If It Is Important to the Customer

It had all started two years ago when we moved again. We must be the only people in the country who ever move, or at least the only people who ever notify their service providers of a change in address. You would think that companies would want to update their customer profiles, but sadly that is not the case.

Almost one third of the companies we notified did not actually process the change of address, as was evidenced by the number of letters the post office was still forwarding from our old house. This particular company in the financial services industry had changed the address on one of my accounts, but not on the other one. Both accounts are current accounts which take money right out of my paycheck. Is it so difficult to update both accounts?

I was calling them to update my address once again. One of these days some budding entrepreneur will figure out a way to change addresses quickly and painlessly. I would pay a fortune for a service like that, given the number of hours we spent on the phone, fax and e-mail with the many service providers. In this case, the company in question was not really into answering their phone. That is to say, the phone went right to the phone options, and pressing for customer service just put me on hold.

I “loved” their music, though. Just a soft jingle ad saying “If it is important to you, than it is important to us” going over and over until somebody finally answers and says they are all backed up and if I leave my name and number somebody will get back to me within 24 hours.

The Problem

I did the only thing I could do, I told them it was important to me. They were not impressed. I asked to speak to the service manager, and was told that he too would get back to me in the next 24 hours. I reminded her of their slogan, and said it was important to me and I expected it to be important to them. The receptionist said that it was important to them (just not that important, in my opinion ), but the manager would still get back to me within 24 hours. I told them that I was not interested in waiting by the phone for somebody to call and that I expected a call from a manager within one hour at the most.

It didn’t come. Just short of the 24 hour deadline, I got a call back. It went to voice mail, as I was teaching at the time and my phone was off. I decided not to call them back. It seemed to me they were trying to make a point by strong arming me, and I didn’t like it. I was only trying to update my address, and they wouldn’t let me. The manager called me back several hours later and reminded me that he had called within 24 hours as they had promised. When I told him that I had expressly asked to be called back within an hour, he explained that he was busy answering other customers. After arguing with him for several minutes about it being important to me but not important for him, I gave up and just changed the address.

I also called my financial adviser and told him that I want to transfer my account out of the company.  I do not reward companies for making it difficult to work with them.

What Went Wrong and How to Fix It

I feel that there were several flash points in this interaction where the account could have still been saved.

They could have obviously made the change to both accounts at the same time, saving me both time and energy, but that would be too easy.

The jingle was a big mistake. Telling me that “if it is important to me it is important to them”, but not following through, was a huge sign of disrespect. It showed on a lack of consideration for my time. They obviously had no clue as to what was important to me, or they would have called me back quickly.

Lastly, there was the manager saying he had called me back on time. I told him he was 23 hours late by my watch. Instead of telling me when they would call me back, they should have set up a time when it would be convenient for me. After all, wasn’t that the point? Other companies do it, why can’t they? Why were they stringing me along? Why is it all about them? Their time, their convenience. Why would I want to work with a company like that?

This was a classic case of Venus and Mars. Managers focus on what they can measure, and develop logical (by their standards) standards by which to measure service quality. They look at average response times, and other functional variables when they calculate their service quality measures, trying to keep costs down while maintaining acceptable levels of service. Customers focus only on their personal experiences, they don’t care about a one in a million failure rate if they are the one. Customers just want the problem fixed.

In this case, company service measures were not in sync with customer expectations. I expect not to have to wait so long just to talk to a manager. Actually, I didn’t want to talk to a manager at all. I just wanted my address changed. It was only when the company couldn’t offer me that, that I asked to talk to a manager, which the company also couldn’t do. Yet it was the company which increased my expectations with their jingle, and it was the company who decided on lower staffing levels so that I would have to wait longer, and it was the company who decided that 24 hours was good enough. They never even asked me what I wanted.

What could/should have been done differently?

First, get rid of the jingle. It is annoying to hear promises made while waiting a long time on hold. The time could be better spent listening to soft music, updates on the company and its products, interesting stories and other ideas to take the customers mind off of the long wait and lack of service. Better yet, fix the underlying reasons so many people are calling in the first place. If so many people are calling there is a process problem somewhere. Fix it! Then people won’t need to call.

Second, do a proper cost/benefit analysis. The decision to use less staff (or IVR) saves money in the short term. It also cost the company a client with two accounts. Was the drop in customer satisfaction levels measured? Did management fully understand the impact that cutting service levels would have on the customer? I doubt it. Did they take into account the number of times I have used this example in class (using the company name)?

Third, service quality is measured by the customer, period. If it doesn’t work for the customer then it shouldn’t work for the company. Again, this gets back to why companies are in business. Most managers would agree that they need to meet customer needs. So why do managers say the right strategic things, but get bogged down in the tactical details? This is extremely frustrating to the customer and leads him to believe that the company has bailed on him, and doesn’t care about him. The company chose the customers, and the company chose the business. If you can’t give the customer what he wants, at a price you can live with, then you are in the wrong business. Give the customer what he wants, or get a new customer.

Fourth, look at the big picture. If the company is easy to work with, customers will do more business with you and bring their friends. How much is that worth to you? Stop and think for a minute. How much do you spend on advertising to acquire new customers? If you took 10% of that budget to improve customer service to make it easy for the customer to do business with you, you could easily attract plenty of new customers just from the word of mouth. The other 90% of the advertising budget becomes just profit. These things can and have been documented. So why are we still doing business the old way?

I would love to hear your opinions.

Post below or send to moshe@service2profit.com

Hello World!

Shalom Y’all,

My name is Moshe Davidow and this is my blog!

Service2Profit is my company as well as a way of life for me. I believe that great service is a Win-Win situation, and I am a firm believer in Customer Centricity. By focusing on truly answering our top customer’s needs, we will actually be maximizing our profits.

In this blog I will vent about my service experiences, explain what upset me so much and why, and give a brief prescription of how managers could prevent such mishaps in the future.

Customers will be able to freely commiserate; Managers will be able to learn what really upsets the customer, and how to prevent the same thing from happening in their companies.

If I did not complain (allow the company to share it’s side of the story), I will not identify the company other than their industry, so that readers will be able to understand the context of the blog. It is not my intent to punish these companies, simply to tell it like it is. However, if I complained, and the complaint was still not handled well, I will feel free to name the company.

Customers are not always right, but then, neither are companies. We both need to learn to live with each other. Service is not about right or wrong or blame and pointing fingers. Service is about solving the problem (whether we caused it or not) and helping out a customer, because that is what we do. Service is all about helping other people, otherwise why do it?

I live and work in Haifa, Israel so that most of my examples are from Israel. I also travel abroad so I am sure that at least some of my examples will be from other countries. They will all deal with service, so that people should be able to relate to the service context. The blog will be written in English, as it is my mother tongue, and an international language. Comments can be written in Hebrew or in English, as I am fluent in both.

I teach at several universities and colleges in Israel and do research into services and service recovery. I also do consulting and executive seminars. In a previous lifetime, almost 25 years ago, I set up and managed Israel’s first customer service department at the Elite food company in Israel. It was a dream come true, and I was able to show an ROI of 177% in complaint handling. I then went on to study my doctorate in service quality and marketing at Texas A&M University with Len Berry and the rest of the incredible faculty and staff there.

My dissertation was on “Organizational Responses to Customer Complaints”, and I developed a complaint management model based on my managerial experiences. I returned to Israel in 1998 determined to make a difference by educating the next generation of managers in the necessary tools to deliver quality service.

I am very active in the international service world, attending conferences, reviewing research papers and just talking with my colleagues about exciting new trends (the 80/8 principle, anyone?) that are happening worldwide. I can be reached at moshe@service2profit.com and I would love to hear from you, either commenting on my blog, talking service in general or just sending me an e-mail. You may also check out my LinkedIn profile, and even connect with me there.

Please enjoy the blog and let me know what you think!