When customer service goes bad…

I am currently in the middle of a lengthy and very poor customer service experience. You see, my 9 month old rather expensive condenser dryer suddenly stopped working on 22 March… right in the middle of a record breaking rainy period.

My customer service journey began smoothly enough with a call to the customer service centre who immediately arranged for a service technician to come and inspect my defective appliance. Great – I think to myself. This will be resolved in no time at all. Two days later, the service technician is punctual and courteous on arrival. He is at my house for less than 2 minutes before announcing that the dryer needs to be shipped off to the repair centre and he will arrange for a courier to contact me for collection. Two days later again and my machine is carted off to be repaired. And so begin my woes.

At first, I am contacted every few days to advise me of progress:

Customer service:  “We don’t have the part in stock, but we have ordered it and it should be here in a couple of days. We will call and let you know when the part arrives.”

Ok, that’s not too bad, I think to myself. A week later I hear from them again.

Customer service: “Your spare part has arrived at the workshop and we are ready to start repairs”.

Me: “That’s great! When can I expect my appliance back home?”

Customer Service: “Oh I can’t answer that. Your appliance has been placed in the repair queue and once repaired will undergo testing to confirm everything works as it should before we return it to you”.

Me: “Will I have it back before Easter – that’s one a half weeks from today?”

Customer service: “Oh I really couldn’t say. Someone will give you a call when it is ready for delivery”.

And that’s the last I heard. Easter comes and goes. The school holidays come and go. It’s now over a month later and I am still waiting and chasing to try and discover the fate of my faulty dryer…

Customer service is all about meeting the needs and exceeding the expectations of your customer. Providing delights, as Kano1 suggests, to change the perception of the service and or brand is one way of doing this. In order to do this, you first need to understand your customer’s needs. It also requires you to anticipate what your customer might reasonably expect in common scenarios such as the repair of faulty products under warranty. This requires empathy and the ability to listen openly and honestly to customer feedback. A good place to start is to put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself – how would I feel and what outcome would I want? In my case, it would be perfectly reasonable for me to want to know when I could expect to have my appliance returned, especially when I have just been advised that they have the required spare part in their hot little hands.

Think about the times when you have been in a hurry and you have had to stand in a queue at a government department or bank – You ask yourself ‘how long is this going to take?’ The issue is that you have lost control and now don’t have all of the information for you to make an informed decision – ‘should I stay or should I go and come back later?’ If an estimated waiting time was indicated then you are in a better position to make that informed decision. Of course, there are other ways in this instance to improve customer response – add more staff so the wait time is less, modify the processing system to enable things to be completed online thereby negating queues, create a Fastlane and so on. However these systems all bring with them potential for error and issues that may be disagreeable for the consumer.

This is where the concept of the service blueprint should be developed for that particular service and system. Fundamentally, the service blueprint reviews the interactions between the consumer and the frontline service personnel, it then reviews the interactions at the backend of the organisation that make the frontend work. It allows the service to be dissected and integrated in order to minimise negative touchpoints and maximise business efficiency and effectiveness and of course customer satisfaction.

When customer service degenerates to ticking boxes and following procedures, based on business processes, rather than listening to and empathising with customers to try and genuinely meet their needs, then you are no longer providing good customer service. While on paper your employees are meeting all their customer service targets by following up with customers and keeping them informed, by all appearances providing ‘good customer service’, in actual fact you may be doing more harm than good.

When you fail to meet a customer’s expectations the impression you leave behind is most often one of dissatisfaction, frustration and an overwhelming sense of your incompetence. Worse still, not only have you lost that particular customer for life, but you have in all likelihood lost many more potential customers. What you don’t know is how many other people your dissatisfied customers are telling about their experience – family, friends, work colleagues, their hair dresser – anyone who will listen. Believe me, I know firsthand and there are at least a dozen people in addition to me who will never go near this dryer brand in the future.

In todays ultra-competitive, brand saturated world, great customer service can make or break a company’s reputation. With the commoditisation of products business need to look for different ways to gain advantage and differentiate themselves from the competition. In this ‘experience economy’ the provision of exceptional customer service is a critical way to differentiate your brand, build strong and lasting customer relationships and a loyal customer following. Can you afford not to deliver great customer service?

1 Kano, Professor Noriaki – Theory of product development and customer satisfaction 

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Dorte Bell

Dorte brings over 10 years of design research, product design, design management and user centred design to Scintilla and has worked in a variety of industries including public sector, children’s products, gaming, medical, consumer, safety and technical market sectors. Dorte strives to place people at the heart of any design in order to create meaningful experiences that delight and encourage ongoing engagement. Underpinning her design approach is a strong research philosophy to truly understand the user and their context in order to reveal insights that drive sustainable solutions. Dorte also tutors design students at UTS.