Defining Customer Service: Some Examples – Shifting the Paradigms

Gitomer’s, “Customer Service is Worthless: Customer Loyalty is Priceless (1998),” customer service has changed in ways that motivate me to investigate, cheer when found, and when negatives are experienced I want to help fix the problems. Several books and research papers in my library confirm every point Gitomer makes; thus, the following four interactions are compared to Gitomer’s text to supply solutions that can be benchmarked as Gitomer is much easier to read. The intent of this article is to power enthusiasm for change in how customer service is found and improved to inspire customer loyalty.

The Chase bank app delivered an error that made no sense. I called the “Mobile Banking Line,” and then was transferred to another department with “tech-savvy people who could assist me further.” Those representatives were not only unable to aid, but they also could not understand the problem as described, and offered a “local branch.” Upon learning that I lived 264 miles to the nearest Chase bank branch in El Paso, Texas, the representative had no other solution, offered no additional explanation, and for being a senior, tech-savvy representative, was less useful than the first representative I spoke with. Thus, I drove the four hours to El Paso, to be at the Chase Bank branch by opening. Not only was the teller having difficulty performing the transaction, the Chase Bank “Customer Service Star” desktop guide posted where I could see and evaluate performance. I was correctly greeted, in the standard big bank demanded-greeting that means nothing and has no humanity, good-job. Everything after that went downhill. When the teller was told that the El Paso branch is the “local” branch for Albuquerque, NM., there was no response. Eventually, the transaction was finally completed, and I was offered a big corporate bank, no humanity farewell, good-job. For a transaction that I can normally complete on my phone, to take 25-minutes in the branch, after a four-hour drive, you would think the teller would have cared, responded, or simply had humanity.

Gitomer offers several suggestions that a customer needs; I offer the most critical customer need, “Response!” When the customer begins a conversation about having to drive from another state to your location, respond. Show an attitude of gratitude, express amazement, ask about the trip, but to ignore the customer and only focus on the transaction, I could have stayed in Albuquerque and gotten that response from the telephone line. Gitomer claims the best customer variable is loyalty. Washington Mutual was my bank; I was loyal from the first thing in the morning to the last thing at night, I told everyone to change to Washington Mutual. Chase acquired Washington Mutual during the banking crisis, and I have been provided a reason to be loyal to Chase to date. I have not been presented a reason to enjoy banking with Chase. Why; because every transaction is ruled by the corporate thinking and inflexibility of big banks who consider themselves “Too big to fail.” Well, lose some more customers, keep ignoring the customers you still have, and another merger to an even bigger corporate bank will be the future.

AT&T, there are several issues in the following story of recent customer service. Frequent readers of my articles will see a common trend, training. Here is another matter where training wins customers. February, I called AT&T looking for a solution; I got a larger price plan and thought all is well. March, I am introduced to the mouse print and discover that “Unlimited Data” has several limits; who knew, obviously not the AT&T telephone representative, or the online Chat representative, I had to visit a local store for an explanation. April more calls to the telephone line, more guesses to close the call. Another visit to the local store for help. Like the shampoo bottle’s instructions, “Wash, Rinse, Repeat” May, June, July, and August will see me going into the local store again on Monday. I promise, my trips to the store are not because I am finding customer service, especially since I must keep dodging sales to get questions answered. AT&T, what is your company training philosophy, procedures, and strategical and tactical reasons for conducting employee training? The current results are not satisfactory, and that problem is not improving.

Gitomer discusses how converted employees become loyal employees. I was a converted and loyal customer to Cingular Wireless, which was bought by AT&T. I was a converted customer of Alltel, which was merged into Verizon and AT&T. I was converted to these companies for the service, clarity, and the lack of mouse-print conditions that the employees do not even know or can explain. Banking and Cellphones have something in common, the product is remarkably similar, and the service provided by employees is the only separating variable between your company and your competition. Chase, AT&T, where is the employee training on distinguishing service and building customer loyalty?

“#6 WOW! Variable: Truthful – Customers want the truth! The customer will find out eventually, so you may as well start with the truth – [especially] if [the truth] hurts” (Gitomer, 1998, p. 97; emphasis mine). AT&T, please heed! Chase, you might want to have the same conversation in your call center as well. When customers start with the telephone line looking for information and receive a lie, you are building a customer event that will cost your company customers! Lying loses customers; this equation should be the number one discussion with every employee. I have spent hours on the phone receiving one piece of information, only to walk into the AT&T store and get handed more mouse print. Thus, when training, emphasize the need for clear, concise, truth; served openly and with conviction.

Like many US Military Veterans, I am regularly stuck between two bureaucracies in dealing with the Veterans Administration. However, there is nothing more frustrating than getting the same issues in non-government health administrations. Corporate medicine began in the late 1980s in America, and since then community hospitals have become giant behemoths where bureaucracies reign.  These establishments have yet to understand they must pay attention to the customer/patient, not the insurance company, and indeed not the voices in their heads. Hospital directors, leaders, and providers, what do you do when a patient/customer walks in with cash and asks for service? I walked into the University of New Mexico, Orthopedics Department, plopped $2000.00 in cash down and asked for 60-minutes of time with any provider who was available for a letter I need. Records were available, x-rays, MRI’s, and a host of data. The letter would take less than 60-minutes, and I do not know anyone who would turn down cash and a payday of $2000.00 for an hour or less of work. Yet, not only was I turned away by the bureaucracy, I was informed I would have to travel an hour to another location instead of where I was, because I had been treated there two-years prior. But, I would still not be able to obtain the letter I needed as the other department is neurology. To receive treatment at the specialist demanded by the VA bureaucracy, I must first find a primary care provider who would refer me to a specific provider in orthopedics, before I could finally discuss the potential to fill my need.

Gitomer talks about this principle. The customer does not care about your processes, procedures, policies, and propaganda. The customer cares about what they need, what they offer, and how to obtain what they need. When I called AT&T this week, the third person I spoke with started every answer with “I apologize.” The UNM representative did the same thing in refusing my money and their services. The UNM representative also pulled the “Let me check” run out the office, reappear, helpless, act, to attempt actually to be helpful. The same act is done by telephone representatives who place a customer on hold to “check with a supervisor.” The customer knows what you are doing, and I, for one, am not impressed! Gitomer emphasizes on this point, and if the apology does not come with a solution that gets the customer to what they need, the apology is an excuse that is lame, weak, and useless.

03 August 2019 email messages were sent to three Federally elected representatives of New Mexico, Congresswoman Debra Haaland (D), Senator Tom Udall (D), Senator Martin Heinrich (D). I asked them if they were interested or cared about the veterans in their districts and what is occurring in the Albuquerque VA Medical Center. Their silence testifies to their disregard to their constituents. Unfortunately, this treatment or abuse of their constituents is not limited to the few representatives from New Mexico. Friday, I received a boilerplate email response from Senator Tom Udall’s staff, auto signed, with wording that clearly claims, I do not care about you or your issue, leave me alone, and stop bothering me. As the sole respondent in three elected officials, as the customer, voter, and citizen, I am not pleased!

Each of the above situations breeds a question; “Why should I remain a customer, patient, voter?”

The solutions are clear:

  1. Train employees. Encourage employees to walk customers through different solutions using the truth mentally. Apologize only when you have a solution and mean you are sorry. False apologies are as useful as a blunt needle, you might get the job done, but you are going to drive yourself and everyone else crazy doing the job. Show why training is occurring. State the strategy, so the tactical actions requested make sense to those being trained.
  2. Respond to the customer. Active listening is only half the communication effort, forming proper responses means building upon what the customer said with your response. Failure to respond appropriately, and the customer situation is worsened for the next person to communicate with this customer.
  3. Gitomer asks the following question, “What will it take to end measuring ‘[customer] satisfaction’ in your business” (Gitomer, 1998, p. 257)? I guarantee that the answer to this question is going to cause significant angst in why and how you communicate with customers. I am fairly certain, the answer to this question is going to disrupt every communication channel’s operations and daily tactical actions requiring a review of operational strategy. Business leaders, do you dare to ask the question? Are you prepared for the answer?
  4. Gitomer, Chapter 16 (p. 234-248) details change and how to make the change effective in your operations. The 10.5 points are useful, but what comes next is the best plan for moving forward successfully.

Leading to the final question:

“What will you do now?”

 

Reference

Gitomer, J. (1998). Customer Satisfaction is Worthless, Customer Loyalty is Priceless: How to Make Customers Love You, Keep Them Coming Back and Tell Everyone They Know. Atlanta, GA: Bard Press.

 

© 2019 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

The images used herein were obtained in the public domain, this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

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VITarSS – Follow Up On Communicating

Program Note: On my blog, I follow a strict rule, “Praise in Public, reprimand in private.” Thus, the organization in this example remains unidentified. While I believe in the public shaming of individuals to promote improved societal actions, reprimanding in public remains very unprofessional in my opinion. The organization mentioned knows about this blog and is provided the opportunity to review this post before posting. If a response ever comes forth, I will post, after sufficient scrubbing, the business response.

Disclaimer: I am heavily invested in the discussed organization and a full separation from this organization is not possible for personal and professional reasons. Thus, when discussing organizational concerns, organizational change, and organizational dilemmas, these problems are significant and personal to my future professionally. The continuing struggles of this organization are difficult to observe and many lessons on managers acting like leaders are being poignantly taught to other businesses.

It has been a sad experience to receive additional communications from a company I used to do a lot of business with, sad, because the organization refuses to provide even a modicum of customer service in all the communications received. With an eye to following up on how to use VITarSS to promote customer loyalty building experiences, the following provides a clear example. From the last emailed communication received from the organization comes the following that while technically and legally accurate lacks customer attention and does not employ VITarSS more specifically. The company recently adopted the program “Service of Excellence,” and this email, along with all the communication from this organization, lacks excellence along with short changing service. The email response was received after nine-days from the original submission requesting further assistance. No phone calls, no personal response, simply a rushed and hurried email message quoted directly:

“Thank you for taking the time to outline your concerns.  We are in receipt of your email.

We are reviewing this matter and conducting research into your file to address any new concerns that have not previously been addressed by our office.

We understand the urgency of this matter and will follow up with you expeditiously [sic].”

Notice the inflection upon “new” concerns. This suggests that previous concerns are not valid and only “new” concerns are important enough to generate a response. Instead of taking all the communications, all the concerns, and wrapping them together into an actionable item, only “new” concerns receive organizational attention. This is an intentional organizational action that automatically discounts previous concerns raised, dismisses the organization-wide problems detailed in previous communications, and narrows the focus of the intended future organizational response into a negligible sized portion. Think “water off a duck’s back” when considering the company response plans to discount the customer’s concerns. By breaking down the report of problems, the problems are easier to dispel and slides off into areas of non-importance, like water sliding off a duck’s back.

Failure to communicate remains a culture in this organization from internal customer relationships to external customer relationships. Communicating properly hinders operations and abilities, stifles creativity, thwarts organizational change, and destroys morale for both the customer and the front-line workers. Employees on the front-line do not seem to have much problems communicating with their equals, but from front line worker to front-line supervisor, communication trouble ensues. Front-line supervisor to director, more communication troubles become apparent, and fissures between these parties are obvious enough that external customers are aware of the problems. When communications go up the hierarchy, communication breaks down dramatically. Downward communications always delivered via email, conference call, and marketing schemes, with employee adherence, compliance, and understanding measured in statistics. The voice of internal customers is lost, intentionally glazed over, and drowned into silence controlled by layers of managers seeking to hold onto power.

VITarSS communications are primarily valuable to the audience, imaginatively communicate ideas, and target a specified audience, providing specifics and significance to the intended audience. Below is what the same passage quoted above, would look like with VITarSS:

Thank you for taking the time to outline your concerns. These concerns are important to us as a company and me personally, and we appreciate every opportunity to correct deficiencies.

We are reviewing this matter and conducting research into your customer file. Our customer response will address your specific concerns, and I will report to you promptly with the research results, along with a suggested plan of action to move forward.

I understand the urgency of this matter and it is my pleasure to follow up with you in a timely manner.

The difference is clear. By maintaining a customer first focus, the customer can then expect a proper response from the organization. Employing VITarSS promotes customer first communications, aids in communicating action, and delivers the power of communication in a two-directional manner. Significance of the customer’s concerns becomes important to the organization, and the entire response declares intent to act. Where in the first communication did any of this occur? The reason for failure continues to be simple; failure to communicate is creating organizational cancer leading to organizational suicide.

While VITarSS does help improve communication and can change the communication culture, VITarSS does not and cannot be the Band-Aid fixing deep organizational communication cancers. VITarSS simply begins to help change the culture, aids in improving the thoughts of individuals where communicating is concerned, and provides a standardized measuring device to bring all employees to the same standard in organizational communication. Dandira (2012) makes clear, poor communication is the root cause of organizational cancer. By failing to communicate, refusing to honor the agreement between external customer and the organization, open honest dialogue, and respect the customer, the organizational cancer has spread and metastasized into a massive and urgent problem that only the surgery and chemotherapy of solid leadership can fix. The failure to communicate with the external customer displays the organizational cancer and portrays information that the organization would rather not have seen by the external customers, vendors, investors, etc. Unlike most cancer situations, this cancer was self-inflicted.

Ten days from the original communication, the response received was nothing short of ambiguous, placed the organization into a favorable position, and denied all concerns raised by the customer. In total, 19-days were spent on an issue of organizational incompetence where the organization, through the customer service arm, failed to act, failed to communicate, and failed to even address the customer concerns.

By focusing upon several small items in the three-page original letter, the organization is justifying their actions while discounting the source, e.g. the customer making the claims of organizational impropriety. Please note there is no accusation of illegal or illicit actions. The actions taken by the company are technically within the law, but are not customer focused, do not satisfy customer service relationships, and allows the problems to be discounted instead of addressed and fixed. Again, organizational cancer grew instead of being faced squarely and a fix launched.

When organizational communication problems mix with managerial micro-networks, organizational change opportunities diminish significantly. Through micro-networking, managers gain power inside the organization and become the problem detailed as organizational cancer. Trouble in organizational communication identifies where organizational problems lie and provides leadership the opportunity to work on organizational change. A failure of leadership adds power to the micro networks established by these managers, who see change as a threat to their personal power base. Thus, true organizational change that entails correcting adverse culture and environmental problems stagnate. The leaders become frustrated and leave the organization. All these symptoms represent pieces of the root cause failure in organizational communications.

Grammar remains important in every communication between a customer and an organization. Proper formatting, knowledge between when to send a business letter or a business memo, and the differences in communication formats aid to combine to communicate more effectively. The original communication as a rushed and hurried email message and is not grammatically correct intensifies the organizational communication problem and the external customer frustration. Worse, the poor grammar sets the professional tone of the organization as one that will not address the customer’s concerns.

Grammar is a force multiplier in written communication, just as tone of voice is a communication multiplier in verbal communication, and clothing is a communication force multiplier in non-verbal visual communication. Proper grammar provides the opportunity to focus upon the written words without automatically discounting the sender.

Recently an email received from an associate was missing all punctuation, spelling was non-existent, and the email was mostly gibberish written from a smart phone. Natural human instinct is to delete the email or send a crushing reply. Hence, the continued importance in written communication of the sender’s grammar, time investment in editing, and the proper use of language, format, and style to communicate well. All of which VITarSS has the power to improve in all types and forms of communication.

Reference

Dandira, M. (2012). Dysfunctional leadership: Organizational cancer. Business Strategy Series, 13(4), 187-192. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/17515631211246267

© 2016 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved