March 2, 2006

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Evolution - The Secret Of Good Service

I was scouring the web looking for advice on how to give great customer service, and guess what - I could barely find any! I get the impression that customer service is something that businesses like to provaricate about, but when it comes to actually giving great customer service, they prefer to keep their thoughts to themselves.

One article I ran across offered to explain the "seven secrets of great service" (why do these things come in sevens?) It had such earth-shattering wisdom as "know your product" and "the customer is always right". Is that the pinnacle of customer service best practice? It would appear that it really is, and if the service I've been getting from companies big and small is any indication - it gets a lot worse.

It occurs to me that great service organisations don't come fully formed and fighting fit. They evolve. I imagine Amazon made major mistakes in the beginning. But over the years, and with each new order, they've learned and their ability to deliver the goods and keep me satisfied is as good as it gets in my personal experience. How did they achieve this? Well, I suspect it had sometrhing to do with listening to feedback.

I just had to fill out a support ticket for my ISP to find out why BBC Broadband don't think I'm in the UK (and therefore won't let me view their lovely video content that I pay my license fee to watch). The form is very long. It asks for all sorts of details, including my user ID (even though I'm already logged in under that ID), my IP address, my DNS address, my MAC address, my phone number, a second phone number - just in case - and details of my OS, my browser, my email client and blah blah blah etc etc

So I fill all this in and click "submit". That's when I find out that you can't include spaces in your phone number. I know this because a message pops up and then I'm inexplicably redirected to their home page. I have no idea if my support ticket has actually been sent anywhere. So I use the back button to get back to the form, fill out the details again (with no spaces in the phone number this time) and - sweating - click the "submit" button again. Phew! My ticket has been sent.

There was a time when I was naive enough to try using their telephone support service. I fondly recall hanging on the phone listening to "Greensleeves" for 45 minutes waiting to get through to someone. These days, I tend not to bother their support people at all - it's just not worth it. There's a real limit to what you can achieve by "switching it off and then switching it back on again"...

I can't help feeling that if you make customers jump through so many hoops just so they can let you know they have a problem (or a question), you might well end up with an artificially rosy picture of how good your services actually are. I can well imagine that organisations like my ISP manage to avoid 95% of the feedback they might have got, if only it was easier to get it to them.

And I can't help feeling that's why it's taking so long for their services to evolve. Each complaint is an opportunity, and they are deflecting 95% of those opportunities to find out what customers really think. Sad fact is, of course, that there are no other broadband UK ISP's that I know of who are any better. I hear some real horror stories from friends and family.

And if I want to complain to my bank... Well, forget it! Banks in the UK don't make mistakes. No really. They don't. And their complaint procedures reflect their unwillingness to even entertain the idea that complaining might be necessary from time to time. Which might explain why the banks over here are less popular than used car dealers. Not that they care. They've got our money, and they're damned if they're going to let us take is some place else. It can take up to a month to transfer an account from one high street bank to another. And yet I've known banks to cite their customer retention figures as proof that their customers are satisfied.

Great customers service is a capability, like great software development. The key to building capability is evolution and the key to evolution is feedback.
Posted 15 years, 5 months ago on March 2, 2006