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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Customer Service Theorem #1

Customer Service Theorem #1

The less complex the customer transaction, then the easier it is to provide excellent customer service.

My blog leans towards poor service scenarios that I experience as I navigate daily through the world. But these are not isolated incidents. I receive service multiple times a day, from multiple channels, and most of it ranges in the middle. I am not “Wow”ed, what most service providers are aiming for, but much of it is not drastically poor either.

There seems to be commonalities in service experiences, and I will make a very non-scientific foray into the world of theorems to isolate my ideas why.

Theorem #1

I noticed the simpler the customer contact and/or transaction, the easier it is for the service provider to provide better customer service. Maybe more importantly to your bottom-line, the simpler the transaction the easier it is to effectively execute service recovery.

For example on the simple end of the scale, I am at my local McDonald’s quite often. My hubby and I can’t seem to refuse the $1 menu! (Brilliant, Marketing Team!) One evening we arrived around 8pm, and I ordered a cup of decaf coffee. It's risky to order coffee so late in the day, but I took my chances. The manager on duty proactively told me she would brew me a fresh pot and bring it to me. Did she have to do this? Absolutely not. It was a nice touch, and unexpected.  Cost to McDonald's in labor and time was minimal.

At the same McDonald’s but separate visit, I was incorrectly charged. I spoke a short word to the front line employee to state the problem, who then quickly grab the manager. Within two minutes my money was refunded. There was no argument or even an investigation if I was actually charged incorrectly, the refund was just done. Even if I had been in error, that $2 they refunded continues to make me a loyal customer. Cost again to McDonald's in labor and time was minimal. 

On the other end of the spectrum, in a Delta airline ticket transaction to do something simple seems to be almost too much for any of the front line employees to deliver quickly, and forget about the ‘wow’. Once it took me at least four phone calls to make an emergency plane reservation, and yet another trail of emails weeks after the travel date to rectify the error in the booking.  Cost in labor and resources to Delta, since I spent over 10 minutes on each phone call, I guess would run into hundreds of dollars.

I have seen or experienced similar situations in real estate, timeshare, cruises, cable companies, etc.

So what is the difference?

Well, there is not a lot of risk in dollars or efficiency loss to an organization like McDonald’s to go out of their way for each contact and to immediately correct customer errors. My price point per transaction is approximately $5 and my time of contact with each worker is no more than 5 minutes, and that is even long.

Once the transaction becomes complex, the risk to the organization is much larger. There are rules and legalities to govern the transaction. But I also see less empowerment of the front line employee to simply fix common sense errors. I also find that most call center employees are not very sure of what their companies provide, their rules, or the leeway they have to correct them.  Employees are just scared.

What I find with call centers is they hide quite a bit behind the “That’s our policy,” even when the policy does not apply to my situation. They just don’t know what the policies are.

Why This Happens
Once the job becomes more complex, to learn the job requires a great investment in technology training during the onboarding experience. The need for the employee to learn the technology quickly supersedes the soft skill need to teach them how to think, or truly understand the polices that govern the technology. Everyday an employee is in training is a day that employee is a cost to the operations. But is this short-term benefit for long-term risk?

One way to combat this need to get them on the floor versus knowing what they are doing, is arm them with the basis to get them up and running, but have a continuous education plan in place for the more complex nuances of their business. In a perfect world training is continuous, but in reality we all know training is seen as an investment, not a revenue generator.

I would argue if you make the proper, realistic timeline, for how much an employee can comprehend and effectively plan their training, you are generating revenue by decreasing customer complaints, decreasing handle times, and decreasing turnover of your employees.

What organization, and by extension stockholders, wouldn't want that?

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