How to Avoid Upsetting Your Customers
Mostly I think customer service is a matter of common sense; but as we all know common sense can be a surprisingly rare commodity.
One of the biggest problems I encounter with customer service people is the procedures they’re shackled to. Not only are those procedures infuriatingly short-sighted at times, they also tend to have the effect of causing the customer service agent to turn his or her brain off.
A customer service encounter I experienced today didn’t run into trouble for any of these reasons though. The person at the (small) company was clearly bright, sensible and not tied to any procedures; it may very well have been her own company.
But when I asked when I could expect delivery of a product I’d ordered four weeks ago that they’d told me would be delivered in about four week’s time I was told that, “We’re doing a collection from the manufacturer on Friday but I can’t say if your order will be on it.”
No offer to find out. No suggestion that it was unusual that something could be manufactured to order and yet the manufacturer not be able to say when it was ready. Nothing in her tone suggested that anything was amiss at all.
In fact, when I said that I was “disappointed” that she couldn’t tell me, she was mildly aggrieved. She explained that this was the process, that this was how the manufacturer did things, and that they ordered a lot of products from this manufacturer.
We ended up discussing whether this was a reasonable way of managing supply chains for quite some time, perhaps ten minutes; my view was that it was not.
Eventually I found out that it all came down to one thing. The manufacturer was unreliable. All the companies that manufactured this product were small, old, unreliable companies. The retailer had tried to provide more specific delivery timing in the past and ended up constantly disappointing customers when orders weren’t fulfilled as expected.
The error that the person I spoke to made was simply to assume that a situation she had assimilated over time would make as much sense to me as it did to her. It never occurred to me that, in this day and age, someone would have no option but to use unreliable suppliers.
They’d arrived at a compromise that was the best of a bad set of alternatives, as far as minimising customer disappointment was concerned, but that didn’t mean it made any sense to me. Their process for providing delivery dates made sense to them, but not to me.
I’m glad I expressed my disappointment, and I’m glad I pushed and pushed until I’d uncovered the assumptions that, despite seeming obvious to the retailer, were unknown to me.
So, if you want to avoid upsetting your customers:
- Try and put yourself in their position, they don’t have your knowledge.
- Don’t take offense when a customer challenges what you say; if you’re sure it’s reasonable they evidently don’t have the same perspective and you have the chance to provide it.
- A customer that tells you he’s “disappointed” is giving you opportunity to set the record straight, not attacking you personally.
- Avoid procedures that suit your organisation but make it harder for customers and turn off your customer service people’s brains!.
- Empower people providing customer service to do whatever they need to (within reason) to address and satisfy customer issues.