By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO
The first week of October is when the world celebrates Customer Service Week every year. I became a new dad on 29th June and recently have been realising the parallels between being a parent to a young baby and serving customers. Anticipating his every need. Learning the signs and acting proactively before reaching the escalation stage (the crying!). Reading between the lines when the real need or issue isn’t immediately clear. Providing care when and where he needs it, 24/7/365. I could go on, but I’m guessing you get the picture! I’m not sure the tagline ‘treat your customers like a young baby’ is one that will catch on, but it’s the ethos that matters.
I’m always studying how other companies treat their customers, and there’s no better way than being a customer yourself. We live at a time where customer experience (CX) is the key competitive differentiator, and that’s why I’m really surprised when I experience particularly bad customer service. I had such an experience recently.
The issue was the lift in the housing block where my mum lives being out of service for well over a month. I was chasing up the estate management company for a status update. I sent over ten emails. I eventually got through on the phone to the person responsible, who said that she had been off sick and as I had sent so many emails it had meant she hadn’t seen any of them yet because the new emails kept pushing the email thread to the top of her inbox and she works from the bottom up.
I was at a loss for words. I couldn’t believe I was hearing this from a customer service person at a large property management company. There was no apology and no empathy whatsoever. In fact, she was quite annoyed and advised me that in future I shouldn’t chase up if I don’t hear anything as this just delays things. What an incredulous way to treat a customer! It was certainly in stark contrast to my ‘treat your customers like a young baby’ approach!
Shortly afterwards I had to send another email asking about a different issue. I received no reply and so have no idea if she’s dealing with it, and if I chase up I’m sure I’ll be met with the same annoyance. How can companies like this survive today? Monopolies and pseudo-monopolies like this property management company survive because of the lack of competition, resulting in the lack of customer choice. Unlike my mobile network provider, it’s not easy to change the property management company.
Intrigued to see if this lack of customer empathy was a one-off, I looked up their website. I looked at their `About Us’ page and the management team profiles, and the only reference to the ‘customer’ I could find was on the Sales Director’s profile that has a bullet point: “Driving exceptional customer service standards across the sales division”. I guess that says it all: the customer is only important for sales!
I may be being a bit unfair. The person I’m mentioning here may have been having a bad day., She had only just returned from being off sick, and I’m sure had many emails to deal with. But then again, where was the organisational backup for her? Perhaps a simple out-of-office email with contact details for somebody who was covering, or somebody monitoring her emails. Simple things that would have made all the difference. Exceptional customer service must start with excellent communication.
Just like the baby analogy, always being available to your customers is the most important thing. Of course, technology plays a big part in this today, especially when you need to scale-up the customer service to thousands, or even millions, of customers. From simple ‘out-of-office’ automation to fully fledged virtual agents that can hold consistent, personalised conversations with millions of customers at the same time.
Creating consistency is also key. This means consistency in the information provided as well as in the tone and demeaner of the interaction. A virtual agent is never in a bad mood and can seamlessly hand over to a human when needed. This leaves customer service agents only having to deal with the more complex enquiries, meaning much less volume and hopefully a more satisfying job. Who wants to answer the same question 50 times a day, especially if it puts you in a bad mood?!
Of course, there are occasions when the customer’s issue can’t be immediately or simply solved, and that’s where communication and empathy play such an important part. Humans certainly have an advantage over virtual agents, at least today, when it comes to empathy. The companies greatest at customer service are the ones who deploy technology and humans to work in perfect harmony, combining the best attributes of each.
As we raise awareness of the importance of great customer service this week, let’s both reflect on the worst examples and celebrate the great ones. Take a look at your organisation’s attitude towards customers. Are you nurturing them with the same attention as you would a baby? Are you working to build a life-long relationship based on consistently positive experiences? Keep in mind that unlike babies, your customers can easily choose new ‘parents’ if they’re not happy.
It may not work as an official tagline, but you should be following this customer service mantra: treat your customers like a young baby.