Horror stories from the world of customer service

Writing about marketing as a fundamental building block of a winning game plan is a real joy for me. During my career, I have been fortunate to work with some great companies, where a strong marketing mindset led to success.

However, I am dismayed at the number of customer service horror stories that seem to be increasing and are occurring across a variety of industries. The 1988 “Marketing is You” booklet that I’ve referred to over the past few months provided the marketing fundamentals for developing a winning game plan. Sadly, there seems to be more negative stories shared with me by readers than positive ones.

While I am a believer that you should look internally in your company and build off what works, we can also learn from the mistakes of others to understand why customers have chosen to leave. The lessons must be more than saying “don’t do it that way” because that does not provide any real guidance to effect positive change in your marketing mindset across the company.

Consider the following examples from different cities and different industries.

First, a colleague opened a preferred chequing account at a bank decades ago. It pays no interest but allows you to do an unlimited number of transactions if you keep a certain balance in the account. Apparently, it’s a good account because numerous service reps (tellers) have remarked that he should hang on to it. A few years ago, the required balance was increased from $1,000 to $2,000. This July, the required balance increased again to $5,000. So, now if he falls below the $5,000 balance, he pays $1.95 per transaction. He called his bank manager about the change but never got a call back. So, he and his wife moved five accounts from the bank to a credit union who have gladly welcomed them! Next up is their mortgage and the transfer of their RRSP. So, a $1.95 fee will eventually lead to hundreds of thousands of dollars leaving the bank, all because a manager didn’t return his call.

Second, another colleague needed some work done on the boiler in his house. A contractor was recommended, and the first connection was made. It turns out that the initial connection was not an expert with boiler problems, so the co-owner was introduced.

The concerns mounted when the new person didn’t bring tools for the first in-person review but said he was confident of the replacement part necessary to fix the problem and he would swing by sometime the following week.

This led to the client having to be home “in the hope” that the contractor would call and visit along with instructions for the customer to send text reminders about the follow-up. When the contractor was finally reached on the day he had said he would be there, he simply said “won’t make it today.” No further suggestion of a rescheduled date, time, or next steps. When my friend offered to be home the following Tuesday or Wednesday, the contractor ignored those suggested days saying he’d instead be there on Thursday or Friday. At the time of this writing my colleague is still waiting for another call to schedule the final appointment.

Finally, another colleague entered into a two-year agreement with a cable provider in another province last November for internet and TV services. Despite poor technical service and reliability, my colleague chose to transfer the services to his new home when he moved to finish his agreement and avoid a $20/month penalty ($240 total) for cancelling early. When he called to transfer the services, his bill before GST was $211 and included $45 for a landline phone service. With the cancellation of the phone service (which was NOT bundled), he expected his bill would be $166 before GST as per his contract. Apparently, the provider no longer offers the packages he currently has, and his new bill (without phone service) would be $190 (+ GST).

So, he cut $45/month from the original contract and yet somehow the cost of internet and TV service increased $24/month. When he asked the service rep why he was now paying more when he had reduced the number of services, the rep tried to convince him that he was getting more services (faster internet) even though the landline phone was removed. At that point, given that the rep was not listening to him, he cancelled the service entirely!

The main point from these examples is that companies need to listen and value their customers. The lesson is not more complicated than that. A marketing mindset always has the customer at the centre of your business decisions. You can achieve a better customer lifetime value if you do the right things throughout the relationship at every interaction with your customer.

Tim’s bits: Do you have demons in your customer service closet that need to be exorcised? Successful companies will eliminate the bad processes and ensure an enlightened view of the importance of the customer throughout their organization. This mindset will provide a relationship of abundance throughout the year and into the future.

Tim Kist is a Certified Management Consultant who works with organizations to improve their overall performance by being truly customer focused. He can be reached at tim@tk3consulting.ca

Tim Kist

Tim Kist

Tim is a certified management consultant with more than two decades of experience in various marketing and sales leadership positions.

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