• It’s an unfortunate part of life that poor customer service can cost an organization so much – lost customers, lost revenue, lost new business, and a lost opportunity to connect with someone for a lifetime relationship. Many organizations do not know how much poor customer service has cost them and do not have a plan to find out.

    We’ve experienced great customer service and terrible customer service over the years and present 5 major customer service mistakes companies make which can be avoided. Of course, there are a lot more than five major mistakes companies make with customer service, but these five will help you immediately impact your customer service woes:

    Unreachable Customer Service

    I had a problem with a PayPal transaction the other day. I wasn’t using my PayPal account – because frankly, it wasn’t working – and purchased something “off account.” The purchase did not go through as planned and I never received the product. I tried to contact PayPal to resolve – no customer service number, email, or live chat. The invoice instructs me to add the card to my account which isn’t working. I have no way to contact them and no way to resolve the issue because the store isn’t replying.

    Unreachable customer service is a frequently cited problem with Internet based ecommerce stores. I use Amazon.com for almost all of my shopping online because I know I can reach someone when I have an issue – and they respond quickly and precisely meet my needs.

    Check your Web site, packing slips, and marketing materials: do you have a phone number which is answered by a live person? Is there a contact email address? Do you use some live support chat service? Ensure you are able to connect with your customers.

    No Replies to Written Complaints

    Almost a decade ago, my wife & I ate at Pizza Hut for their buffet lunch. It was during Lent and my wife had given up meat for Lent. It was near the end of the buffet and they had no pizza available which didn’t have meat on it. We asked the waitress if they could bring out a cheese or veggie pizza and she stated they would not because it was almost the end of the buffet hour. My wife ate breadsticks and I wrote a letter of complaint to Pizza Hut with my contact information.

    No response.

    To this day, we do not eat at Pizza Hut and will go out of our way to find a different pizza restaurant if we’re out for pizza. And we eat a lot of pizza!

    Not only did Pizza Hut lose two customers that day – they lost what is now a family of six, and every person we tell this story to. Let me tell you – this story is repeated frequently in my conversations on how not to treat customers. Now it’s been told one more time on my blog!

    When a customer complains – respond!

    Broken Promises

    Companies that break promises with their customers will not stay in business. Broken promises cause some minor situations become major ones. A frequently cited case of this is the cable man who doesn’t show up in his “eight hour window” and causes you to take multiple days off work to have cable installed.

    If you make promises to your customers – keep them!

    Dealing with Difficult Customers

    For several years, I worked in PC Support teams and helpdesk environments where we were supporting a large number of internal customers via the phone. One of the issues we frequently ran into is dealing with difficult customers. The customer that seemingly can never be pleased. The customer who wants to yell and scream at you for no reason other than to yell and scream at you.

    Many organizations have difficulty dealing with difficult customers. I worked with one technician who was dealing with a very irate customer in person and as he began to explain his problem, she would interrupt him. He would start back at the beginning and start explaining his problem. She would interrupt him. And so the cycle went on – him trying to explain the issue, her not listening and continually interrupting. I finally stopped them and asked for him to complete the story before we moved on.

    Dealing with a difficult or irate customer is different than dealing with a calm customer. The irate customer wants to be heard. We instituted this mnemonic trick to remember how to deal with an irate customer:




    Fix it

    Follow up +1

    First, listen to your customer explain the situation. Many times, an upset customer wants to be heard. Let her finish her story before you move on. Many times, my role as manager of that team was to simply listen to what the customer was experiencing so I could help craft a solution.

    Next, acknowledge that you heard the customer. Repeat back what the customer said. “Mrs. Smith, I understand that you’re having difficulty watching the channels above 100 on your television. I also understand that this is a new cable box that we replaced last week.” By acknowledging the problem, you show that you listened to Mrs. Smith’s problem and you also give her an opportunity to say “no, that isn’t my problem.” This allows you to fully understand the problem that has made her so upset.

    Apologize for the problem that the customer is having. “Mr. Jones, I’m sorry you are having so much difficulty printing with your new laptop.” A simple apology goes a long way for an upset customer.

    Next, fix the problem the customer is having (if you can fix it) or provide a method for fixing the problem. Schedule a technician or walk the customer through the solution.

    Finally, follow up with the customer to ensure their problem was solved. I am fortunate to have USAA as an insurance company and a couple of years ago we had some storm damage to our house. After we had the house fixed and several weeks after USAA paid out the claim, I received a phone call from their customer service team ensuring everything was fixed to my satisfaction and that no further problems occurred because of the storm. This type of fanatic customer service is legendary for USAA, but a great example of how to follow up with a customer.

    We added a “+1” after the followup. The +1 is for doing something nice for your customer to go out of your way to service them. Zappos, an online shoe retailer, is known for its strong pursuit of customer service. The company will occasionally pay for overnight shipping even if a customer doesn’t request it, just as a nice way of saying “thank you” to customers. The +1 could be as simple as a card, a box of cookies, or a discount coupon for their next purchase.

    We had a funny thing happen a couple of years ago with Papa Johns. We ordered a pizza one Friday night and several days later received a note in the mail with a free pizza coupon attached that said we didn’t receive the pizza in a short enough time, so they would like to extend us a free pizza. We didn’t remember the pizza being late, but enjoyed the free pizza. A couple of days after we ordered that pizza, we received another coupon for a free pizza with the same note attached. Believe it or not, a couple of days later we received another pizza coupon with the same note! Perhaps their computer was broken, but nonetheless, we continued ordering pizzas in hopes that we would just keep getting a lifetime supply of free pizzas. The 3 free pizzas was it, but it shows you how proactive customer support makes a lifetime customer.

    PS We had Papa John’s pizza last week!

    Insufficient Knowledge

    In customer service surveys, many respondents cite insufficient knowledge from customer service reps as one of the biggest failures from companies they use. Insufficient knowledge could occur from many sources – poor customer service rep training, bad hiring practices, or outsourcing customer service to an untrained firm.

    When I worked in PC Support, one of my jobs would be to call HP to receive replacement parts for broken machines. About 20% of the time, I would get a rep who wanted to troubleshoot through every problem – when you have a dozen machines lined up for parts requests, walking through all of your troubleshooting can take awhile – and would frequently just follow his script without regard that I might know what I’m doing. It’s unfortunate that many customer service operations stick so closely to a script without regard that the customer may have a unique situation.

    Moving to Dell as a vendor solved this problem: I began ordering all of my parts on their Web site.

    Lessons Learned

    Customer service problems can lead to major issues with your actual customers. Examine closely the problems you have and find ways to solve them.

    This entry was posted on Saturday, November 21st, 2009 at 6:44 am and is filed under Management, Small Business. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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