The prevailing wind of appalling customer service!

Before the pandemic, companies would use customer service as a way to gain competitive advantage but sadly we are now so frequently confronted by widespread awful service.

The corporate companies we were once so proud of, seem now to be hiding behind Covid to mask a ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude towards customer care.

Customers are all too often confronted by automated customer contact systems in an ever increasing race for suppliers to distance themselves from the responsibility of having to field a human being to answer phones.

Cost is always the argument put forward but how can this compare to the cost of customer frustration and defection? Drilling through eight levels of questions (press 1 for this or press 5 for that etc) before having a chance to speak to a human being is only the beginning of an experience I had recently with a particular water utility company.

But this terrible standard of customer care doesn’t just apply to corporate UK. The same is happening in the small business sector and in industries such as healthcare. It is happening in our hospitals and is widespread among the GP practices. The attitude is ‘keep the customer out’, ‘We don’t care if our customers need help because our service has failed’ This whole attitude is spreading like a disease.

How many have experienced trying to get hold of a human being at one of the hospitals to sort out an appointment only to have to make fourteen phone call attempts and a few hours of holding on to reach someone who can help sort out a problem of the hospitals making? Should the elderly and sick really have to put up with this? Clearly the NHS trusts think so.

Culture for customer care starts with the board. The directors, the CEO and the Chairman must be the starting point and energy behind an organisation’s culture and attitude to customer care. Some probably don’t care but most have simply lost touch with basic customer values.

In just about every company turnaround that I have been asked to do, the board of directors have become insular and inward facing. They have lost touch with their customers and have no clue what their customer service is like and the effect it is having on the business. One lesson I learned a long time ago is if you want to know how to make your business succeed, speak to lots of your customers. Having an MBA is very valuable of course but cannot compare with the power of speaking to customers. I thought this was obvious to all but apparently not with the growing attitude of building a wall to keep customers at a distance.

In my companies, all of my staff knew that if we encountered an unhappy or frustrated customer that I would want the customer to be passed over to me. I would personally want to sort out the customer’s problem. That way, I knew I could turn a frustrated customer into a buyer for life.

My advice to all is:

  • Have automated systems by all means, but minimise the number of levels before being passed to a human being.
  • Make sure the customer is passed to a human customer service representative within a given time, irrespective of the route.
  • Invest in a customer service team sufficient to provide the service levels the customer deserves to enjoy and make sure all are trained to handle customer needs. This will powerfully differentiate you once again from your competitors.
  • The board of directors, the CEO and even the chairman must take a proactive approach to setting and driving the company’s customer service culture. It all starts and ends with them!

Michael Tait is an experienced interim chairman ready to help companies recover their values and performance. Michael can be contacted on 07831 105345 or mike.tait@btinternet.com