The Experts

Bad customer service in practice

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Does the following sound familiar?

You spend 10 minutes on hold waiting to speak to someone who can’t help you because the system doesn’t allow him to deviate from standard procedure even though you are a ‘gold’ customer of that business. You tell him the issue is an urgent one and that if you can’t be helped, you will take your business elsewhere. He promises to get his boss to call you and you receive no phone call. So, in a fit of anger you take your business to the competitor – WHO IS JUST AS BAD, IF NOT WORSE!

It’s enough to make you tear your hair out.

When I run an interactive workshop on customer service, I get people to tell stories of poor customer service they have experienced as consumers to show them that once your ego is crushed, price doesn’t matter anymore, the motivation becomes revenge.

This helps people to understand two things that are fundamental to running a profitable business in this country – firstly, that price is not as crucial in the buying decision as most businesses think and secondly, in most industries you don’t have to be brilliant to be better than your competition, and hence, turning up is often a marketing advantage.

Let me share with you a few of the funnier/sadder/more outrageous examples of poor customer service my clients have contributed.

A Brisbane man had just purchased pay TV from Foxtel and was experiencing poor TV reception after installation. He rang Foxtel to get someone to fix it up and was told that although it was a simple problem that would take only a minute or two to fix, they could not specify an exact time for a technician to arrive, only a four-hour period (ie. morning or afternoon) and they couldn’t even ring him on the day when the technician knew his schedule to allow him to come home from work and let the technician in.

He got so frustrated at the fact that he would have to take four to six hours off from work that he decided to cancel his purchase of pay TV and they could come round and remove the box and cables. The Foxtel person replied, “OK sir, we can have the technician there at exactly 10.30am tomorrow to remove everything if that’s convenient for you”. My client laughed out loud but the Foxtel representative still didn’t see the funny side, or should I say the stupidity, of the situation. They are totally flexible when it comes to removing the cables but totally INflexible when it comes to keeping a customer happy.

I was speaking at an Apple conference once and they were outlining the marketing and promotional schedule for the launch of their new computer – the iMac. There was visual advertising scheduled on television, newspapers, outdoor advertising and a number of magazines, both computer and general interest. One of the salespeople asked, “Why is it that we are only advertising the iMac in women’s general magazines and not men’s magazines? Is it a marketing strategy to attract female buyers?”

The reply was staggering. “No. It’s much simpler than that. We rang four men’s magazines and told them we wanted to place advertising in their September issues but none of them returned our phone calls”.

WHAT! Nobody returned a phone call from Apple Australia to say, “We’d love to take your money”. Not even one out of the four.

A hairdresser advertised for a junior to join the salon and have a career opportunity. Pay was award wages but with unemployment high, the hairdresser was not surprised to receive 15 replies and arranged interviews for all of them. The girl who got the job asked her new boss why she was the successful candidate. “Simple,” replied the hairdresser, “you were the only one to turn up on time for the interview. Three were late and the other eleven didn’t even show up.”

And my personal favourite told to me by a client who lived in the US for a number of years.

My client’s bank had a sign in the window saying “With a bank transaction, we validate parking”. So, to save himself $15 one day, he cashed a cheque and asked for his parking ticket to be validated. “I’m sorry,” said the teller, “we can’t do that. You haven’t conducted a bank transaction.” “Yes I did,” said my client (who incidentally had an account worth more than $1 million dollars in this bank). “I just cashed a cheque,” my client replied. “I’m sorry,” the bank teller said again, “cashing a cheque is not a transaction.” “What’s a transaction?” asked my client who was getting a little frustrated by this stage. “To qualify for validation of your parking,” the teller said trying to be helpful, “you have to either make a deposit or a withdrawal from one of your accounts”.

My client had a brainstorm.

He asked the teller “Are you able to transfer money from your bank into the bank across the road?” “Certainly,” replied the teller. “I can do that with one phone call.” “Good,” said my client. “Then, withdraw all the money I have in this bank and place it an account with your competitor across the road – and please validate my parking.” “No problem,” said the teller.

Is there a deep philosophical point to this article? Not really.

I just thought you might like to be entertained a little, and every once in a while, if you’re feeling a little down you can reread this and remember that people like these are your competition.

As trivial as it seems, unreturned phone calls are the number one reason for existing customers taking their business elsewhere and right behind that is having systems that are so inflexible they defeat the customer.

Some companies are so involved in creating vision statements and implementing state-of-the-art technology that they forget to return phone calls and they fail to have empathy with what it’s like to be the customer themselves.

Published: Friday, January 20, 2012

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