Posts filed under Customer Service

Customer Service--- "64% of Companies Don’t Even Answer the Phone"

Richard Rosen, Founder/CEO of FastCall411 made a startling revelation in his article in the December 11, 2007 issue of DM News that confirms what we all experience with the deplorable state of customer service in many US companies.

"A survey of 5,000 local businesses revealed that 64% don't even answer the phone."

He goes on to say that consumers want service, period. Contrary to corporate rhetoric, this cry for change has gone unheeded in most US corporations. Why is that?

Please add your thoughts to my list of possibilities.

1.     Customer service comes out of the culture of the company, not a marketing initiative.

Notice what happens when companies invest millions in a CRM software program only to find that nobody uses it. The company either grew up with a customer focus or it didn’t. I have yet to see a company's successful reversal from an inward to an outward focus.

I recall one client who performed a beautiful implementation of a CRM project only to find that after one year, management deemed it a failure. Was it really the failure of the CRM venture to improve customer relationships? No. Actually, that was not of concern to them.

Instead, management’s real intent was to force legal and error free compliance of all marketing programs using the campaign management features built into the CRM software. Their discontent had nothing to do with CRM's profit-making  or customer relationship building capabilities, but rather it's inability to protect the organization from costly legal compliance errors.

The net result ---  the program was rarely used because it actually slowed down projects to a crawl and weakened compliance. It was the wrong solution for the hidden agenda of trying to enforce error free compliance to all corporate mandates and legal regulations.

2.     It is easier to solve short term, pressing problems than it is to work on complex issues like customer service.

The customer service attitude and practice crosses all divisional or departmental barriers. As such, any change requires tremendous energy, determination, and leadership from the top.

The salesman in the field, customer service representatives and managers must now follow the customer satisfaction drummer. They must modify past behavior. Corporate leadership must also delegate customer solving power to lower levels within the organization giving employees the latitude to solve customer problems.

Nothing less than a  corporate mandate can even begin to chip away at the challenge.

3.     A clear determination must be made as to whether the organization exists primarily for the benefit of shareholders, or does it have other, equally important stakeholders such as employees, customers and suppliers?

Knowledge@Wharton published a provocative article on October 17, 2007 entitled “Whose Company Is It?' unveiling new Insights into the debate over Shareholders vs. Stakeholders.”  

This article not only codifies that this difference exists, but that it differs from one country to another.

For example, US firms are shareholder driven whereas most European companies tend to function more as stakeholder enterprises.

Obviously, by their very nature, shareholder companies focus primarily on the bottom line to improve the performance of their stock. Stakeholder companies, on the other hand, will tend to hold on to their employees and help customers even when these actions may not contribute immediately to their net profits.

This report further stipulates that stakeholder companies’ products cost more than those products offered by the more efficient shareholder companies.

My Take

The Knowledge@Wharton report uncovers one of the prime reasons good service in the US does not seem to improve over time. Organizations in the US are more concerned about their shareholders than their customers or employees. So customer service, is at best, a secondary corporate priority.

As all experienced marketers know, there is more to customer loyalty and acquisition than price. Quality and ownership experience carry great weight when it comes to repeat purchase and long term profitability.

This balanced study wisely concludes that further study was needed to understand the long term impact on profits, sustainability and shareholder value.

As a marketer, I must confess my firmly held belief that the customer determines the ultimate success of any company. Let us hope that the evidence proves the old adage that taking care of the customer assures that the customer will take care of the company.

Posted on January 14, 2008 and filed under Customer Service.

One of the Most Important Customer Questions May Be “Who Are You?”

This morning I got an automated call that did not make me hang up immediately as usual.

It began by saying something like this:

“Hello, This is a call from your bank offering to lower your present interest rate to 6.9%. This offer is blah, blah, blah.”

I listened for a few more lines expecting them to tell me what bank. Like most of the population, I use several banks. But it was obvious after a few seconds they were not going to answer that all-important question. “Who are you?”

I hung up the phone disgusted.

First of all, I assume that this was a legal call and that I am indeed a customer as they claimed. I am listed on both the national and state “No Call” lists for the number called.

But their refusal to tell me up front who they were completely ignored my need to make a decision as to whether or not I even wanted to listen to the message.

The second issue is that if it was the bank’s desire to reduce my interest rate, instead of sneakily raising it over time without my explicit permission as they have done in the past, then they should simply do so. Then send me a letter explaining how they were treating me like an important customer by voluntarily reducing my rate. What a novelty! Treat me like a customer for a change.

The banking industry really needs to sit back for five minutes and think about the needs of their customers. This industry is plagued by insensitive behavior in its marketing practices.

What experiences have you had with banks showing that they are either in touch with their customers or not?

Posted on December 13, 2007 and filed under Customer Service, Direct Response Creative.

The Cell Phone Carriers Drive Me Up the Wall

I just came from one of the major mobile phone carriers. Every time I go there, I find myself liking the industry less after each experience.

At least once a week I get a text message from the company asking me to upgrade my phone for free since my contract with them expired. But of course, that means committing to them for yet another two years with a stiff penalty for going to one of their competitors if I agree to get their free or discounted phone.

Let me pay for the phone and then move from carrier to carrier on the fly going with the best and least expensive service. I have no desire to squelch competition with these ridiculous two-year contracts.

In this country, the carriers tell the phone manufacturers what they want for their customers. And the most obnoxious requirement is that these phones WORK ONLY WITH THEIR SERVICE.

This carrier control was complete until Apple entered the scene with the iPhone and made the carrier bend some to their demands. Apple understands what can happen when you give the customer his way.

The iPhone still only works with one cell phone carrier. But the phone can be easily modified by Apple to fit any carrier that uses the same technology as AT&T. All that is required is a modified SIM card that inserts into the innards of the phone.

Many are not buying the iPhone because they do not want to buy services from AT&T. This is depriving Apple of millions of dollars in sales and millions of potential customers from enjoying the best phone available on the market today.

Here is another example of what customers find offensive.

Let’s say that you are already paying $100/month for a certain number of minutes each month. In fact, let’s assume you never even come close to using all of your minutes most months. If you want to use those excess minutes to transfer voice calls, then that’s fine. BUT, if you want to send or receive data instead of voice in the form of an email message, for example, then you have to make another two-year commitment for an ADDITIONAL $40/month for that privilege.

Talk about abusing the customer!

Why are they doing this? Because they can.

When I can, I will drop this service and others like them as quickly as I can say “no thanks.” As time progresses, this irritation is turning from “That’s the way it is” to “How can I help defeat this practice and the organizations behind it?”

Let’s be honest here. Companies should make money, but not unfairly. Once the customer feels he is being taken to the cleaners, you have transformed him from a friend to an active enemy.

Posted on November 20, 2007 and filed under Branding, Customer Service.

"Dear customer, you are not allowed to contact us by phone."

I am constantly amazed at the profit killing decisions some companies make by not remaining hyper sensitive to their customers’ buying behavior.

For example, one company was spending many millions of dollars in direct response. The organization was concerned about an unexplainable drop in the acquisition numbers over the last several months and asked for my perspective on the cause. The core medium was direct mail.

After reviewing their marketing materials, I noticed that the company had omitted the toll free number from all of their acquisition direct mail at about the same time acquisition costs started to go sour. Their call centers were getting overwhelmed, so they decided their customers should now respond only over the Internet, by fax or by reply mail. To my growing dismay, they had never tested the impact on response of omitting the phone number from their acquisition pieces before making this decision.

I asked them, “How many of your new, direct mail customers respond by phone when compared to the Internet, fax and reply mail before you dropped the phone contact number?” They got back to me after several days to provide the numbers. It so happened that they were getting over 70% of their orders over by phone from their direct mail respondents! They had offered Internet, fax and reply mail along with phone contact as an option in the past.

Through their response behavior, customers were telling the company that they wanted to respond by phone.

What a mistake to try to force customers to respond the way the company wants rather than adjust the company to fit the way customers want to respond!

Are Internet based companies trying too hard to force people to ask questions and buy products their way by omitting any reference or access to a phone number? Do you think this irritates customers? Have you noticed some critical customer behavior steps marketers overlook? Would you have expected such a small change as omitting a phone contact number would negatively impact sales?

Posted on August 31, 2007 and filed under Customer Service.

Companies Treat Prospects Better Than Their Customers

Today I received a 0% interest on all transfers for the next 12 months from my own bank. I have a small balance that I wanted to transfer from my existing account to a new one if I could get the 0% offer. Ah, but wait. Only new customers can get this deal.

Several weeks ago, my broadband provider was offering 3 months free if I signed up in the next 30 days. I called up asking for the same deal since I never received such an offer. I was a five-year customer who had lived through the initial and sometimes rocky launch of the service. They had never given me anything for remaining a faithful customer.

Do you think prospects are getting better treatment than paying customers?

In all fairness to the broadband provider, they did agree to give me the offer AFTER I complained in writing.

In the case of the broadband provider, there was no mention in the literature that this offer was not available to existing customers. (Frankly, they could have at least taken existing customers off of the mailing list.)

But mentioning that the deal is only available to prospects and not paying customers doesn’t help the situation. It only confirms that the company decided to give prospects a better break than customers.

Is this an imbalance that needs correction? Or am I alone in this perception? How should marketers deal with this situation? Let us have your comments.

Posted on August 17, 2007 and filed under Customer Service.