September 03, 2006

Good day, team,

The title of this coach’s challenge could be “The Importance of Being Earnest.” Recently, in an attempt to upgrade my television service, I had the worst customer service experience I’ve ever encountered. Here are just a few of the low points:

The customer service department was located in the Philippines, although it’s an American company with corporate offices in Colorado. The customer service representatives go by the book, no matter what: Any question or situation that is not part of standard operating procedure is beyond their ability to understand, respond to or try to fix in any way.

I ended up calling the customer service department 17 times over a period of three weeks, and each time I had to explain my problems to a new representative. Even after having talked with a supervisor or manager, I had to start all over again each time I called.

The customer service representatives and supervisors I spoke with gave me inaccurate information and, in some cases, lied to me about service dates, the whereabouts of technicians, and adjustments that would be made to my account for the mistakes they had already made.

No one at the company who works in customer service ever called me back or initiated a phone call to try to straighten out the mess the company had caused.

The technicians they used were local subcontractors who, I later discovered, have as much difficulty getting straight answers or instructions from the customer service department as I did.

I’ve been a customer for three and a half years. During that time, I’ve paid this company approximately $3,000 for television service. Not one person within the customer service organization at this company cared about these facts. As far as they were concerned, I was just like anyone else calling in.

Over time, I discovered unprecedented four-letter words in my vocabulary.

After getting so frustrated that my blood pressure started rising, I finally tried to cancel the service, which I hadn’t yet received, only to find out that I couldn’t do that without paying a fine for early cancellation! It was in one of these final conversations that a supervisor finally said to me in earnest, “I’m sorry miss, if I allow you to cancel your service without charging you a fee, I’ll be terminated.” I thanked him for his honesty and felt that there was at least one person at the company who was sincere. But, the result was that he didn’t help me.

In the end, I googled the corporation’s name, looked up the annual report, got the name of the most senior executive I could find, called the corporate offices, and left a message asking for help. The executive called me back the following day and apologized profusely; within four working days, all of my problems were solved with a credit on my bill.

I’ve since tried to get to the heart of what was so difficult about this experience for me. The bottom line was that, out of all the customer service people I spoke with, only one person treated me like a human being. All the others showed no empathy and, even worse, no earnestness to actually try to help me. My situation was only resolved because I contacted someone at an executive level who doesn’t even work in customer service figuring that they probably don’t think that losing customers is good for their business.

The definition of earnest is acting “with sincerity and a strong intention.” In home buying, putting down earnest money shows the other party that you’re committed to the purchase, that you’re sincerely interested and engaged. These are exactly the qualities that were lacking in the service representatives hired to help me and other customers.

Some people might argue that the problem arose because this company outsourced its customer service department and, in some cases, that might be true. Expecting people from foreign countries to speak the same emotional language we do is naive. Part of the education that comes from traveling is our experiences of new food, rituals and customs, and seeing that these cultural differences grow out of different values and emotional constructs. What’s acceptable behavior in one country is definitely unacceptable in others. Unless people are trained to understand some of these differences, effective communication is almost impossible.

My point is that when you’re in the service business, what truly sets you apart from the millions of other service providers is your ability to serve your customers earnestly, so they know you intend to help them in any way you can. Your ability to empathize with their situation when they have difficulties is also key to good service. If you treat them as though you don’t care, you will not retain them. Lots of companies can attract buyers initially, but can’t keep them. In the end, it’s repeat customers who make a difference in the bottom line.

This week, think about the people you serve, whether external customers or the people in your organization. Are you earnest in your desire to help them? If not, what do you need to do to change your attitude toward your customers or your team members? Do your policies support your people being empowered enough to actually help the customer? Are you following the letter of the law and ignoring the spirit of the law in the way you treat others? Do you have ways of finding out what your customers or team members are actually thinking about their experiences with your company, and are you earnestly trying to do anything to improve these relationships?

Try finding ways to maximize people’s experiences of your service and set things in motion to make it better. If you work in earnest to serve your people better, they will serve their customers better, and you’ll all have a better experience.

For most of us, our only link to a company is through it’s customer service representatives: Whomever we talk to represents the entire corporation. My view of the service provider I mentioned above is that, with the exception of the senior executive I cried out to and the supervisor who responded honestly to me, everyone is incompetent and unengaged and couldn’t care less whether I have a problem with their service or not. They’re just doing their job… or are they?

Have a great week!


Kathleen Doyle-White
Pathfinders Coaching
(503) 296-9249

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