March 14, 2005

Customer Service Not Skin Deep

When most of us see the words “Customer Service” on a sign or attached to a telephone number, we feel a sense of dread overtake us. What are the chances that we’ll actually get what we want? How long will I have to wait? Bad customer service stories circulate almost as fast as urban legends these days because, let’s face it, when service is bad, it’s usually monumentally bad. However, I can’t place the blame entirely on the Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) because there are other factors at work in each bad service scenario.

First thing to look for is the customer’s frame of reference. Sure, some bank might have snapped an answer to this friend-of-a-friend, but was the guy being rude to the bank teller to begin with? There might also be a customer pre-disposition or bias against the company that escalated the incident. Perhaps the customer had a bad incident in the past with a swindling car dealer, which made him/her openly hostile to the present salesman. While the slogan goes “The customer is always right”, it’s understood that not all customers are completely innocent when dealing with a business.

The second hidden factor in a bad customer service story is management policies. This is more important than the CSR to the outcome of any customer scenario, because management policy is the framework that the CSR must work within. Almost as common in conversation are stories about sympathetic CSRs whose hands are tied by management. I’ll cite a few examples:

Maddox booked a flight on Orbitz.com with a connection through San Francisco because it was $30 cheaper than the other sites. However, the fare neglected to include a connecting flight between San Jose and San Francisco. Not only would cab fare between these cities total more than the $30 he saved, but they sold him an impossible itinerary. Even if he took a cab, still he would have to check in 2 hours before departure, since it was an international flight. He called customer service, and while the rep was sympathetic, management policy did not allow a refund for the error.

Justin received a notice that his February mortgage payment was not paid, even though Bank of America sent out a statement that noted his next payment wasn’t due until March 10th. He provided both statements to a BofA rep, who agreed it was the bank’s error. But when the rep called up the chain of command, management refused to waive the late payment fee and remove the delinquent payment status from his record. Apparently, they already waived a late fee for him in October, and had a policy of waving fees once per year. (Attempts to instruct this person that October, 2004 and February, 2005 are actually different years were fruitless.)

I don’t doubt that bad customer service is sometimes the fault of rude representatives. My plea to the masses is this: Make the distinction between a bad service REP and a bad company service POLICY. Most of these reps are making next to nothing, and have to parrot the company handbook in full knowledge that it’s wrong. Any disheveled-looking guy in a loosened tie at the bar is likely a CSR. They have to do it, just like lawyers have to defend criminals that they know are guilty, because it’s their job. So please try to make this distinction the next time you have a complaint go unheard, and follow the proper channels to complain on the company, not just the rep.

1 comment:

  1. I've actually worked in telecommunication service for a short period of time (thank god) and it is the most stressful job I've ever known. Dealing with people sucks sometimes...dealing with irrate people sucks even more. So whenever I call customer service now, I'm sympathetic. I hear these people try to do the best they can, but company policy and all that crap. I really have to applaud the work they are doing. IT IS SO NOT EASY. To all those bad, rude and bitchy customer service people I just wanna say UP YOURS.

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