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Thursday, September 22, 2011

TERMINATOR 6 – Revenge of the Computers

Sometimes I feel I live in a customer service version of The Terminator movie series.  If I hear one more time from a service professional that they cannot process my request because, “My Computer Won’t Let Me Do It,” I think I am going to go all Sarah Connor on them! 

Two Incidents

Last month I observed a transaction at a Dollar Rental car location.  I was renting a car, but this was the customer in front of me.   The dispute occurred because the agent swiped the customer’s credit card for the customary rental deposit, but the credit card could not hold the multiple hundreds of dollars. The customer’s card declined the hold, which meant she would be refused the car rental.  According to the customer, the card could hold the rental rate itself, but not the large required deposit.

The customer got very upset, saying she has rented multiple times from Dollar, even being a member of their loyalty program, and that this has never occurred in the past.  She continued that the agent should have told her before she swiped, i.e. took the deposit on the credit card, and now what was she suppose to do?  She had no car, and at this point a declined credit card. 

This immediately escalated to an ugly level, as the agent said repeatedly to the customer, “My computer won’t let me move forward with the transaction or remove the hold.”  The customer was obviously distressed and elevated quickly to foul language and calling the agent a liar.  A second agent tried to diffuse the situation, while still maintaining the company policy, but telling the customer he would not help her until she stopped cursing.  The customer continued her line of fire, and the first agent eventually called security.   I am unsure how the situation ended because in the meantime, I was waited on and within 5 minutes had my car.

Second incident:  I called Rebounderz.  This new franchise to Central Florida is a recreation activity involving a room of trampolines.  The customers put on safety equipment and then spend an hour bouncing around the room, flipping, jumping off the walls, having a great time.  I can’t think of a better way to release the stress of any given day.  My family was excited to use the coupon we purchased months ago through an Internet local business deal coupon website.  The coupon was two-for-one. 

Admittedly, the coupon expired a few weeks ago, so I called to see if they would still honor it.  We are not talking huge sums of money, $13 per person, so I thought it was a strong possibility.  As a small business owner, I would eat the short-term $13 bucks to develop a long-term relationship with a customer.  Well apparently, that’s just me.  The person answering the phone said they would not honor the coupon because, “My computer will no longer honor the code.”   As a customer, what do I care about the code?  Nothing.  As a former manager what do I know?  That any code or transaction can be overridden.   What did this do for Rebounderz?  They lost a potential customer for life.

The Customer Service Guru Solution

This is something I hear quite frequently.  I heard it in places I have worked, and experienced it multiple times as a customer.

The “Be Nice” piece of my Customer Service Excellence Equation

Why is this so darn irritating to the customer?  It is irritating as it is a cop out on the part of the service provider and is meant to end the discussion.  It is no better than, “My manager won’t let me do it,”  “The policy says I can’t do it,” or similar phrases.  It is hiding behind something, instead of sounding like an empowered individual who knows their business.  It starts a feeling of distrust in the customer towards the employee.  The next thing out of 80% of your customers will be, “Let me talk to someone who can override the computer.”  And we all hate escalations.  They are unnecessary the majority of the time, and waste dollars in reduce efficiencies.

The “Be Right” piece of the Equation

Simply explain to your service team the role computers play in their jobs.  IT literally stands for Information Technology, which means it helps a business manage the policies and information needed to run an operation, BUT THOSE POLICES AND PROCEDURES ARE WRITTEN BY PEOPLE, and usually for good reasons.  They could be legal, or other behind the scenes reasons, things must operate the way they do.

Computers are one mechanism to help manage an operation, but ultimately people run an operation. Computers are not an end unto themselves.  Educate your team that it is unacceptable to hide behind the limitations of the computer they use.   The limitations, as it may be seen, are not truly limitations, but mechanisms to help them enforce the rules and policies of the organization.

I can’t imagine the Dollar transaction was an isolated incident, so train your employees what to say when someone’s credit card is declined for the rental deposit.  Try to develop a contingency policy, if possible.  If an alternate is not possible, as I can see where Dollar would not want to take the risk of renting a car to a person who could not financially be liable if the worst occurred, then have your employees practice what to say, firmly, clearly, and kindly, to the customer.   Empower your employees with knowledge! They will feel much more confidant to handle future similar events. 

How this applies to you is train for the common difficult situations.   It does not need to be a formal event, but even a simple team meeting, or huddle, addressing the issues they face and solutions how to handle them, could save your organization expotential dollars.

With the Rebounderz situation, I would have been fine if the person had said, “We no longer honor the coupon because it expired.  Even though it's expired, I hope you still come visit us. Is there anything else I can help you with today?”  That was in their right, and it was my fault that I did not use the coupon when valid.   What bothered me was the attitude, “Well, I would do it, but my computer will not.”  Sometimes keeping the explanation short and sweet is all that is needed.  How can you apply this to your business?

Post Script

When I returned my car to Dollar a week later I saw the same agent experiencing another contentious situation with a customer.  I clearly heard her say, “My computer won’t let me do it.”  

Where is Sarah Connor when we need her?  J

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Illusionist: The Customer Service Survey

How many times are you confronted by a desperate employee asking you to go online, or through a telephone prompt, and complete a short survey to rate their service?  This happens to me quite a bit, and it makes me ponder the real return on investment of such endeavors for an organization.

The purpose of any survey is to retrieve information.  Most of us have experience seeking information from people that are important to us.  For example informally, you might survey your family what they would like for dinner tonight.  Why do you do this?  You want to make what they want (customer satisfaction), and that you are not wasting your resources (food, time) to provide for their needs.  

Take this to a macro level, and this is the strategic reason for a customer service survey.  To ensure you satisfy the needs of your customers, so they buy or engage with you at a higher level, and that your organization is using its resources as effectively as possible to make this happen.

Where does this go wrong?

When you survey your family for dinner you are working directly with the customer population effected by the direct actions you take.   There is no middleman, and you do not need to work with a sampling.   The people surveyed will experience the results of the survey.

Once you start working in an organization where thousands, to tens of thousands, customers will be affected, of course you cannot speak to every customer.  It is not cost effective, nor logistically possible.  To combat this, an organization starts to make decisions who they survey. 

BUT once you start making choices who you survey, you can no longer take the results as gospel!  

My experience is this aspect of the survey is glossed over when discussing the results with either decision makers or with the front line employees who provide the service. 

Think about your own experiences.  When are you more inclined to complete a survey?  My guess is either when you are extraordinarily thrilled with the service, product provided, or when you are extraordinarily upset, ticked off with the service or product.  If this thought is extended to the results you receive, then the results are unintentionally skewed by what is known as the “halo effect.”  Whatever their general impression of the company is how they will skew to the overall survey, positively or negatively.

My point: you are only hearing the voice of people with strong opinions, and I am not sure they are the folks who can help you make better decisions how to run your operation.  Extremes of any kind rarely give you the most bang for your buck.

The information is helpful, but should you make large strategic decisions or terminate an employee based on these results?  I would be extremely cautious.  Leaders like metrics, of course, and a survey is easily quantifiable, so it removes the need to dig in to the business, which is time consuming.  Everyone is so busy it is quicker to review survey results, make a decision based on those numbers, and move on to the next crisis. 

Now you might be thinking, but we don’t use just these metrics.  Well if you don’t weigh only these metrics, what are you using to make these decisions?   How much can you trust any information you receive?  It is all skewed, to a degree.

The Customer Service Guru Solution

Your customers’ perception of your service is an extremely important metric to running your business. I am not anti-survey in the least.  What I am watchful about is when the results are used as the end of the discussion, and not as a motivator to move the discussion forward at a strategic level. 

Surveys are also very expensive to administrate, and I am concerned those dollars and resources are used in place of diving deeper into your business to know what are your true issues versus perceived issues from a small customer population, and in place of investing in infrastructure or human resources that are kind of “Duh, we should fix this.”   Not everything needs a gazillion pieces of ‘scientific’ evidence to change.  Especially for those leaders who grew up in the organization, or are customers of your product, they should be aware of at least some of these “Duh” fixes.

Surveys are part art, part science.  What you do with the results is also part art, part science.  Keep this in mind as you develop, distribute, and analyze the results of any, internal or external, survey your company participates in.

Next time I address customer service surveys, I will get to the actual questions.  Oh my!