Business Management Articles
/ Customer Service Management

THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS OF CUSTOMER SERVICE

by Rene T. Domingo (email comments to rtd@aim.edu)

The first, and deadliest, sin of customer service is slow and bureaucratic service. A system that is designed with too much control is most offensive and irritating to any type of customer applying for any kind of service. Bureaucratic services aim for customer control rather than customer satisfaction. They are premised on control and mistrust of both customers and employees rather than service and speed. What slows down service are usually the layer of checkers, inspectors, signatories that are counter-checked, counter-inspected, and counter-signed by another group of people. Even skilled and motivated employees cannot work efficiently and deliver fast service under bureaucratic process. With too many hand-offs to confuse and tire the ordinary customer, bureaucratic service or "multiple-stop shop" is the antithesis of the "one-stop shop" that delights most of us. A natural consequence of bureaucratic service is discrimination, usually against small customers and minor accounts which are never given priority. They wait the longest and suffer the most. Lesson learned: Develop one stop-shops run by multi-skilled, multi-tasking, and empowered front-line personnel.

The second sin is offering standardized and inflexible products and services. Companies that offer low-variety services, limited offerings and few options are guilty of this. Their business philosophy is "one size fits all", similar to Henry Ford's "they (the customers) can have it (the first Ford car) any color they want as long as it's black".

They design an average product with average quality for non-existent average customer. They associate mass production of services with efficiency and low-cost. Their products and services are designed not to be personalized or customized. These off-the-shelf items are usually unimaginative, uncompetitive and unattractive. Services that do not accommodate unique customer's requests, preferences, convenience and needs are bound to fail in the long run. World-class products and services are mass-customized rather than mass-produced. Lesson learned: Don’t mass produce, mass-customize.

The third sin is poor after-sales service. More often than not, many companies end up with no after-sales service. When customers are treated as account numbers and transactions, the relationship ends with the exchange of goods and services with cash. Customers become anonymous immediately, after the transaction, and no follow up by the service provider ensues. There is no mechanism to regularly collect or solicit customer feedback on satisfaction with the services just received or complaints against them. Valuable information and suggestions from customers on how to improve the products and services are lost. Moreover, customers with after-sales inquiries have no direct and convenient access to the service provider. They usually end up frustrated, and decide not to patronize the company and its products again. The worst consequence of little or no after-sales service is that future sales are lost from current customer and their friends and acquaintances. Lesson learned: Don’t sell to customers, instead create lasting customer relationships.

The fourth is poor before-sales service. While companies may have after-sales service policies and systems, before-sales service is usually lacking or inadequate. Companies with slow, bureaucratic ordering systems are guilty of this common sin. Customers find it hard and inconvenient to contact or phone the service provider to place an order or to make inquiries about its offerings. Front-line personnel who interact with customers are not empowered and have poor product knowledge. Potential customers receive no, or inadequate, answers to their queries. New customers are mistrusted and discriminated against by these service providers. Only serious, decided and current customers are treated well. Many potential sales and customers are lost at this early stage of the selling process, often without the knowledge of the service provider. Lesson learned: Treat all inquiries as potential customers.

The fifth sin is that customers are kept ignorant of their order status and problems at hand. The service process is not transparent nor communicated properly to customers. Customers have no direct convenient access to the system to inquire, expedite or follow-up on their orders or requests. In case something goes wrong, like delays, customers are not informed immediately, or not at all, as to the cause and when service delivery will be resolved. Airlines and bus companies which do not announce, or honestly announce, the cause of delays in departure or arrival are usually guilty of this sin against customers. Equally guilty are banks which do not proactively inform loan applicants the reason for delay on loan approval or release of loan proceeds. Lesson learned: Proactively update customers of the status of their requests – ignorance is worse than delays.

The sixth deadly sin of customer service is arguing with customers for whatever reasons, whether the customer is right or wrong. Companies guilty of this assume that complaining customers are always wrong and are out to cheat them or abuse their service. Their policy is that it is better to reject a good customer than to accommodate a bad one. In the final analysis, the service provider may win an argument but lose the customer, who may be a good paying one. Usually, companies guilty of the third sin or those with poor after-sales are prone to argue with their customers. They have no or inadequate product return policies, and no customer complaints department run by professionally trained people. Without this infrastructure, employees, front-line or backroom, tend to be defensive and to fight back when accosted by angry customers. Lesson learned: You can win any argument with any customer, but you will lose the sale and the customer.

The seventh sin is keeping local rather than global standards. Those guilty of this usually do not do global benchmarking on products, services, and processes. They do not have continuous improvement programs that will keep their products and processes competitive and world-class. This sin is most commonly committed by companies which cater solely to the domestic market. They feel, wrongly, that local standards of service are sufficient to satisfy the local market. The problem begins when foreign, usually multinational, players enter the market and start offering fast, quality and usually low-cost services that no local provider can deliver. Loyal customers are wooed over to these new entrants, and market shares held by local companies erode quickly and irreversibly. Local companies, after decades of complacency, are often too slow to reengineer and reconfigure to meet this threat. Lesson learned: Like free lunch, there is no such thing as a local standard.


 

home | about | feedback | buy a book |

Copyright 2003. RTDOnline.com. All Rights Reserved.