The customer service society, we are not.

The art of customer Service is an art that we need to look at very carefully. Just look around, from banks to telcos, from restaurants to every thing else in between. The common thread is the apathy in how we get treated. It seems that we don’t value the basic tenent of what makes a good customer experience, let alone a great one.

Lets examine the basic act of going to a restaurant. The experience starts from being greeted at the door, being seated followed by a server promptly taking your order. The orders are then written down(one would expect), so far so good.

Without fail, when multiple people are seated together and the server returns with the food, chaos ensues. Typically finger pointing starts as to where each order needs to go, a simple problem that perhaps is not a problem for many, but examine this critically as it sheds light into our customer service makeup.

All it takes to solve this problem is a simple note pad and a pencil and the act of noting who ordered what, so when the order comes through just placing the food corresponding to the person who ordered it. Without fail, every time I go to a restaurant in Pakistan , this is the rule and not the exception it seems. The servers are always scrambling to figure out, what goes where. Else where in the civilized world this is a common practice yet we some how fail to adopt it, frankly most of us don’t even care.

An other aspect of lack of customer service at any bank, utility payment outlet or other service oriented entity where people have to line up to interact and take turns to get their issues resolved, is the fact that we cant get into a line(just like we cant show up on time, or leave early as opposed to speeding and driving on the wrong side of the road to get some where faster). It is further complicated by the lack of training, as the staff that continue to ignore the first in first out model.

Without fail, it leads to inefficiency and more time than it would take to deal with each customer, should a first in first out model be followed. Customer service doesn’t happen by creating “gold” service lines or clubs; it starts by valuing the time of the individual being served. Irrespective of the service tier, basic service is the right of every consumer, but we fail to honor that commitment, sadly we are party to the crime.

We some how believe that technology will solve our customer service problems. Far from it, lets take the Call Center customer service phenomenon in Pakistan. If you have placed an order with Broadway or Dominos Pizza or you have had the misfortune of making a complaint via the PTCL Contact Centre, you are in for a rare treat.

Post the completion of an order, based on some random act of call back the Pizza companies call you back to check in how your service experience was. By calling a customer who didn’t “OPT IN” to be called the service provider has breached the first tenent of customer service “Privacy”.

Secondly the badly scripted or in the case of PTCL spammy or automated dial backs are a distraction with impeccably bad timing. For example on a Sunday morning at 7:30 . God forbid any one wants to sleep whilst they made a complaint to PTCL, till you press 1 on your key pad, that call back is not going away whilst your sleep may already have.

Forced rankings of customer resolution systems are to blame here. The people making the decisions to use these technologies do not or rather misinterpret the need and the deployment mechanisms.

An other big offender in this space are the mass SMS campaigns from otherwise noteworthy retail or service providers who feel that the act of buying mass SMS lists is an “OK” form of telling customers of an upcoming sale or thinking they may need roof insulation, or may have plumbing needs. In their mind, the customer was waiting for a godsend in the form a message with a Call back number.

We have to get our customer touch point data collection right, as opposed to buying carrier phone numbers and spamming them. There should be rules around the privacy of the consumers and strict regulation to manage the providers who engage in these services. The bigger offender are the telcos who now “allow us” to block offending messages by charging us a small fee. Wow, shouldn’t we sue the carriers and ask how the spammers got our numbers in the first place?

All this has to do with the mind set of the business. In an effort to follow the herd mentality of the latest and greatest technical solution, companies bypass common sense. This doesn’t draw engagement rather hampers long term brand value and growth.

True customer service for a brand would be the ability to walk into a store with previously bought unused merchandise and have the ability to return it for a full cash refund or do an exchange.

Typically businesses look the other way post the point of sale and once sold nothing is exchangeable without having a personal relationship with the staff of the outfit in question. From leading mall based retail to other more mom and pop shops the long term value of a customer is some thing we don’t think much about. Without fail people would return back to a brand if they have a unified respectful customer experience that does not involve a shouting match post sale or at the time of a service call or return.

One amazing example of such customer experience (local) is Brands Just Pret and their retail location. It has every thing to do with the mindset of the person running the show. Clearly in this case the founders intent is evident in the customer service that follows. Some others that come to mind who are very much local and getting it right are The East end and Kolachi. I am sure there are a host of others but these certainly come to mind.

We can draw inspiration for great customer service from global organizations like Costco stores, Zappos and Apple to name a few. There is always a starting point for these things and it must start from organizations reviewing who runs their customer service function and if they have real world experience in providing world class service. It’s a mind set thing, any body can get customer service right when you are dealing with higher end products, the real difference comes when mass market product and service companies get it right.

Here is a simple but powerful rule: always give people more than what they expect to get.Nelson Boswell