Monthly Archives: April 2014

Customer Service – The Need for a Personal Touch in the Age of Machines


“Customer service is the sum of many little things done well” James Casey Founder of UPS


 


 


Many years ago as part of my brand management duties when I worked at Lipton I was made responsible for customer service (read complaints).  As such I had the pleasure of working with a very nice lady by the name of Joyce who was the primary contact with consumers.  Over the course of a week she dealt with up to 100 consumers either by letter or by phone and in each case gave a high level of personal service and interaction, the type of consumer engagement that companies should aspire to today.  She dispensed sympathy, apologized and showed empathy with each of the people with whom she interacted.  As a result well over 95% went away satisfied and in fact grateful to Joyce, a number seldom met in today’s computerized environment.  In reality it was nothing more than some coupons and recipes but more than that it was the personal human touch that resulted in the positive thoughts and in fact letters from consumers about Joyce and the job she did for us.


 


As marketers these days we spend a lot of time talking about “engagement” with our customers/consumers but we also seem to have lost that personal touch in our attempts to monitor and measure our engagement in the age of computer technology.  Some recent personal experiences highlight the impact of this loss.


 


The first thing I have noticed lately is the development of measuring response time to a complaint as the key measure of successful engagement without addressing the complaint itself.  In this regard I recently purchased a vacation trip from Sandals for my wife and myself but encountered a problem with it.  I e-mailed the Sandals people about the problem and almost immediately got an e-mail response saying “thank you for your e-mail and we have passed it along to the appropriate person for response.”  This is like hearing “your call is very important to us” as you wait for someone or something to pick up. 


 


This was followed by a minute later by a second computer generated e-mail saying in effect we have responded to your complaint and consider the matter closed.  If you want to see the status of your complaint go to this website and input this number.


 


Now from their point of view they had a terrific response time to my complaint but did they in fact deal with it?  No!  I got another computer generated e-mail about a day later telling me to contact their customer service people by phone to resolve the problem.  I guess it didn’t conform to their standard computerized responses so I needed to deal with a person.  Unfortunately after the “your call is very important to us” initial response the person essentially told me tough luck regarding my complaint.  As a result I wrote another e-mail to complain about her response.  You guessed it, I got another “thank you and we’ve passed it on” followed by another “we have responded” e-mail with yet another incident number.


 


You can see by now where this was going.  The problem never was addressed, and in fact not even responded to by a person and instead fell into a black hole and this from a company that is known for their customer service.  Fortunately for them the people at the Sandals resort more than made up for my problem through their personal service while we were there.  So much so in fact that we booked another vacation with them while we were there. 


 


Unfortunately the “fun” did not stop there.  I got a customer satisfaction survey via e-mail on my return which I filled out and cited my earlier problem.  In response I got an e-mail of apology from the resort manager saying he was sorry for what happened but wished he knew about it either before we arrived or when we were there so he could try to rectify it.  It sort of begs the question as to where my prior e-mails went.


 


This leads to the second area of consumer service response, what I call “the black hole syndrome” where you get a response that says they’ve sent your complaint onto someone but you never get a response.  Recently this happened with me in regard to a complaint I made about my fitness club, which is part of GoodLife Fitness.  I sent their “Member Experience” Department (got to love the names some companies chose for their customer relations departments) a detailed e-mail about problems at the club and was sent a response thanking me and saying my e-mail had been forwarded to the General Manager of the club and the District Manager for their response.  Now the General Manager was leaving in a few weeks time so I suspect he really didn’t care a lot about my complaint and he certainly never addressed it with me, although he knew who I was.  However I was hopeful that the District Manager would respond.  When after 4 weeks I had heard nothing from either person I wrote the Member Experience person again telling him of the lack of response.  I was rather surprised to hear back that the District Manager was only getting my e-mail for his file and does not respond to members and that he was sorry the General Manager had not responded but then he, the Member Experience person had not followed up with him either.


 


While we talk a lot about consumer engagement we seem to be more focused on quantifiable metrics of that engagement rather than the human side.  We have lost a lot of that human touch even when we involve humans.  We offshore our call centers to save money but fail to ensure that the people manning the phones at the other end can clearly articulate a response or even have the discretion to resolve the situation.  We rely on the speed of a computer response to an e-mail rather than a personal response via e-mail.  In short we need to bring the personal touch of the Joyces of this world back into our consumer communication and demonstrate the triumph of person over machine.