EXPERT ADVICE

Customer Respect Management: It’s About Time

Aretha Franklin didn’t intend it, but she offered a powerful business lesson when she sang “R.E.S.P.E.C.T — find out what it means to me.” Customer relationship management (CRM) has evolved into customer experience management, and respect is the biggest part of providing an excellent customer experience.

So, what does respect mean to your customers? The answer seems so close, yet so far away from what many executives actually do with their customer service: Treat your customers like you want to be treated.

Today’s culture of real-time, ubiquitous customer feedback — through Facebook, Twitter, blogs, YouTube and more — makes the consequence of providing poor customer service immediate and severe.

If you search online, you can find thousands of real-life complaints about poor customer service. Following are three of those complaints, followed by what could have happened if the customer’s time had been respected. These customers would have been happy if a few easy changes had been made — and these blog posts wouldn’t have been written.

One person’s story can spread like wildfire, reaching hundreds — even thousands — of people and tarnishing a company’s reputation.

Cable Box Debacle

Chris Bucholtz, editor of InsideCRM, shared this wasted time story on his site’s blog — with more than 55,000 monthly visitors (All traffic estimates are provided by Compete.com). He lost half a day installing digital boxes on all his TVs — a job that trained technicians could have quickly completed.

What could have happened: Clearly, the cable company could have installed the boxes for Bucholtz, saving him hours of wasted time. While a lot of cable appointments involve four-hour wait windows, there are systems available that drastically shorten wait times.

Cable providers can implement a customer-focused mobile workforce management system that accurately predicts a one-hour window for appointments — saving subscribers time and making the cable guy more efficient.

Exasperating Cellphone Cancellation

Chris Garrett, a tech blogger in the UK, tried to cancel his cellphone service and switch to the iPhone. He had to call customer service three times and wrote a blog entry about his frustration. He’s still not sure his former cellphone provider stopped billing him, and he feels “scammed.”

He also posted a Twitter message calling the company contacts “gits.” Garrett has more than 16,500 followers.

What could have happened: If the cellphone company had respected Garrett’s time, it could have provided a quick online cancellation form instead of requiring three phone calls. Perhaps as a backup, the company could email once to confirm the request.

Yes, it was about to lose a customer — but that doesn’t mean it should make him call repeatedly, ignore his requests, and treat him poorly. He was leaving, but he could have departed on a nicer note — and his thousands of followers wouldn’t have read about his bad experience.

Internet Repair Idiocy

A mom of 4-year-old twins blogged about her Internet repair guy ruining a busy Saturday. The company forced her to wait in a four-hour window and would not call and let her know when the technician was on his way.

The technician didn’t show up. When she called to check with the company, the customer service rep claimed her Internet service had been repaired early in the morning. This — now furious — mom asked to have someone come out and do the work as scheduled, and her husband waited another three hours. When he called to check, he found out the company had called the wrong number: the one that was down due to the Internet not working. The company had then cancelled the appointment.

Like so many casual bloggers, “NarcoGirl” documented her complaints on her blog — complaints that are now warehoused in the search engines of the world forever.

What could have happened: This story is filled with customer service blunders, all stemming from a lack of respect for customer time. I’ve already discussed the availability of solutions that can shorten the wait time, but some can also proactively communicate with customers on the day of the appointment.

Respecting this busy mom’s time would have included making a call (to the correct number) to confirm a predictive one-hour arrival window and offer her a chance to reschedule if needed. Advanced systems could have provided automated outbound communications (via multiple communications channels) that would have connected with the customer in advance to inform her of any schedule updates and let her know when the Internet technician was on his way to her home.

The technician would have shown up on time, and after the appointment, the mom would have received another automated call for feedback. If the Internet was still down, the company would have sent someone right back and made sure it got fixed.

Customer Rage on the Rise

Excellent customer service that offers short wait times and prompt responses, while improving brand reputation and customer retention, doesn’t make it into social media nearly as often as the horror stories. However, that doesn’t make it less important. In fact, consider it preventive damage control. If there’s nothing to complain about, then there’s no angry blog post or YouTube video that demands your attention and response.

Take a step back and consider the results of the 2004 National Customer Rage Survey by Customer Care Measurement and Consulting and Arizona State University.

A 1976 study, used as a baseline, found 32 percent of respondents said they had experienced a serious service problem in the previous year. By 2004, that figure had risen to 43 percent. Clearly, customer care got worse, despite North American companies investing as much as US$1.75 billion in CRM software. The increasing consumer frustrations most likely came from customers feeling disrespected.

In 2004, it took an average of 4.3 interactions with a company to get a problem resolved. Customers are frustrated with that waste of time. Wouldn’t you be?

Consider as well the time it took to resolve customer complaints, according to the survey.

Eleven percent of complaints were resolved within 24 hours, 15 percent took one to seven days, and 19 percent took more than 28 days. Worst of all, 46 percent of complainants said their problems weren’t fixed months later. For situations that were resolved, 56 percent of respondents felt they got nothing as a result of their complaint.

If people don’t feel their time is being respected, then they will ultimately take their business elsewhere — and they won’t leave quietly. Would you?


Yuval Brisker is president and CEO of TOA Technologies.


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