer 24/7/365 days a year. So if you’re confused by the predecessors and have used YouTube videos or Googled your questions for years, the new age of customer service may be setting Amazon apart from their competition.

With just one button found in the tablet’s Quick Settings menu, the Kindle Fire HDX will summon an Amazon employee who is able to help solve any problems – from the simplest to perhaps the most complicated. Within 15 seconds, the Kindle owner can see the representative in a small window of their screen and the representative can even see the apps, and if necessary can draw on the Kindle to help the customer. Amazon assures us that the representative can not see us, but with the customer’s permission, can control the tablet remotely much like LogMeIn or TeamViewer.

The new Kindle Fire HDX offers double the memory, is 34% lighter, and has 11 hours of battery life – especially helpful when reading one of those extraordinarily long suspense novels you just can’t put down, but putting all technological help aside, the customer service aspect is a win, win, win. Since Amazon doesn’t have the convenience of a brick and mortar store like Apple and their Apple Geniuses, this free service guarantees a place in customer service heaven for so many users over the age of 25 who weren’t weaned on iPads and tablets. Amazon states their profit margin for the sale of Kindle tablets is slim, however they admit to raking in the profits in the sale of their devices.

Criticism on the downside of this customer service technology focuses on the possibility of Amazon reps having access to passwords and sensitive information. You can ask them to disable their screen however, but there are still some who are wary of security issues. It’s been said that 95% of the issues happen when devices are working as they should, but Amazon reps will be logging in every question and problem which will help to determine improvements in the future.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos easily stands by the side of such geniuses as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Larry Page. Bezos, as he rescues us from our customer frustrations, works on “customer delight.” Tech people who have tried out Mayday thus far have been pleased, but will Bezos’ promise that Christmas morning, my mother will be able to get live tech support within 15 seconds and a tech will be available to instruct my mom step by step? I guess it all remains to be seen.

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