Robots don't care, either

Systems don’t care

by Rich · 1 comment

Systems don't care. People do.

Ergo, can you really called any form of systematized support “customer care”?

I guess the answer largely depends on the points of human intervention within that system – the initiative taken by the person wearing the headset, following the on-screen prompts and handling your enquiry.

I’ve spent the last six months engaged in a near-daily dialog (read: “battle”) with my ISP , trying to get them to deliver something *close* to what I’m entitled to.

That’s right – I’ve just been trying to get them to deliver the service I’m already paying for.

Along the way, obvious frustrations aside, I’ve come to really understand the limitations of a systematized process. You all know the sorts of process I’m referring to here… the ones we regularly encounter when we call our banks, electrical goods retailers, telecoms providers and pretty much any other large organization out there.

What strikes me is how truly offensive the process can be to a customer that realizes they’re being read to, from a screen, by someone who actually couldn’t care less about you as a customer.

Its true… Their metrics are ‘calls handled’ and perhaps ‘post-call survey scores’. Their motivation is certainly not whether or not they actually solved the problem you’re having.

My typical calls run something along these lines:

1. Call the support line and make several menu option selections.

2. Hold for 5 minutes or so.

3. While holding, listen to a message telling me that I am going to have to wait a while, and that I might like to go check out the website instead.

4. Continue holding for another 5 minutes or so (I’m not sure, but I can almost detect the faint strains of “we told you so… we told you so…” looping subtly behind the electronic Greensleeves as I wait, and wait).

5. Finally, I get connected to front-line technical support. Let the fun begin!

6. Spend a few minutes explaining what the problem is (for the 37th time) to get the operator up to speed. Actually, maybe I need to script this part. Face their system with my own!

7. Spend 10 minutes arguing that just because their screen tells them I need to work through 18 irrelevant systems/hardware checks (to rule out everything they possibly can) there’s no point – I’ve already done this every other time I’ve called, in the past. It didn’t solve the problem then and so logic would suggest it won’t this time, either.

8. Eventually, patience wearing thin, ask to speak to someone in ‘level 2′ tech support. To which the reply is usually “sorry, I can only escalate after I’ve run a 48-hour series of line speed tests”.

9. Short-cut the process by asking to speak to cancellations department (Top Tip: cancellation departments often have the remit to escalate faster, in my experience, to try and save your custom).

10. Regale my woes to cancellations department rep who pretends to care. I say ‘pretends’, because every time I get through to this department I get the same ‘oh no… I’m so sorry to hear that..” script.

11. Cancellation rep transfers my call to level 2 support.

12. Hold for up to 10 more minutes.

13. Speak to level 2 technician, who starts the call by asking me for my telephone number, my name and other ‘useful information’ before they will help. Then asks me what the problem is (remember: I’ve already been through the problem twice at this point).

14. Recount the problem for a third time, and ask technician how I can resolve my problem.

15. Now, here’s where it gets exciting – depending on who I’m talking to, and which branch of the systematized responses I’ve invoked up to now, I could get anything here from “sorry, there’s nothing wrong with our system” (i.e. they obviously think flat denial works), through “it’s your telephone service provider’s problem” (that’s called ‘throwing the monkey off your back’) to “are you sure it’s not a problem with your own equipment?”.

Without exception, these reponses all fail to appreciate the fact that I’VE BEEN THROUGH ALL THIS STUFF BEFORE. There’s no continuity throughout the system, between the departments within it and between my seperate calls.

16. Eventually, having lost the will to continue, I’ll invariably accept their ‘best-guess’ and go along with their suggestions du jour. Often they’ll book an engineer, escalate the call to someone else, or ask me to ‘wait a few hours and see what happens’ – my own personal favorite.

And… breathe, Rich.

The problems with a systematized approach

i) Systems just don’t ‘care’. They’re entirely focused on moving you as quickly as possibe from point A to point B, and preferably with as little fuss and bother as possible.

ii) They’re of intrinsically limited scope. Present anything ‘out of the ordinary’ to a badly-designed system and it will simply curl up in a little ball and/or melt-down, throwing out irrelevant responses at you all day long.

iii) Companies mistakenly believe systems are ‘smart’, and so (in the pursuit of net cost savings) they figure they can get away with employing inexpensive operators who struggle to communicate effectively with callers.

And, perhaps most incredible of all, they genuinely believe that in the long run, operating a system like the one described above will actually save the company money. (Note: the business case surely must be costs, as it surely isn’t quality of service).

iv) Large, multi-department systems often get ‘disconnected’. There’s not enough flow of information between reps/departments.

v) There’s no ownership. Large, disconnected systems allow their operators to devolve themselves of all responsibility. If the operator simply keeps his/her head down, reads off the screen and ‘doesn’t get involved’ then it remains the system’s fault if the customer walks.

Now, I didn’t intend to rant in this post, and I hope I’ve presented some useful food for thought because what’s here in this post actually applies to all of us.

Especially those of us doing business online and making use of our own (smaller-scale) systems: Help desks, E-mail systems, Shopping carts and so on.

All these systems interface with customers, and so all have the opportunity to make a positive or negative impression.

How regularly do you revisit the points of contact: the confirmation mails that get sent, the auto-responses, the web page copy your customers read?

These systems also have a tendency to be overly-relied upon. And this is perhaps the key take-away.

Just because you have a ticket system with SLAs built in, flags and reports, just because your emails get sent automatically the second someone submits a ticket… none of that means you can absolve yourself of the responsibility of solving your customers’ problems.

You still need to:

Take ownership (or empower your team to take ownership).

Establish customer service metrics that matter. Was the problem solved? Was it solved professionally and courteously? Would you recommend our customer support to your friends?

And whatever you do, don’t rely on a system that is phyiscally incapable of caring to handle your customer care.

Do you use systems in your online business?

How do you feel they perform?

Thoughts in the comments!


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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

John Rowney December 21, 2011 at 11:00 pm

Spot On Richard.

We have all been there. Generally – if India is the call centre in question, I do in fairness find the staff very polite. The problem is – I have great difficulty some times understanding the dialect [two way this one as I am a Scot] so the conversation can be a difficult one.

What screws me the most is the pedantic choreographed nature of the call handling. [In my case BT Infinity] Like you stated… you wait for ages. to be processed by the first level Walmart style Greeter person….You give them all the info needed chapter and verse… then 10 minutes later you are passed on to another dept, only to have to repeat the whole damn lot all over again. [I would have thought they would have had real time synchronised screens to be able to read what had been recorded by the doorman.
I am old enough Richard to remember the days when I could actually talk to a guy in our local Chesterfield Exchange when I had an issue. He would get off his arse and walk down to the rack in question and help solve the problem there and then. Now I am told the exchange it is almost automatic with only a handful of guys at the sharp end, and one has no choice but to speak to someone on an another continent.

Having been in sales and Marketing all my life [now retired from the day job] I find it difficult to understand Richard why companies spend multi millions of pounds advertising to attract new customers and then when you are in the fold, give the impression that customer care is a low priority. MADNESS is the word that springs to mind.

Whilst on this wee rant, I feel the same about Ryanair who my wife and I have flown with many times over the years. They have the youngest fleet of aircraft, [avg age 3.5yrs] the fares are still very competitive, and theyas you well know …….reach parts where other can’t. However it is the blatant way they try to shaft you with less than transparent add-ons and total indifference to customer care, that defies business logic to me. I would happily now pay an extra £20/30 a ticket on a route to be processed by an airline committed to looking after the customer. In the last 12 months where we had a choice my wife and myself deliberately bypassed our Irish friends and flown with Jet2 to Majorca and Pisa [Our only slight worry Richard is that the average age of their crates is 22 YEARS!! [My son in law is an Licensed Aircraft fitter and he reverently refers to their aircraft as "As bags of nails" Mind you they must be air worthy nails otherwise the planes would remain on thr ground.

Good luck with you new venture [is it farming or website]? – I’m sure your good West Yorkshire friends will miss you

All the best for 2012


John Rowney


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