“Your call is very important to us, really”: Leadership and failed customer service.

Posted by jlubans on August 18, 2015

Caption: Sign on office door in 1927 Soviet era Moscow as cited in “The twelve chairs” by Ilʹf, I., Petrov, E., & Richardson, J. H. C. (translator), 1997.

An unpleasant experience in the “friendly skies” of the “Star Alliance” airline cabal has left me with a nervous tic in my left eye. However, looking on the bright side, this “user experience” – what a phrase! - has sensitized me more than a little to concerns about customer service.
A report caught my eye – in between twitches. It, the report, surveyed consumers and experts on how happy – well, more about how unhappy - they were with the response they get from businesses when things go awry. And, this report lists out the causes for why so many people hold such dismal views about customer service. That matters to me since these causes, when recognized, are neither irreparable nor unavoidable. They are fixable. Leaders and managers, with input from customer service staff, can bring about highly positive improvements.
Now, before we get too far along, let’s keep in mind that poor service is not exclusive to the “greedy and grubby” for-profit sector! Poor service roams just as freely in the hallways and lobbies of charities, social service agencies, federal and local government offices and other not-for-profits as it does in business.
The survey found there were 17 major irritants experienced by customers. The five most hated and most likely to trigger client rage were:

1. Robots.
2. Rude service.
3. Being disconnected.
4. Being disconnected and unable to reach the person who was “helping” you.
5. A worker who can’t help or is wrong.

Please note that each of these “irritants” is the result of deliberate design or decision – it is not a random occurrence or unfortunate happenstance. Leaders and managers have made decisions about staffing, equipment, training, and levels of staff authority (i. e. just how far can staff go to remedy dissatisfaction).
And, those decisions are influenced by the organizational culture, something that emanates from the highest levels of the organization. Is profit at any price the tacit rule? Does staff convenience take priority over that of the client?
Does the organization lean toward the customer or away? There are clear signals from leaders as to the directions customer service is to take: obfuscation and avoidance of responsibility or helpful clarity and resolution.
How do we improve the Kafkaesque state of customer service? By flipping the negatives that mark poor customer service I’ve come up with a list of what you can do to provide the best.

- Trust and enable staff to do what is right. (As an example, the pre-flip version was “Mistrust the staff and tie their hands to inhibit problem-solving.”

- Staff the “front desk” with both experienced and entry level staff so that junior staff can see how more experienced staff behave. Not incidentally, these veteran staff can demonstrate knowledgeable and courteous responses to clients thereby educating junior staff.

- Make it understood organization wide that time taken to resolve client questions is an investment in the organization’s future.

- Provide training and supervision that helps staff resolve complex questions either on their own or by referral to someone more experienced.

- Be transparent in how customers can interact with the organization.

- Practice the golden rule; make clear there is zero tolerance for rude, condescending, or disrespectful behavior toward clients or toward other staff.

- Reward the behavior of leaning toward the customer; discipline the behavior of leaning away.

- For a walk in service center, including libraries, design it for ease of access and of understanding who does what.

- Involve top leadership in considering service design, service provision and its costs.

- Be forthright to clients and staff about your service limitations and what options are available.

- Internalize & practice, but never say, “Your call is important to us.”

© John Lubans 2015
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