Customer service: Gongs & Dustbin lid awards losers

I like to occasionally present  virtual gongs to organisations who have excelled in customer service and dustbin lids to those who have in place either systems or staff likely to destroy the reputation of their organisation in one easy move. Last week we looked at the winners and now let’s focus on the losers.

Let’s start with the technology section: The losers include John Lewis in Oxford Street which is a bit of a shocker as they are usually really good with customers. I went there very excited to buy my new ipad, I knew what I needed, the specification, colour etc; all I needed to do was make the transaction and leave avec my new toy. On reaching the computer dept it was a little chaotic to say the least. You could not just purchase but had to put your name on a list and wait 20 minutes to see an adviser. Having done this and waited my turn I was disappointed to be told that there were no 3G ipads in stock and that they could not order them. The staff were perfectly lovely but the system sucked. Bit of a waste of my time. I was not as angry as the man behind me in the queue though who was shouting “ I want to spend three thousand pounds do you really not want my money?” He was making a good point I thought, here we are in the midst of a recession and here are at least two customers just desperate to hand over money to John Lewis’s who don’t seem to want it? How very interesting as a business model.


Moving onto a new area. I wanted to put in place a call answering service for my business to take calls when I am travelling or in meetings so that no customers get missed. I had expected that those who were selling a service based on answering the phone and representing the front line of a business would be excellent at those very simple things. Can you imagine how surprised I was to find telephone answering companies who can’t answer their own phones, who can’t deal with an enquiry because “the lady who knows the answer has broken her leg!”; and one who refused to have a discussion because 'we're only deal with enquiries on line”.  “But you are a telephone answering service I would like to speak to someone before I give you my credit card details,“ I protested, which elicited the most infuriating answer in business: “It’s just our policy “, they did not get my business. The company who did is one where they had time to talk to me and more importantly listen to me, where they understood their business and gave me confidence that they would understand mine.

Let’s not forget the HR world as we see some real howlers in our universe too. Just had a call from a friend who was berating an organisation who had recently introduced a new on-line recruitment system. All well and dandy but it didn’t work and applicants were finding it impossible to forward their application forms. There was no-one to talk to over the weekend or in the evening as “The staff go home at 5pm and don’t work weekends, as well that’s brilliant as I guess when applicants are going to put aside a few hours in private away from their current organisations to complete these applications. You have it, just at the time when there is no-one there to discuss it with. The end of the story was a familiar one, the applicant gave up and took his skills elsewhere. Worth checking out your systems in detail from a human perspective, they may do what the IT supplier said in systems terms but do they deliver for the people they interact with?


The worst offender of the week, month and possibly year though are the mean and officious Ryan Air staff at Luton airport. They have a new tactic for getting money in the coffers which is to measure the on flight bags as you are in the boarding lines waiting to get on the plane. Now most sensible people understand that the reason flight prices can be kept from going through the roof is to maximise all the space on board and keep frills to a minimum, we get that. What is completely unacceptable is the attitude of the staff who treat this as an opportunity to belittle and bully the very customers who pay their wages.


Cue the scene, we are just about to get on the plane and at the gates a burly chap is directing selected people from the queue to have their bags measured in one of their portable trolleys. Those who fail the fit test have to pay yet more money before being allowed to board the plane. An elderly woman was struggling with her bag and instead of assisting her, he stood hands on hips watching until my husband helped her out, another passenger who in a perfectly pleasant tone questioned why she had to go through this was told in a very rude manner “ because I said so “. What is it about a tiny bit of power that corrupts the dim so easily. Contrast this with the Ryan Air staff in Ireland on the way back, they had to apply the same procedure but did so with tact, diplomacy and their very best weapon, a sense of humour. Ryan Air wins the worst customer service in the UK this week, and sadly I don’t think they will care.  


So the lessons for business are very simple. Most customers have very basic needs. They want firstly to be listened to, and some of the companies I have mentioned could do with a bit of a refocus on their customer skills training. It’s not hard to get this right but it is very easy to offend customers who will take their business elsewhere if they can, and if they can’t they will bad mouth you.


Secondly if you are going to have automated systems and call centres they need to work, and they need to work from the customers perspective rather than just for the convenience of the organisation. Your first priority as a business is to keep customers happy at the same time as managing cash flow. I am seeing too many examples of companies who seem to have taken their eye of the ball in both these areas.


Thirdly check to see what staff are doing, mystery shop and don’t delegate this, get your board to check out the service customers are getting on the front line. Rip up the board reports with the data about the level of calls answered first time, or the numbers of complaints. Check out the quality of the personal interaction, and remember we don’t complain in most cases as we are busy people but if we can take our business elsewhere we will. It doesn’t take much to keep customers happy, when was the last time that you checked yours were?





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