March 27, 2009

Save A Penny, Lose a Customer

It’s amazing to me that organizations and people still miss the basic premise that underlies any successful business and that is good customer service.

Indeed all the innovation and technology in the world will not make up for the common business sense in putting the customer first.

Whatever happened to the customer is always right?

One of the most frustrating customer experiences is often associated with how companies routinely mishandle customer calls. We all know the shtick all too well by now:

  • The phone rings off the hook in the customer call center—why isn’t anyone answering?
  • If the phone is answered, very likely, the call is handled by automated call telephony—and you end up in a maze of instructions and options from which quite frankly, you may never return.
  • If you are so fortunate as to actually get to a real-live customer service representative, they won’t identify themselves—except with a first name--or provide a direct contact number to reach them should you get disconnected or need to follow up with them.
  • If you can identify who you are actually dealing with, you may quickly realize that you are talking to someone who is likely resident in another hemisphere and you may be unable to understand or effectively communicate with the company representative on the other end of the line (whose primary language is not your own).
  • If you are able to actually communicate with each other—what did you say?—you are likely to hear all sorts of gobbley-gook policies and excuses for why they can’t resolve your service request, need or complaint.
  • If you argue, raise your voice in frustration or ask to speak to a supervisor, you are likely to get “accidently” disconnected and you go back to go and cannot collect $200.
  • If you manage to get to a supervisor, the supervisor may throw you a bone and give you a partial win or more likely will stand firm and tell you to “talk to the hand, cause the face ain’t home.”
  • If you threaten to take your business elsewhere, you will have to place a call to another customer call center and start from step one all over again.

This is NOT a customer-centric enterprise architecture for an organization—it is almost the furthest thing from it aside from going out and actually paying customers to go use a competitor’s products or services instead of their own. This customer service-NOT approach is the death of our national competitiveness and represents the end of life for an organization and any individual employing it.

The Wall Street Journal, 24 March 2009, has a review on a book titled “Your Call Is (not that) Important to Us” by Emily Yellin who hits this right on the head.

“It is one of the most maddening ordeals of modern life. You are having problems with a product or service, and so (fool that you are) you call a customer help number, only to be greeted by a cheerfully inept or robotically indifferent voice at the end of the line.”

So why do organizations behave in this self-defeating, anti-customer fashion?

It’s called pinching pennies. Or penny wise and dollar foolish.

“Companies naturally try to keep costs down, sometimes rating the performance of their harried call-center workers by the number of calls they log, not by how well they resolve callers’ complaints…or companies move their help desks to countries where costs are low but accents are impenetrable. Or they switch to computer systems that leave already unhappy customer shouting their responses at an unresponsive machine.”

This is emblematic of the short-term focus on quarterly profits and share price at the expense of the customer satisfaction, service, and long term retention goals. The result: piss-poor customer service!

That’s why as enterprise architects, we need to ALWAYS start, end and follow every point in between with the customer needs. So in terms of EA what can we do to improve service delivery?

  • Focus on organizational performance goals and put customer satisfaction and retention at the top of those goals.
  • Align technology solutions and investments to deliver on the customer experience.
  • Don’t automate the customer out of the equation by removing genuine listening, empathy, and problem resolution.
  • Add a human-capital perspective to enterprise architecture frameworks to focus on best practices, targets, and transition plans to manage both the humans that work in the organization and to satisfy the human beings who are our customers. Human-to-Human interface!

Generally speaking, technology is known as an enabler for efficiency and effectiveness. Let it be first and foremost a means to better customer experiences. That is what is going to keep them coming back for more or heading to the exits.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm... I encourage you to get a Mac, if just for the sole purpose of experiencing their customer service. I have had the best customer experiences with Apple, even when things are difficult... it's clear they're on your side with whatever problem is going on. I've experienced only helpful, knowledgable and understandable people in dealing with some pretty odd challenges...