When was the last time you were customer serviced?

Do you really know how your company is treating its customers? Have you ever listened in on a customer service call?

When was the last time you were customer serviced?

Think about the amount of time and money you spend in order to attract consumers to your product or service.  Now think about the amount of time and money you spend on top of that to retain those consumers.  Great product quality, superb business plans, hours and hours to get the costs and pricing right.   And finally, think about just how quickly that can all be thrown out the window because your consumer, that delicate flower you have nurtured for months or years, runs into a rude customer service rep or some idiotic, computer-generated maze that traps them for hours just because they call for help.

When was the last time you spent an hour or two listening in on the calls that come into your company about your product or service?  Your customers in one-on-one conversation with your company.  If you haven’t done it recently (or ever), how do you know what’s being said to them?  How are they being treated?  And what does it say about your brand?

Let me tell you a story.  It’s completely true, but I’ll withhold the identity of the phone company involved.

It starts with my mother.  She’d gotten a phone bill and been charged for two long distance calls from about two miles from her home.  She said she hadn’t made them.  There was a collect call that she had not accepted and the person called again.  Same mistake.  Again she hadn’t accepted the charge.  Total time on the line… seconds.  Total charge, something like $4.00.  When she called to ask to have the charge taken off, she was told it was policy to charge her.  She was confused.

Enter the first born.  Business-savvy guy with thirty years of marketing experience.  I’m going to handle this.  Shouldn’t be a problem.  But, here’s where the fun begins.

I called the number on the bill and got a recording.  The very friendly computer asks me to state the nature of my problem.  I say, I want to speak to a human being.  The very friendly computer tells me it doesn’t understand the nature of my problem and could I restate the nature of my problem.  I repeat, I want to speak to a human being.  After the third attempt, and with no other prompts from the system, I start pounding on the “0” button assuming that eventually an operator will come on if only to keep me from damaging my telephone.  At this point, the phone company disconnects me.

I call another number, am transferred to another number, and eventually connect to a human being.  We’ll call him Roger.  I explain to Roger that there appears to have been a problem with my mother’s bill and I go through the explanation.  Roger explains that she will have to pay the bill because the company assumes that when a collect call is made and rejected, it’s a signal between the two parties.  At this point I asked Roger if he is trying to call my mother a liar and cheat.  He said no, of course not, but she still has to pay the bill.  I asked him if it was possible that the phone company might have been in error and he said no.

I asked to speak with Roger’s supervisor and he told me that he didn’t have one, but that there was someone else I could speak to and he would transfer me.  I immediately got sent to an individual who had no idea what I was talking about and didn’t have anything to do with consumer products or services.

Now our story might have ended here had it not been for a lucky happenstance.  Another division of the same company called me at my office a day or two later to ask if I would consider signing up my business with them.  I stopped, slowly raised my eyes to heaven and thanked the Lord for this God-given opportunity that most consumers can only dream about.  Then I told the young lady that pigs would fly before I would ever sign up with them.  In fact, I was going to make it a point to cancel all my business and all my family’s business and my business’ business and.  Well you get the point.

 To her credit she did not react with the same venom that I had spewed at her.  She apologized for the treatment, and then proceeded to tell me that she was on the commercial side of the business and couldn’t really help me.  I was about to say something snotty, but she immediately connected me with a supervisor in the consumer business and stayed on the line to introduce us to one other. 

I went through the whole history and my particular pleasure in dealing with their computer.  She explained that the policy was that the phone company does assume people are cheating and the people in customer service are not authorized to override that policy.  She admitted that the policy needed to be reworked and the people in contact with the consumers given a little more leeway to handle problems.   She also agreed to look into the computer problem.

In the end, the bill was corrected.  But for the sake of $4 or so, the hundreds of dollars this company has been spending to woo me and my family and my business to their services have been wasted.  If given an option, I’ll choose against them for a long time to come.

So what’s the point?  Well, besides the opportunity to vent about the phone company, the point to you is this.  Do you know how your customer calls get answered?  Is there a computer running your best customers in circles?  Are there policies in place that just don’t make sense, that don’t allow your customer service people to be customer service people? 

If you don’t know, then how can you recommend that next commercial production or that next media buy?