Delivering Customer Service vs. Customer Disservice

Rotary Telephone“Thank you for calling XXXXXXX customer service. How may I provide you with excellent customer service today?”

I cringe when I hear those words. Especially before I’ve had my second cup of coffee (that’s the rule – no one is allowed to talk to me until I’ve finished that second cup. It’s ugly if that rule gets broken).

So here’s the situation: I opened a new credit card account because the card had some wonderful product features. As soon as I received the card, I went online to the card issuer’s website and set up for automatic payments so I wouldn’t ever be late and trigger penalties and repricing of the account to an exorbitant rate. Their website confirmed I was set up for autopay with due dates of the 30th of each month.

So I look at my account today to find a $39.00 late fee. Ouch. I figure it’s not possible given I signed up for autopay, right? I promptly made a payment online (minimum payment plus the late fee) then I called customer service and was greeted with the above (the issuer’s name has been hidden to protect the less-than-innocent). I explained the situation. The customer disservice rep said “I’m sorry sir. When you set up online payments, it takes two billing cycles for that to take effect. Your account has been repriced to 24.97% (double ouch).”

“Ummmm yeah. Your site says nothing about a delay of two billing cycles before payment posts. I’d like the fee waived and the original interest rate reinstated.” I said this in my nicest, semi-frustrated customer voice.

“I can’t do that sir until you make your payment.”“Actually you can. I worked in the card industry for years and know the systems and regulations. Please waive the fee and reset the original interest rate.”

“You’re not listening to me. I can’t do that right now. Just call back tomorrow and you can make this request then but they won’t be able to reset the interest rate. Once your payment clears, someone can help you.” She started to sound like she hadn’t had her coffee yet either.

“I’m not calling back tomorrow. We’re resolving this now.” Every time I’ve run a customer service organization, we tried to uphold a standard of first call resolution. These days, customers expect that. She was clearly failing to perform. It was a classic “pawn the upset customer off on my colleague tomorrow because I don’t want to deal with this now.”

“Sir, I can’t help you. The website says it takes two billing cycles. That’s what we were led to believe.”

“Let me reiterate – those disclosures aren’t there. This is a failure of process controls, systems and adherence to regulations on your part. Waive the fee and reinstate the rate. Let me speak to your supervisor please.”

“I’m the account manager on the account. There’s no supervisor to talk to.” Then I guess that makes you the CEO because you work for SOMEONE. I want to talk to SOMEONE ABOVE YOU! Don’t ever lie as a customer service rep. It makes bad things happen.

“Look, this can go one of two ways. You can either waive the fee and reset the rate NOW or we see what the State Attorney General and the senior executives at XXXXXXX have to say about your lack of disclosures on your website as well as your deceptive and predatory lending practices.”

“Please hold. I’ll get my supervisor.” Oh! Suddenly she remembers she has a boss when the words “State Attorney General” are spoken (try it sometime – it works very well). I’m good and riled up at this point.

Fortunately the supervisor was actually helpful. She provided correct information (the account had actually not been repriced yet) and waived the fee when she saw I had set up autopay and made payment. She’s the only reason the call was saved.

There’s a real cost to poor customer service. Sure they could not waive the fee and make the $39 but they lose a lot more in the process. Here’s a little lesson from CS101 (Intro to Customer Service Economics):

  • The average cost of a customer service call is $4.00
  • The average cost of an escalated call to a supervisor is $40
  • The foregone revenue of a customer relationship for life is priceless not to mention the damage that can be done by an angry customer telling all their friends how bad a company is via a blog

The bottom line – first call resolution has significant economic upside for your organization. Here are a few things to think about and check on in your customer service functions:

  • Are your customer service reps properly empowered to solve the caller’s issue on the first try? The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center offers some wonderful courses on providing outstanding customer service and empowering employees as does The Disney Institute. I’ve attended both programs and highly recommend them.
  • Are your reps properly trained in conflict resolution? For a great set of training tools, visit Myra Golden. She’s a fantastic trainer with a ton of great training videos, mpg’s and classes. I’ve used her services in the past and have been very happy with the results.
  • Do your front line people understand the cost associated with poor customer service? This applies not only to call centers but to receptionists, salespeople, and anyone else who interacts directly with a customer.

Go talk to your customers to get an assessment of how your team is doing. You might be surprised and disappointed with what they say. These days, the relationship is more important than the product.

– Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC

Photo: telephone travel by Jonathan Henderson

One Response to “Delivering Customer Service vs. Customer Disservice”

  1. Small Business Answering service says:

    I also heard the same experience as you had.. That is really disappointing.. I am agreed that the relationship is more important than the product. Your relationship with your customers will make or break your business.

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