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Introduce the Right Hand to the Left: 10 Lessons in Customer Service

March 9, 2014

Hands shakingI decided it was time to get a new smart phone. My three year-old HTC Evo, while a solid device, was getting increasingly slow, neurotic at times and heavy to carry. After researching which phone would best suit my needs I decided on a Blackberry Z10, manufactured by Canada’s former Research in Motion and simplified last year to Blackberry. Actually the word “phone” is totally inappropriate since these types of devices pack more computing power than not just the computers that powered the 1960s Apollo missions but the PCs of the 1990s.

Being a Rogers customer for over 10 years, with four bundled services, I thought I would first talk to their customer relations department to review my services and to see what they could offer in the way of a new smart phone, and hopefully at a great price.

I spoke to Maria, who turned out to be wonderful, a 10-out-of-10 in terms of customer service. I was on the phone for over half an hour but she was incredibly helpful, listened to me attentively and was very patient. She offered what I considered an excellent package for a new smart phone. I sat on that idea for a couple of days before finally acting.

So off I went down the street to my local Rogers store where I explained what I was seeking to one of the young fellows. He quickly set me up, and to my surprise and pleasure he offered me an even better deal than Maria. Yes!!

The entire process was done quickly and efficiently, reflecting this store’s extremely high rating in customer service with Rogers across Canada (the Signature Centre Kanata location, to give these folks a plug). And then it was home to do some learning on a new device using a different operating system.

And that’s where the problems began.

cranky-dude My issue, and hence the reason for this post on customer service, is not that things didn’t go as expected with this new smart phone. Technology is technology. It could be a new car, computer or wireless sound system–things don’t always work out at first as expected. Over the course of two days I spent a few hours on the phone with Rogers tech support, including a feeble attempt at an online live chat which ended quickly when I realized the “technician” didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. My phone conversations involved me being transferred back and forth between tech teams, and at one point I ended the call when I was asked to do something I considered insanely stupid given that the phone was new.

Fortunately I live five minutes from my Rogers store. I was able to scoot down to it three times over two days to have the young fellows there fix the specific problems in a matter of minutes.

Adam, the store manager, a youngest fellow, was stellar, especially considering he could see that I was pretty pissed off with how I was being treated with the Rogers phone tech support. I work retail, now that I’m retired from the public sector, and when I worked at The Home Depot I dealt with plenty of uppity customers, especially older guys my age. What’s with us old Baby Boomers?

But Adam and his miraculous team who are not required, I should add, to fix technical problems, were patient with me and extremely helpful. And these technical problems were not with the device but rather Rogers’ network.

A day later I attempted to provide feedback to Rogers Customer Relations department in the hope of a) some measure of compensation for the inordinate amount of time I had spent on the phone and the inconvenience, and b) to help Rogers learn how to improve its customer service experience, given the criticism it has received in the Canadian business community. By way of contrast, Telus over the past five years has dramatically pulled up its socks in how it interacts with customers. Indeed, Rogers’ tone deafness to customer complaints has produced various Facebook sites such as this one.

My phone call was escalated to Charlene, a manager in customer relations. She offered some tepid form of compensation, but refused my request to share my experience with the President’s office, which has its own customer service process for unsolved issues. I’ve dealt with the President’s office in the past. Charlene said she’d pass on my feedback. Big mistake, Charlene. Never brush off a customer.

Call Center So folks, this is but one lesson in connecting the right hand with the left hand when customers have a problem and must deal with faceless call center employees but who have access to employees working in a bricks and mortar retail store. While management might like to believe that a faceless existence can pretend to be customer focused (to use but one overused contemporary expression) when you have to look into a customer’s eyes it’s a totally different experience.

It reminds me of my experiences over the years with Canadian Blood Services (CBS), which operates as a not-for-profit entity Canada’s blood donation program. A donor of 40 donations, I’ve enjoyed each time my encounter with the frontline staff. I especially like the blood mobile and the intimate environment which is highly conducive to jokes and camaraderie among the staff. They’re terrific folks. However, dealing with the call center is another experience. It’s not that they’re rude, just disengaged from the donor.

Given that Canada’s blood supply sometimes goes into shortage situations, depending on the time of year, it’s imperative that CBS employees at the call center who field calls from donors make every effort to maximize the chances for a donation.

It got to the point a year ago that I emailed CBS’s head office with some feedback in how CBS could improve its call center interaction with donors. To my astonishment I received shortly afterwards an email from the Chief Operating Office who not only thanked me but asked if my email could be shared with CBS employees for training purposes. That’s corporate leadership!
The COO didn’t try to make excuses or slide around my comments but rather owned his organization’s actions and attempted to correct it.

How many senior people in organizations, whether business, government or not-for-profit do this?

In my Rogers case I was never satisfied with how its call center customer relations people addressed my complaint. But I can tell you that Adam and his Rogers Signature Centre store totally rock.

Thanks guys!!

Man serving woman Before I sign off this post, let’s consider 10 key rules on how to connect the right hand with the left hand. It reminds me of the late Peter Drucker who once commented on the management-leadership debate on whether they’re distinct entities. Drucker said that the two could not be detached any more than one’s nose could be removed from one’s face. The same applies to customer service in the context of frontline service and remote call centers. They’re essentially one in the same, with the key distinction that frontline staff are the face of the company and, hence, are the ones to take the kicking from unhappy customers.

Ten Customer Service Rules by Which to Lead:
1. Customer service is an integrated experience and is not the sole responsibility of frontline employees.
2. Each and every employee must take personal responsibility for the level of service that he or she provides.
3. Speak truth to power when it comes to ways on how to improve your company’s service.
4. If management doesn’t get it on customer service, look for a company that does; don’t play with losers.
5. Management must model the necessary behavior it espouses each and every day.
6. If an employee screws up, stop, pause and analyze what went wrong. Don’t immediately finger point.
7. Train, train, train…and then train some more.
8. If you’re doing your job well and you get an uppity customer, place yourself in his or her shoes; it makes a world of difference.
9. If you have a thin skin, either learn how to thicken it or find another vocation.
10. Take pride in your work as a customer service provider.

There you have it folks. Take some time to reflect on this post, especially the 10 rules, both as a customer and as a service provider. Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences.

There are no traffic jams along the extra mile.

– Roger Staubach (former U.S. Navy officer, Dallas Cowboys quarterback and Superbowl VI MVP, Businessman)

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 26, 2014 7:39 am

    Very good guide. These are excellent examples to show and teach what customer care is all about. It is about caring for clients–no matter what.

  2. March 11, 2014 4:17 pm

    That is why some companies are moving back from “faceless support” via call-centers to solely EMAIL-support. Guaranteeing that the email-support (while being more slow) will go directly to a person responsible for your particular problem, not just a “1-tier” guy in India.

    • March 11, 2014 5:42 pm

      Interesting. I’ve noticed the trend of live chat which I avoid.

      • March 12, 2014 7:29 am

        Yeah. Livechat is just another way to outsource support overseas. Call-center/livechat – potato, potahto.

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