Thought Leader

Customer service at an all time low

I must admit that I am on about one of my favourite subjects. That is the inadequacy of call centres to solve complex customer problems. I have recently had three experiences that left me cold. In each case, I had no alternative but to escalate the issue to more senior people until I got to the place where someone either cared or had the authority do do something remotely useful. All of these experiences have taken place in the last 30 days.

The first was with my bank, which has innumerable call centres and you inevitably land up at the wrong one, despite following the numbers they state on the top of your internet banking page or on your credit card. After the inevitable “your call is important to us” you often get through to an operator who believes you are an absolute moron, despite the fact that you have experienced a real problem. After proving your point to the absolute frustration of the operator, who was initially convinced that you do not know what you are talking about, you finally get to someone who understands the problem. On average this takes 3 call centres, multiple transfers and about 5 conversations.

This is not to mention that I have a “personal banker” who either is on study or personal leave, or eventually passes the problem to someone else because all authority has been removed from those dealing with customers. I have stopped counting but in my time with my bank, I have had more than 20 relationship managers and they typically do not last more than a year before they are “promoted”. I generally have to find this out when I have an urgent need for resolution to a problem. By the way, I have been told that my bank is better than most, so it is of no use moving to another one!

I must say that there are times when I get through to amazing people on the call centre and the experience is great. So why the variation in service and competence?

The second was with my celphone operator, who rewarded me with “an upgrade” to my package, as a “loyal customer”, which landed up with a phone I did not need, a cap on the phone utilisation and much higher costs!. So much for loyalty. The “upgrade” was sold via a call centre operator who rattled off the details so quickly that I asked her to slow down and send me the details via mail. I eventually agreed to the package despite my reservations and had the phone delivered pretty quickly. Then the real challenge started. The new phone required a micro SIM, which I could not find anywhere, despite assurances from the call centre and a few visits and telephone calls to the supposed suppliers. I eventually had to walk in to a help centre about 15 Km from my office to get the problem addressed. Now the brand new phone that I was using did not work, so I had to sort that out as well. I must say that the person at the walk in centre was most helpful and was aghast at my experiences and promised to look into the whole process, including getting the “recordings” of the call centre transactions. This never happened. While I was at the walk in centre, every individual bar one had service problems. I then paid another visit to the central office and refused to move until I met the “customer experience” manager, who never pitched. Guess who arrived? The same walk in centre person.What we agreed, was that I was mislead and the best option was to switch to the option that I should have been offered in the first place and of course pay for my phone outright.

My wife, who is even more tenacious than me, eventually got hold of the “customer experience” manager’s details and I started badgering him. By the way, he was in meetings or on leave for the first day, so I had to wait again. I eventually got hold of him and for the first time, got a sympathetic ear and someone who was committed to solving the problem. Some R5000 later, I was on the required package and to be fair, I received some minor apologetic credits to my account.

The third experience was with my celphone insurer. I dropped my phone (genuinely) and the screen was cracked. I phoned the insurer’s call centre and was told I needed to pay X amount prior to the phone being collected. I obliged and did so immediately. When the phone was collected, the paper I received from the courier did not even state what was being collected, so legally I could not prove what had indeed been collected. Once the phone was inspected and a repair cost determined, I was told I needed to pay Y for the difference in the excess. I queried the slow and duplicated process and was told “we have to follow procedures”. I followed instructions and proceeded to pay the second amount for the excess. 2 Weeks later and after repeated calls to the call centre, I received my phone. I listed the number of calls I made and they totalled about 15, all with the ” your call is important to us” and all the necessary financial services messages required by law and waiting for at least 10 minutes each time. The phone’s screen had been repaired but the outer casing was still dented, affecting the sliding action and the phone needed further attention. I even sent a photo of the damage to prove my case. Eventually, I was visited by not one but two couriers, both asking for my phone and again, blank paperwork. My phone arrived at the repair center but I was not notified and had to query this (via the call centre of course). Once again, numerous phone calls to track the status of the repair. Guess what? My screen needed replacing and I had to pay Z further excess. According to the repair centre, I had damaged the screen and the problem was now different to the first one. I paid again and waited. In this process, I escalated the issues to the “call centre manager” who promised to come back to me the same day. He mentioned that they were very busy and that he was having a “blue Monday”. No surprises here, when each transaction takes so many steps. He also gave me his direct line so that I would not have to sit in the call centre queue again. No response by 16:30 and I phoned again. I was promised an answer by 17:00 and did not get one. This individual has not called me to date.

I then had to escalate this to the “Customer Complaints Manager”, who said all the right things and promised to get back to me as soon as she had looked into the matter and “reviewed all the recordings”. I proceeded to explain that the procedures they were following were inefficient and that they should look into them. She simply fobbed me off saying that was how they worked. To date, she has not followed up with a phone call.

Later that day, I received a call from a “call centre supervisor”, who was the only person that followed through and kept me informed throughout the process. What a pleasant surprise!. I should be getting my repaired phone the day after I write this – a total of 31 days after the initial incident. The total repair cost has equalled the cost of a brand new phone. Yes, I only pay 10% of the repair cost plus of course my monthly installments (which I have researched and found to be twice the cost of adding the phone to my business all risks cover).

Is this type of experience necessary? What is to blame for these awful experiences and is it not all about training, incorrect selection and people who simply do not care to do the job they are paid for? Why is the customer expected to do all the chasing up and waste hours of time in order to receive what they are entitled to in the first place? Who is carrying the costs of these inefficiencies?

I have a few more such experiences to describe, but they are all much of a muchness with very few exceptions. These experiences will form specific case studies in my training programmes, because to the best of my knowledge, a customer retained is at least 10 times more cost effective than attracting a new one. I have tried to disguise the actual organisations involved in the above experiences, but they know who they are. I hope they have learnt something, I certainly have! Is it time to review call centres?

Written by Angelo Kehayas (FCMC) 2014

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Written by Angelo Kehayas
Angelo is a Public and Key Note Speaker, a Business, Executive and Leadership Coach. He has served at senior level in blue chip companies and has established and run successful ventures in multiple industries. He has designed and delivered corporate development programmes, focused speaking events, and has coached executives, business leaders and entrepreneurs. He specialises in challenging assignments, solving systems problems and facilitating group and team planning sessions. He is certified as a Master Coach, Certified Management Consultant and NLP Practitioner.

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