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14.11.16

Graham David

“Press 3 if you think our customer service sucks!”

Why is customer service so bad? Recently I moved house and I spent literally hours on the phone to a number of different suppliers. The usual offenders – energy, phones, television and so on in order to make this move happen. What was incredible was that in pretty much every single situation I was on hold after navigating my way through a multi-button menu, listening to a pre-recorded voice telling me that I was a really valued customer.  Now we have all experienced this and it has become one of those things that we all joke about. But it does beg the question why is it so difficult to get this aspect of customer service right. 


What’s more it’s not just long wait times. That’s just the first obstacle that is put in place before you even get to a real person. Problem number two seems to be that each part of these very large businesses doesn’t communicate with each other part. I will give you a couple of examples. I spent on average twenty minutes each time I had to phone a different department at my telecom supplier. Twenty minutes!  I had to call them because this massive multinational hasn’t connected all its colleagues properly!  I worked out over two days I spent 2 hours on hold.  That’s 2 hours whilst I replied to emails, worked on presentations and pitches all the time listening to this supplier telling me that they really valued my custom.!  I would finally get through to the first person, I’d explain what I wanted and they would tell me that wasn’t something they could help with and they would give me a different number …

Then I’d be on hold for another twenty minutes. When I got through to the second person I would start to explain what I wanted and guess what … they would suggest I would get back to the first person. When I finally managed to order a specific telecoms package you might imagine that my “customer journey” was all sorted out … but … when it was finally installed it wasn’t the package that I had agreed.  Another call, another twenty minutes, and no record of what I had ordered, what we had discussed or anything ….

Can it really be this difficult?

In addition, the third big problem that we seem to have with customer service is the person we speak to doesn’t seem to have much of an understanding how massively frustrating the whole experience has been before we even get to them, and is more driven to talk, than listen. So for example, if you’ve ever experienced phoning up and saying I am really unhappy about xxx, surely it’s a good idea for the call advisor to listen to what it is you are unhappy about. And to acknowledge that maybe what you are saying is a fair point. Time and time again with maybe seven or eight different suppliers I would find something that didn’t quite work. When I explained or tried to explain even before I could finish the person on the other end of the phone would jump in to tell me why it had happened, why was there a problem, why the system was running slowly that day and so on. A whole host of excuses and explanations.   Understand me – I’m certain that all of those explanations were correct. 


The individuals themselves weren’t the problem either.  I generally found that most people I spoke to were friendly, charming, lovely, nice people. I didn’t have an issue with any of them. Nobody was rude. Nobody said anything they shouldn’t say. But all of them in their own individual helpful way was spectacularly useless at getting me what I wanted.

So I have some thoughts and some ideas about customer service and I wonder whether these are things that we could apply to our own businesses. I also wonder whether some of the large companies that serve us, would be able to perhaps adopt some of these as well. 


1. Find a customer relationship management program that actually joins up the dots and does what it’s supposed to do. It’s a common complaint … phone up, explained it all,  get put through to somebody else,  then have to explain it all again or have to correct what’s already been recorded. One business I called maybe 12 times greeted me every time with, “Oh yes I can see you called on such and such date and it is about so and so, right?” And the thing they were talking about was my initial query and it had moved on so many times in that 12 or 13 calls. But not for that company because their customer relationship program didn’t tell them that.

2. having the best customer relationship program in the world is one thing, but if you staff don’t accurately fill it in, it is pointless. This again happened to me time and time again. One individual will tell me they could see what was on the screen. They would have no record of what the person on previous phone call had absolutely promised he had written down. 


3. I completely get and understand that when you are trying to work out numbers of people to take calls, it’s a balance. You’ve got to get a decent service level whilst maintaining a decent cost base. That makes sense. But if you look at the very best in this sector for example First Direct Bank. They have a banking operation solely based on the phone and the internet. And yet whenever you call them, you rarely ever wait more than a few moments to get to an actual person. Pretty much whenever you call them you get straight through. If they can do it why cannot some of the other companies that are around? 

I know from speaking with First Direct its a lot of work making the service this good, but when you experience it it’s worth all of the effort.

Telecom companies, energy, electricity, gas, phones, broad bands, television packages, these are all businesses that are largely phone and internet based and yet when you try to get through to them it is such a difficulty and such a problem. This has to be improved. 


4. it’s really easy to say things that are deeply unhelpful to a customer. I mentioned earlier when you speak to somebody who is telling you their CRM is slow, that their computer is slow today, that the previous person didn’t fill in properly, that you have come to the wrong department as though its all your mistake. I lost track of the number of times I found myself patiently, but increasingly irritated,  explaining to a someone over the phone,

“You know what I’m an adult, I have used call systems before, I have been able to press a few buttons and navigate my way through a phone menu. It really is not that difficult.”

In an attempt to explain to you the customer that it is not them at fault they end up blaming everybody else, their own business, their own system, their own colleagues and you the customer. This gives a terrible impression. 


5. it frequently isn’t the person who takes the calls mistake and often it’s not their job to solve the problem, but it would be great if they took responsibility as though it were. This is the crux of so many customer service programs. I want my interaction to be smooth, painless and when stuff does go wrong I want the person at the other end to say, “Yep, fine I will solve it out for you.”


6. Customer service is frequently talked about as something that has to happen TO people, something to be EXPERIENCED. You see this everywhere these days, the moment you do anything, speak, email, go on anybody’s websites, a message will pop up, your phone pings and its,

“Hi how did we do!.”

To me, the best customer service shouldn’t even be noticed. When I phone up a supplier, I don’t really want an experience. I just want to get through somebody, place my order, make my request and have it all done. When things go wrong, as they will do, I want those things put right quickly.

The difficulty and the opportunity with customer service is that we are all experts – we all experience life on both sides of the counter, and we all therefore have some idea about how we want to be treated.  I don’t know why it is that most customer service interactions are, at best, average, but wouldn’t it be great to be known in your industry as one of the best suppliers to deal with.