Why Should Your Customers Remain Customers?

Bobblehead DollMy wife is mad at me; I was relating an email survey experience where a financial institution had sent me a customer service survey.  I described the truth, I have no reason to remain a customer and feel less than enthused at remaining a customer.  My wife fearing I had been insulting, derogatory, or denigrating, got mad at me.  I explained my position and how I had answered the rote questions, and she is still not happy.  But, her position and my position bring up an interesting point, centered around the following question, “Why should a customer remain a customer?”

Use My Name!

Daily I receive programmed emails from multiple companies.  Do you know how I pick the ones I want to do business with?  They know my preferred name and use it!  What an incredible concept; since the early 1990s, we have had the technology to put in names, create mailing lists, and use people’s preferred names, and businesses still struggle with this concept.  Why?

LookI have several titles, want my business, know and use my titles.  Pick one, and use it!  How can a company claim they “know their customers” when that company cannot use the customer’s preferred name or title in addressing that customer?  I have worked hard to earn a Ph.D.; I do not expect everyone to call me “Dr.,” but it sure as anything beats being called “mister” all the bloody time.  Worse, I still hold several ranks and positions that come with titles. I could be addressed using them, but even with a preferred name on many company customer profiles, I get that lazy customer service representative that calls me Mr. Salisbury!  Guess what company I am going to ditch at the first opportunity?Shhh----Don--t-Say-A-Thing--Just-Listen--Don--t-Talk.jpg (500×273) | The beauty and danger of ...

On the topic of names, if I say, “everyone calls me Dave,” and you continue to call me “Michael,” “Mike,” or “Mr. Salisbury,” you are either not listening, or your company has the worst policies for addressing customers.  Guess what company I will end my business relationship with post-haste?  I have given permission to use a preferred name, use my name.  Listen to me!

Listen!

Job Interview Cartoons ~ Silly BuntActive listening can be faked!  Customer service agents, I know active listening can be manufactured, I have been a customer service agent, I know your stress, I know your job, and I know your problems.  Thus, to your bosses, I appeal; stop the active listening drama!  If you are not stressing reflective listening to your employees, where they and the customer reach a mutual understanding, you are not doing your job leading customer relations!

My wife claims that conclusion is “Too harsh.”  I disagree vociferously.  Here’s why!  Remember how I just related how I had informed customer service agents, “everyone calls me Dave,” and the agent continued to call me everything but my preferred name.  Failure to listen remains the number one customer complaint for a reason; the agents are not listening to reach a mutual understanding.  Too often, they are not even attempting to listen actively but are listening to respond, responding to the voices in their heads and not the customer!Joke of the Day | Joke of the day, Funny quotes, Single words

Do you want better customer survey responses; try listening, then acting, then listening again.  Not speaking; listening, acting, listening, acting; it’s a pattern worth doing!  Yet, too often, what is the pattern found, maybe listening, speaking, maybe listening, token action, maybe listening, half-hearted action.  Wait for the customer to become frustrated and go away.  Guess which company I am going to be ending my business relationship with quickly?

Respond!

AP 20.96 Short-Answer Questions (SAQ) - Bello's Reference Page - Use GOOGLE CLASSROOM for all ...I have four companies who I have informed (several times) I no longer can do business with them.  They continue to send me emails asking for my business for old properties and cars I no longer possess.  Listening is but half the answer; you must also respond with definitive action.  How many times does a customer have to relate to your business they have moved?  I did business with a windshield repair company in Phoenix, AZ.  Good company, good service, but for the next three years, I received calls from them monthly, and I had moved out of their service area.  They were told this month after month, I was promised month after month this was the final call, and month after month, I received another call.  Guess whose recommendation I deleted online?

People ProcessesBusiness processes matter; honoring your word matters, displaying trust, integrity, and fulfilling a promise made all matters in the customer relationship long before the product or service is discussed.  Yet, how often are these issues on shaky ground, before the ink is dry on the service contract or the receipt for goods?  I have a cell phone provider I detest; I long for the day I can finally walk free of this provider and never look back.  Because their customer attention is deplorable, I feel used and abused every time I interact with this company.  I have the same problem with my current Internet provider.  When your customer service is so deplorable, you have to climb to become terrible; there is a problem that colors, signage, marketing, and gimmicks cannot fix!

Why Would I gladly Pay a Higher Price; Service!

Skillet Mac and Cheese with Crispy Breadcrumbs Recipe - Southern LivingI was in the supermarket, my wife asked for a treat.  To her, a treat is a bowl of deli mac & cheese, potato salad, or a bag of potato chips.  As I was in the deli and they had her mac & cheese, I bought mac & cheese.  My wife was shocked, I paid, what to her was an exorbitant price for the mac & cheese, but I was glad to pay the price.  The counter worker wrapped the mac & cheese package in plastic wrap to protect it from spilling, was pleasant, remembered me from a previous visit, and made my day.  The service was well worth the extra cost.

I kept going back to this store, making purchases long after this deli person was transferred to another store closer to their home because the service level did not go down.  Thus, I remained satisfied to pay extra for the service I received.  Walking on a cane, with labored breathing, and having a service representative walk with me, not ahead of me, so I feel like I have to race, is a significant service I would gladly pay more for.  I felt respected and remembered from visit to visit, even if I was sporadic in visiting for over a month.2mm to Sales Mastery | Customer Obsession: Creating "Wow" Moments That Leave a Lasting Impression

Long before the product or service costs are discussed is the customer experience.  If the customer experience fails, you can have the coolest products and the best access to services and fail because you forget the customer experience!  Getting back to the financial survey I just completed, it was full of Likert-style scale questions.  If your company employs a Likert question on a survey, you need a follow-up self-directed qualitative question to explain directly after.

Likert-Style Surveys

Likert-style questions are a quantitative researcher’s bread and butter, showing the relationships between agreement and disagreement on a broad scale.  Generally, on a scale of 1-10, these questions and scales have come to be represented by emojis, colors, statements, and more as technology has advanced.Top 10 Likert Scale Examples for your next survey! | QuestionPro

I completed 15 Likert-styled questions before I was asked why I rated the company as “Neither liked or disliked, neither favorable nor unfavorable.”  Okay, so quantitative data is easier and less expensive to collect, collate, and report.  But, if your customer survey is only collecting qualitative or quantitative data, you are only collecting half the story and none of the customer experiences!  However, you cannot simply ask ½ the questions qualitative and ½ the questions quantitative and expect anything but GIGO.  Careful planning is key to customer survey results worth your time and the customers time!Likert scale questions, survey and examples | QuestionPro

A customer satisfaction survey should first be an instrument of dedicated action!  Where your best and brightest in customer relations work to analyze, report, and propose efforts to satisfy the customers.  They investigate survey findings.  They respond to survey questions and concerns, address real people, and produce tangible results.eCommerce Customer Surveys | An Ultimate Guide 2021

A customer satisfaction survey is not the time, nor the place, for cute emojis and colorful pictures depicting customer attitudes.  Can the customer survey be more than black and white; naturally.  Remember that the customer survey is not where you go to flash and spin; this is where the customer goes, tells the truth, and expects action, not to be played with.  If the customer takes the time to complete a survey, there is a reason, find the cause, know the customer, and win.

Knowledge Check!These are but three basics, fundamental points at the start of the customer relations journey.  If you cannot get these three points right, the rest of the trip will be short, painful, and not fulfilling for you or your customers.  Worse, the experiences will be remembered, and people have this nasty habit of not forgetting bad experiences.  Why do the majority of people despise the DMV; because the majority of customers have experienced the most frustrating issues of their professional lives at the hands of the DMV agents.  Governments abuse their customers, which is as bad as customer interactions get, and everyone feels betrayed when the government and bureaucrats use them.

You are in the private sector; you have competition; your first question daily should be, “Why should my customers remain, my customers?”  When you answer this question, your customers will hear the answer loud and clear!

© 2021 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.

Customer Service Agent Abuse – Customer Service Begins with Customers

Angry Wet ChickenPlease note, I am not the best person to be around when my “cherub-like demeanor” dissipates.  I continue to invest time and energy in preparation and in unhooking emotion from knee-jerk responses to provide a better customer experience for those I connect with.  I am not perfect; I am not trying to give advice that I am not trying to implement every day, in every situation.  I have read story after story about “how to handle difficult customers,” “how to provide excellence in difficult customer situations,” and I have read the nightmarish tales of agents not allowed to control a call.

While I am a subject matter expert on customer service, customer relations, and customer attentiveness, I miss my high standards often.  I am not bragging; I hate delivering less than exceptional customer service.  I have been a difficult customer when I do not understand, and nobody is willing to explain.  I fall into many of the same traps I work to avoid and appreciate customer service agents who will see through the barbs and help me understand.  When discussing customer agent abuse, I am a bit of a bear when someone makes my people cry and feel there are solutions to challenging customers that do not require ending the transaction.  However, I will not tolerate abuse of customers or customer service agents, ever!

Angry Grizzly BearBack in the 1990s, when I started at a call center on Friday, there were no locks, no badges, no traffic control, and minimal security presence.  Monday morning, we had badges, electronic key cards, traffic control security points, and a host of new security measures.  Why; because a customer showed up at an agent’s cubicle, he had stalked this employee for months, and the only thing saving this person’s life was that she went into labor that morning.  Her stalker showed up with a shotgun and a dozen roses.  While not perfect at controlling my responses, I can clarify and support customer service agents against abuse.

What is Customer Agent Abuse?

Customer agent abuse is any actions conducted over a phone that would not be tolerated in person.  For example, only in the US Navy was going toe-to-toe with another person, threatening bodily harm, and using the foulest of language acceptable behavior.  Even in the US Navy, this behavior was only “tolerated” if you outranked the person you were hollering at, which made no sense during my time in service and even less sense now.  Customer agent abuse includes threats to personal property, life, or family.  Customer agent abuse includes making personal derogatory remarks.

Exclamation MarkWhile some may add or subtract to this list of agent abuses, I prefer simplicity.  Thus, I repeat, only for emphasis, if the behavior is not tolerated in front of a police officer, that is customer agent abuse, and should not be accepted.  Is speaking loudly customer agent abuse; probably not.  However, the situationality of defining customer agent abuse is such that professionals will need clear and specific directions.  Let us clarify a few topics.

What is a Customer?

A customer is anyone asking for assistance.  That is the entire definition, and when we understand this definition, our whole mindset and attitude swings from “customer service is someone else’s job” to “how may I assist you today?”

Who is a Customer Agent?

Knowledge Check!A customer agent is anyone able to provide the assistance being sought.  Will you be the one today to provide the service needed?  Do you realize this is a choice made every time you engage another person?

Reality Check

Would you ever see your family as customers; why?  Do you think those definitions are too simplistic; honestly, when you think about it, no.  Your fellow employees are your first customers.  Your leaders are your first customers.  Then come vendors and shareholders and external customers.  I have never agreed with separating internal and external customers.  Some try to claim an external customer pays the bills.  Sure, but without your team of employees, there are no products or services to sell.

cropped-bird-of-prey.jpgA business owner once told me that this method of thinking was as valuable as arguing about what came first, the chicken or the egg.  Yet, before you can grow into a small business, you must provide a service or good for purchase.  Hence the most essential customer is your fellow employees, and failing to understand this simple fact, breeds an Us vs. Them mentality in employee and customer relations.  Worse, this aggressive attitude only grows as the business grows and is heard by your customers in every transaction!

Customer Agent Abuse

Tell me, as a business leader, would you allow an employee to scream, swear, act belligerently, and raise their voices to another employee?  If the answer is no, why do you allow any other customer to act similarly?  I have worked in many different call centers, I have had my share of abusive customer calls.  I have suffered the slings and arrows of contempt from fellow employees and customers in hostile work environments.  I have been physically assaulted, threatened, sexually harassed, and more in professional settings, including call centers.  So, why do we allow customer abuse?

QuestionWhat is driving business leaders to excuse irrational and detestably unprofessional behavior by customers?  Honest question, if we would not tolerate behavior in person, why is it allowed over the phone?  Why is the customer agent taking the brunt of the abuse when we all know the problem originates much higher than the agent you are talking to.  Customer service, customer appreciation, customer attentiveness, customer relations, customer retention, etc., all circle around the customer culture bred into the business from its days as a small business.  Worse, the leader’s approach to customer service is felt and observed by agents all over the company and soon will imitate that leader’s attitude and behaviors.

I have led teams where my agents were reduced to tears from the verbal harassment.  When I discovered this, I pulled the quality records and calls, documented everything, and exercised my right to refuse service.  Yes, I invited customers to leave employment and my company without batting an eyelash or caring a single bit.  Nobody deserves to be harassed, sworn at, screamed at, or belittled, all in the name of “customer service.”  Customer agent abuse is a failure of leadership!

Ending Customer Agent Abuse

cropped-tools.jpgSome of what I am proposing will be anathema to your organization; I realize this.  I understand that some of what I propose will be hard to implement, face tremendous pushback, and might cause some organizational design changes.  All of what I am about to suggest is achievable through leadership and customer service.

      1. If employees cannot abuse each other, then neither can anyone else!
            • Invite those who swear to call back when they are more emotionally under control. End the call, end the transaction, make notes.
            • Invite those who habitually abuse to stop being customers or employees.
            • Make notes, keep documentation, and refer to legal if additional problems arise.
            • Make your policy known to your customers, all of your customers.
            • Set high standards of behavior and train to meet those standards.
      2. Revise business policies.
            • Listen to the transactions.
            • Make notes on pain points and process problems that irritate customers, and then dedicate yourself to fixing those pain points.
            • Enter the customer transaction with the intent to act!
            • Listen… Listen… Listen… verify what was said; listen some more.
            • Appreciative inquiry, learn it, love it, live it! Your customers know where and who the problems are.  Repeat as often as needed to ensure understanding, then take prompt action!
      3. Write cohesive and clearly understood policies.
            • Train to the policies.
            • Adjust the policies as needed.
            • Revisit policies every 12-months for applicability.
            • Revise policies as needed to meet customer expectations.
            • Set high standards and train customers to meet those standards.
            • Use rewards for improving customer interaction and transactions.
            • Not all rewards cost money!
      4. Embrace Change
            • Many claim they already do this, but they secretly refuse to change and act opposite to any change that threatens their power source. Eliminate that customer!
            • Change requires courage, tenacity, and imagination. All of which become available when appreciative inquiry becomes a principle for achieving excellence!
            • Set shelf-lives for processes, policies, and procedures.
            • Delegate to achieve new blood and new thinking on old topics.
            • Demand excellence, train for perfection and watch people achieve.
      5. Praise!
            • Honest, sincere, and regular praise will demonstrate an attitude of gratitude to your people, who will then pass along the praise to everyone else.
            • Observe people until you can even reprimand with praise.
            • Never criticize!
            • Never demean!
            • Never allow anyone to denigrate or deride your customers, and your customers will always be at your back.

Bobblehead DollIt does not matter whether your business is a manufacturer or a service provider; it does not matter if you are a non-profit or government agency; what matters is your customer.  Be the customer agent they deserve.  Admit fault, always understand that you cannot know everything, and asking questions is not an evil act.  You customers today are your customer agents tomorrow, and being a better customer is a job!

© 2021 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.

NO MORE BS: QT and LHI – Let’s Talk Customer Service

Thank you!For a long time, I have deeply respected QuickTrip (QT).  Their customer service is of such outstanding quality; even when their fuel is more expensive, I still prefer shopping at QT.  The people go out of their way to help you have a fantastic customer experience.  I have never had a rude employee, a poor customer interaction, or left with an unresolved problem.  I struggle with a cane and neurological issues and have had doors held open for me; cashiers have brought me my change, always a good experience at QT.  Thank you!

On the other end of the spectrum, you have the Department of Motor Vehicles, and they are joined by Logistics Health Incorporated (LHI).  I have had my share of detestable customer service experiences; I am a customer service subject matter expert and have been regularly published on customer service topics.  When I rate LHI as competing for the DMV for the worst possible customer service provider, LHI might even have the DMV shaded!Angry Wet Chicken

16 April 2021 – I enter LHI at 5333 N 7th St, Phoenix location; I am 35-minutes early to a 1200 appointment.  On 25 March 2021, the Gov. of Arizona stopped enforcing mandatory masking.  As a person with a documented medical condition where I struggle to breathe enough volume per breath and cannot physically wear a mask, I did not wear a mask to this appointment.  I was rudely asked to wear a mask by the receptionist.  I showed her my Dr.’s note about having breathing problems where I cannot wear a mask.  The receptionist, after making considerable noise, canceled my appointment as a no-show.  Guess who is not going to be paid for my mileage to and from the facility.

I went to my car, called LHI Customer Service number 866-933-8387; the representative tried calling the facility.  After several hold sessions, she told me she would find me a provider who would work with me on the mask issue to complete the VA Contracted Compensation and Pension Appointment.  I never heard back from this representative.

Angry Wet Chicken 27-10 days later, I receive a call to reschedule an appointment spending more than 2 hours talking to the representative, who finally schedules me an appointment with another non-LHI provider in Phoenix for 10 May 2021.  I received a call from that provider confirming I have an appointment.  Yet, a bait and switch occurred, and my appointment was then rescheduled for the same provider, same LHI facility, and I attended this appointment.

0750, 10 May 2021 – I arrive early for the 0800 appointments.  The receptionist is belligerent when I walk through the door about me not being seen without a mask.  She further stipulated that since I can talk, I can wear a mask, and nothing I say will change that “medical opinion.”  She eventually tells me to call customer service and have them call her to relate treatment instructions.  She refused me a supervisor and then proceeded to make a bunch of calls, often holding her iPhone in one hand and the office phone in another.

While on the phone with Emily at LHI, at 33:35, into my call with the LHI customer service center, the Phoenix Police arrive.  The receptionist had called 911 and claimed, “I have a disruptive patient, who refuses to follow directions, is swearing, and throwing things, and refuses to leave the building.”  Officer Pacheco Badge #11039, Report # 21-725905, and his partner arrive, speak with the receptionist, who repeats her claim, then they talk to me.Apathy

I report I have not used swear words.  I have not thrown anything.  I have not been told to vacate the premises.  I have a medical condition that precludes me from wearing a mask, and I cannot physically wear a mask.  I show the officers my Dr.’s note to this effect.  The officer then turns to another patient who happened to have come in after me, and he confirms to the officer everything I said.  The worst language that the receptionist can truthfully claim that was used at her was “belligerent” and “snowflake.”  I will own the fact I called her belligerent and a snowflake.

Angry Grizzly BearThe officers go back to the receptionist, who two other people have now joined, names unknown, wearing scrubs presumably from the treatment rooms in the back.  They then make several calls.  Then one of the people asks if I can wear a mask but not over my nose.  I explain it is a breathing volume problem I have, and any mask hinders my volume of air per breath and makes breathing difficult.  The people behind the desk are seriously unhappy that my breathing problem does not have a name, a disease, or some identifying characteristic: the receptionist, the officers, and the people from the back return to a hushed conversation.  I am still on the phone with Emily and on hold while Emily is trying to contact the site.quote-mans-inhumanity

Finally, a decision is made, would I wear a face shield.  I claimed I have offered to wear a face shield twice and been told, face mask or nothing by the receptionist.  A nurse practitioner finally agrees if I wear a face shield, she will see me.  She then spent the next two hours complaining about me being an hour late to the appointment, her “very full schedule,” and how we had to “get this done quickly.”

Then, the nurse practitioner proceeds to lecture me twice about getting the vaccination for COVID-19 and how if I had the vaccination, they would be more comfortable with me not wearing a mask.  At no time, in the first or second interactions with the receptionist, did anyone ask me if I had received the vaccination.  I then finally left with a lecture about not being “anti-vax.” How she had no symptoms or post-injection problems, and how since I already have breathing problems, my comorbidity meant I should be seriously considering getting the vaccine.VA 3

I am not “Anti-Vax!”  I want my questions answered before I get the vaccine.  I want truthful information from peer-reviewed resources that I can reference and discuss with my primary care provider, neurologist, podiatrist, and other specialists who help me manage my health.  I want to know about drug interactions and the vaccine.  I need to know how this will affect diabetes because the experiences of Indians who are diabetic have been horrible!

I have no idea if the nurse practitioner did her job or just wasted my time.  What I do know is that LHI is about 100% useless in their customer service!  Failure to keep promises is the number one reason why trust is built or shattered.  Failure to carry through with what you promise is the second most common reason why trust is Bird of Preydestroyed in customer service.  Face-to-face providers need to be looking for solutions, not actively looking to inconvenience the customer.  100% of the medical profession IS customer service.  How the provider approaches the customer (patient) is the number one factor in how that patient will respond to treatment.

LHI, if you decide to respond, I will indeed include your response in a follow-on article.  However, at this moment, you have scored with the DMV as the worst possible example of customer service, and I hope you learn fast to care for the patient better!  I am fed up with your treatment, and change is mandatory; immediately!

© 2021 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.

NO MORE BS: Government Customer Service

Duty 3As a subject matter expert on customer service, as a professional customer service provider, and as a concerned American, I have to state for the record, the government’s abuse of the taxpaying customer is beyond atrocious, ridiculous, and craven!  I am sick to death of being treated like cat vomit; when I seek customer support from the government, I pay such incredible sums to fund.  Worse, I am fed up with the bureaucratic mindset that places the customer in the wrong, the customer as a pain, and the customer as a nuisance to be endured instead of assisted professionally.

ProblemsMy local Post Office here in Phoenix was visited yesterday (03 March 2021).  The Post Office does not deliver packages to the apartment complex we live in, so the standard procedure is for the USPS delivery person (mailman) to place a card notifying the customer of a package on a 10-day hold in the customer’s mailbox.  Since we moved in, we have not gotten these indicators, and Monday, my wife was notified a package she needs was returned by USPS.  It was delivered Monday to the Post Office and returned to sender as “customer refused delivery” the same day.

I went to the Post Office seeking answers.  The counter-working postal representative was the epitome of rude, obnoxious, and downright unfriendly.  It took more than an hour for a supervisor to arrive, and upon discussing the problem, I was told, “Lots of your neighbors have been complaining about this issue.”  Are you kidding me?!?!?!  You have two 500+ Apartment complexes across the street from each other, multiple people from both complexes are complaining about package delivery failures, and with a smile, you can tell me this is a known issue.

Theres moreAsk yourself the following question, if you had upwards of 100 customers complaining about your work, how long would you remain employed?  Frankly, I am still stunned 24+ hours after the interaction with this supervisor.  My visit was the sixth time I had been to the Post Office complaining about not getting package notifications and having trouble with packages sitting around the post office taking up space.  One of these visits included speaking to the Post Office’s head, general, whatever, the top person in charge of a local post office is titled.  Still, the employee has maintained their job, kept the same route, and the customers continue to be abused.

After I wrote a formal complaint, I was assured that action would be taken, and the employee talked to about this oversight in their duties.  Seriously, that was exactly what the supervisor said, “the employee will be talked to.”  I understand the human resources processes, understand and have designed human resource processes, and possess a Doctor of Psychology title specializing in industrial and organizational psychology.  But, I do not know how 100+ complaints can arrive at the post office weekly, and the same mailman is only on their verbal reprimand for failure to perform their duties.  We have been complaining about this issue for a year now, and in speaking with several neighbors, they have been complaining for longer than a year about this failure.  I have some doubts that this issue will be resolved, ever!

Detective 4But hey, the Post Office is only one of the government agencies exhibiting a race to the bottom where customer abuse and customer disservice are concerned.  The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), a state-run agency, is always in this race, and they take hostile customer service to new heights, or depths, depending upon how you look at their performance.  The last visit to the DMV ended with screaming for several minutes in my car before possessing the proper mindset to drive away safely.  The DMV is comparable to a dentist drilling before anesthesia starts and doing a poor job on an infected tooth; you just know you will have a bad day when a visit to the DMV is scheduled!

Yet, in discussing the race to the bottom, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is also a constant competitor in asinine customer service practices, customer abuse, and inept inertia.  I do not think the VA could even get bureaucratic inertia correct if someone had not taught them how.  The Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) investigated a surgical supply program for abuses and found:

VA controls were not sufficient to ensure VA medical facility staff accurately reviewed, verified, or certified distribution fee invoices for the program. VA also did not ensure staff at medical facilities accurately established and applied the on-site representative rates and paid fees based on annual facility purchases. The pricing schedule establishes fee rates for on-site representatives based on annual facility purchase amounts.”

The amount of money involved is staggering ($4.6 Billion). The fact that the VA cannot correctly oversee a supply program, check invoices, monitor stock levels, and pay invoices properly does not bode well for integrity in customer service.

LinkedIn VA ImageThe VA is to be congratulated, the colonoscope, which is used on multiple patients for a colonoscopy, is being cleaned properly and to standard, which means that infections from one patient are less likely to occur in another patient transferred from the colonoscope.  However, the training program, certification program, and training documentation remain under considerable scrutiny for continual failure, as discovered by a VA-OIG investigation of 10 different clinics!  Training, certification of training, and documenting and tracking training are internal customer service actions that the entire VA continues to fail.  Whoever is in charge of adult education and training at the VA is not performing their jobs, and this is witnessed every couple of weeks in the VA-OIG investigation results across the entire VA.  Designed incompetence leading to customer service failures, absolutely ridiculous!

I-CareThe VA-OIG conducted a lengthy investigation at the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) Chicago VA Regional Benefits office in Illinois.

The OIG found claims processors did not properly correct administrative errors in 88 percent of cases reviewed. Errors resulted in improper underpayments of about $59,100 to six veterans, improper overpayments of $18,900 to two veterans, and $5,900 in debts VA had inappropriately collected from eight veterans through January 2020.”

Revisiting the Post Office example above, if you had an 88% error rate in your job, how long would you expect to keep your job?  Training and certification of claims processing personnel remains a failure of internal customer service and is mentioned in every VBA investigation by the VA-OIG.  As a point of fact, the failures of training and training certification were recently cited as a significant deficiency, where in 2018, no certification and training occurred due to internal technical problems with the intranet.  Yet, even with all this evidence that training is failing, certification is not occurring, and claims processors continue to abuse veterans through clerical, system, procedural, and process errors on claims, they maintain their positions.  Cited in this latest VBA investigation was the claims processors’ continual failure to communicate with the veteran.

Boris & NatashaConsider the following analogy.  A 100% disabled veteran gets paid once a month and budgets those monies very carefully to last the entire month.  A claims decision is made, and without any communication for why, the amount the veteran is expecting to live is cut in half.  The veteran is then responsible for wading through the various call centers to find why, how the decisions were made, and what to do, which takes time, lots, and lots of time on the phone.  While bills go unpaid, food goes unpurchased, financial difficulties mount, and correcting the situation takes more time.  Sure, the VA will pay back pay, but that is never sufficient to cover all the accruing costs and losses experienced.

Hostile customer service by the government is the most inexcusable example of customer disservice imaginable.  Why; because there is no competitor to move your business.  There are no pathways for holding customer service representatives accountable when even talking to a supervisor is not worth the time and effort.  I spent four hours on the phone chasing a claims processing error; at one point, I finally got so mad I demanded a supervisor.  I waited on hold for just under 120-minutes for the supervisor, who said had I worked better with the agent, I would not have had to wait, and the problem could have been resolved, as their opening statement!

Survived the VABy this time, I had worked with four separate agents who were confused or refused the call by hanging up.  I had been sworn at, I had been told I was a liar, and I was told my office could not handle your request.  Each call required anywhere between 30 and 50 minutes of hold time waiting for an agent.  As the supervisor reviewed the problem, they discovered that their agents could not have handled the situation, and a specialist was required.  But, I never got an apology from the supervisor for the waste of my time, the issues experienced with previous agents, nor the loss of my time and resources it took to handle the problem.

Gadsden FlagGovernment employees beware; how you treat customers is a problem, and you need to be held to task for your insolence, depravity, ineptitude, inertia, and uncaring attitudes!  When discussing the BS of government, the customer service issue is the most egregious.  I will call you out publicly every time you abuse a customer.  I am done being abused!

© 2021 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.

Customer Service Begins with Employees – Knowing the Paradigm

During the last 60 days, I have had the ability to see two different companies and their training programs up close and personal.  Both companies provide call center employees, and currently, both companies are employing a home shored or remote agent to conduct call center operations.  Neither company is handling remote agents very well; and, while both companies have excellent credentials for providing exterior customers with excellent customer service, both companies fail the first customer, the employee.

ProblemsCompany A thinks that games, contests, prizes, swag, and commissions adequately cover their inherent lack of customer service to employees.  Company B does not offer its employees any type of added compensation to its employees and treats their employees like cattle in a slaughterhouse yard.  Both companies talk an excellent game regarding treating their employees in a manner that promotes healthy exterior customer relations, but there is no substance, no action, no commitment to the employee.  Company B has an exceedingly high employee churn rate, and discounts that rate because of employees working from home and not being able to take the loneliness of an office atmosphere.  Company A has several large sites and is looking forward to having employees back on the call center campus.

When the conclusions for employee dissatisfaction were shared, the question was raised, “How does the leadership team know when the employees are not feeling served by their employer?”  The answer can be found in the same manner that the voice of the customer is found, mainly by asking the employees.  Neither company has an employee feedback process to capture the employee’s thoughts, ideas, feelings, and suggestions; relying solely upon the leadership team to provide these items.  Neither company overtly treats its employees poorly, Company A does have a mechanism to capture why employees leave the organization.  Company A was asked what they do with this information and refused to disclose, which is an acceptable answer.

Consider an example from Company A, a new hire has been in the hiring process since January, was informed they were hired around the first of April but was also told the next start date/new hire training class has not been scheduled due to COVID-19.  The employee is finally scheduled for a new hire class starting the first week of June.  Between the time of being hired and the start date, the employee begins taking classes Mon thru Fri, 1800-2100 (6:00pm to 9:pm).  The employee is scheduled to begin work at 1030 in the morning and work until 1900 (7:00pm).  The new hire asks for help with the schedule, the classes being taken will improve the employee’s skills upon graduation on the first of August.  Training is six weeks long, but the overlap is only 9 working days.  Company A’s response, either drop the classes or quit the job.

Internal-CS-Attitude-Low-ResThus, the attitude towards employee customer service is exposed to sunshine, and regardless of the games, prizes, food, swag, commissions, etc., the employee-customer service fails to keep highly talented employees.  This example is not new, and is not a one-off, unfortunately.  The example is regular business for employee treatment, and as the trainer stated, there are always more people for positions than positions open, so why should we change operations?  Since January Company A has been working unlimited overtime to fill the gap in open positions.

Company B informed all new hires that training is four-days long, and upon completion on the job training commences.  On day 3, training is extended to five days, on day 4 training is extended, and on Saturday, training is extended to a mandatory Sunday.  No excuses, no time off, no notice, and no reasonable accommodation is provided to make other accommodations for children, medical appointments, etc., and by the time Sunday arrives, the new hire class has already logged 60-hours in a week that began on Tuesday.  Several employees are unable to make Sunday and as such are now kicked out of training, and will lose their jobs once HR gets around to giving them the ax.

Neither employer offers reasonable accommodation to employees working from home, as working from home is an accommodation already.  Marking the first area of risk; if an employee works for your organization, regardless of the attitude of employee treatment, reasonable accommodation is the law in America, and similar laws are on the books across the world.  Yet, both companies were able to eschew the law and deny reasonable accommodation.  Company B did it by never responding to the employees after they missed a day of work during training.  Company A did it by forcing the employee to decide without the aid of HR, claiming HR does not have any power in the decisions of training.

Now, many people will advise the employees hindered in their job search that the company does not serve them.  That fit into a new organization is more important than money.  That if an employer does not serve their employees, that employer has no value and the ex-employee is better off.  Yet, the companies hired these people, went to great expense to onboard these people, and now must spend more money to hire more people to fill the gap.  Both companies will have to pay overtime and other incentives to get the newest new hires through training.  All because of the disconnect between serving internal customers and external customers.  Many business writers have said, the only customer business has, are the employees.

Leadership CartoonMyron Tribus used a water spigot to help explain the choices of business leaders where employees are concerned.  A business is either a money spigot and customers, employees, vendors, stakeholders, do not matter, so long as the money keeps rolling in to pay off the shareholders.  Or business is a spigot with a hose on it to direct the efforts of the business through the relationships with employees, customers, vendors, stakeholders, and shareholders, to a productive and community-building long-term goal of improvement.  Either a business is a money spigot or a community building operation, the business cannot do both.

With this analogy in mind, the following four suggestions are provided for businesses that either want to change spigots or need help building the only customer relationship with value.

  1.  Decide what type of business you want to be, and then act accordingly.  No judgment about the decision is being made.  Just remember, the greatest sin a business can commit is to fail to show a profit.  Employee costs can make and break employers and profits.
  2. Provide a feedback loop. Employees are a business’s greatest asset, the greatest source for new products, new procedures, new methods of performing the work, and new modes of operation, and until the leadership team decides the employees have value, the business cannot change to meet market demands.  In fact, that business that does not value employees, cannot change at all, ever!
  3. Be “Tank Man.” As a child, I remember watching the Tiananmen Square incident unfold in China.  I remember watching a man, stand in front of a tank and bring that tank, and several more behind it, to a standstill.  Nobody knows this man’s name, but many remember his stand.  Be the example of world-changing customer service, even if no one will ever know your name.Tank Man - Tiananmen Square
  4. Many parents have told their children, “Actions speak louder than words.” At no other time has these words been truer.  Act; do not talk!  Show your employees’ customer service and they will conquer the world for you.  Actions to take might not mean expending any money.  Showing someone you care is as simple as listening, and then helping.  LinkedIn daily has examples of hero employees who do more, serve better, and act all because their leader acted on the employee’s behalf.
    • Blue Money BurningConsider Company A for a moment, the time of class overlap was 1-hour. The number of days the overlap was going to affect that employee, 9.  Thus, for the cost of nine hours at $17.00 per hour, or $153.00 USD total, an employee was lost.  How much blue and green money was lost getting that employee hired, just to see that employee leave within two days of starting?  How much more blue and green money will be lost to replace that lost employee?

No longer can employer hope to treat employees poorly and still achieve financial success, between social media and modern communication, the word gets out that an employer does not care about their employees.  No longer can labor unions abuse non-union members autonomously.  No longer can a business walk away from social and community abuses with impunity.  The choice to treat people as valuable assets is an easy choice to make, choose wisely!

© Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury

The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the pictures.

All rights reserved.  For copies, reprints, or sharing, please contact through LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/davesalisbury/

Let’s Talk Customer Service – Internal and External Processes

I have been shopping for a new financial institution since Washington Mutual was gobbled by Chase ten years ago this October.  Washington Mutual was not perfect, but they offered two things I rate all business transactions upon, ease of business, and functionality.  The functionality occurred with precision, veracity, and good customer experience.  Ease of business meant that the customer experience was not inhibited by internal processes, the need for conducting business (external) was not clogged or overshadowed by processes (internal).

Why does this matter? – Because when the customer needed a transaction concluded at Washington Mutual, the bank philosophies of ease of business and functionality made the customer experience more robust and easier for employees and customers alike.  It is to ease of business and functionality, as a core business mentality, the following is addressed, in the hopes of promoting improvements in customer attention, focus, and support.

Blue Money BurningAs a financial institution shopper, especially when the customer approaches a manager or assistant manager, regarding a poor experience, the mentality of ease of business and functionality should be the cornerstone of the conversation with customers (external & internal).  10 October 2019 – I approach the “Welcome Desk” at Navy Federal Credit Union (NFCU) and ask to speak to a manager.  The person behind the desk claims, “I am an assistant manager; how may I help?”  I explain, I am shopping financial institution shopping and have a problem depositing a check using the NFCU App.  Then I ask if the check I was presenting for the deposit, and the endorsement were acceptable for both an ATM and the counter.  When the endorsement was verified as acceptable; I asked, “Why is the endorsement unacceptable for the NFCU App?  To which my answer was, “The verbiage specified for deposits through the APP is different to protect NFCU from double or triple deposits of the same check.”  Interestingly enough, the verbiage is not standard across the website, the NFCU App, or the email received rejecting the deposit through the NFCU App.  Meaning, my check deposit was denied through the App because NFCU’s internal processes are insufficiently designed for ease of business and functionality; thus, the customer is inconvenienced because NFCU cannot function properly in the back office in support of front office customer facing-transactions.  Why is it an external customers job to make the back-office employees work less?

There is a trend in financial institutions, Government offices, and emergency rooms to hide the employees behind the double and triple walls of an impenetrable polymer.  Chase branches have all been upgraded, my local VA Hospital is being updated, and the local Social Security Office was upgraded several years prior.  At the Chase branch, the counters appear to have shrunk to improve the ability to hear and be heard through the thick polymer; good job Chase, Thank you!  The VA ER, no such luck, no such plans, hearing a patient’s concerns has been trumped by the business stated need to “protect the worker.”  At the local Social Security Office, the desks and counters equate to more than 4-feet of separation between the speaker and the listener, and communication is non-existent for anyone with hearing difficulties, speech difficulties, etc.  Functionality and ease of business have been eternally sundered, and the customer pays the price in time, frustration, aggravation, and the inability to conduct business.  In the dangerous times we live, it only makes sense to have a security plan, to implement security options, and to support a safe business environment.  However, security should never be the excuse for killing ease of business or functionality.  I recently traveled from Albuquerque, NM to El Paso, Texas, to visit my “local” Chase branch.  Where I then had to repeat myself no less than twice for every verbal request, and the teller had to repeat themselves the same to conduct business.  Was a transaction concluded; yes, but the functionality and ease of business were abnegated and not conducive to continuing a customer relationship.

3-direectional-balanceEase of business and functionality should not be sacrificed as a cost-savings measure or staff reduction model.  The Chase branches I have visited in the last two-to-three years have been changing, staff reductions have occurred, while automation has increased. During a previous visit to a Chase branch, three teller positions had been replaced with ATMs inside the branch office.  I applaud Chase for the investment made in making technology work; but, when I visit a branch, I want to speak to a person, not be hassled by another machine.  I want to be treated as a person whose time is as important as the banker/teller’s time, and have a human experience.  Hence, when I witness people replaced by machines, no matter how good the technology is, my cherub-like demeanor takes a significant hit.  I understand Federal Minimum Wage, State, County, City Mandated Minimum Wage Laws have all gone crazy increasing the human cost in business, I understand the need for physical security increases costs for human transactions, and I know that the human element is expensive in other ways and means, requiring more back-office work and humans.  Do not sacrifice ease of business and functionality on the alter with the humans.  If you have physical, armed guards, checking, x-raying, and hassling customers, you should not need the polymer and technical stations.  Strike a balance and err on the side of human-to-human contact, not technology.

Corporate LogosSpeaking of the need to strike a balance between technology and human-to-human contact, ease of business, functionality, and customer service, those “Self-Checkout” stations forced upon customers in retail stores remain a significant point of contention.  Home Depot and Lowe’s, thank you for not sacrificing customer attention and customer responsiveness on the altar of technology as “Self-Checkout” has proliferated in your stores.  Walmart, Smith’s, Kroger, Fry’s, and so many more stores could learn from your example.

My spouse has several Walmart locations she visits as “local.”  In every one of these stores, the same thing has transpired, the self-checkout stations have multiplied exceedingly, but the number of floor employees has dropped exponentially.  In fact, there is less customer attention in Walmart since the explosion of self-checkout than before across the five states I have been measuring; thus, I can only conclude, this is a tactical exercise from Walmart Corporate Offices to reduce staff, while not improving the customer experience.  Between the constant game of “Musical Shelves,” where products are in continuous movement from shelf to shelf and location to location, and the reduction in customer support, I find myself losing my cherub-like demeanor when trying to complete shopping.  Back in the 1990s I read a research report discussing how for every minute spent in a store, the balance of the shopping cart increases $10.00; thus, I understand the psychology of playing “Musical Shelves,” but the human-to-human involvement has led to less functionality in the shopping experience, throwing ease of business in the garbage.

Leading to the following suggestions:

  1. When looking to strike a balance between expenses and functionality and ease of business, err on the side of ease of business. Functionality will automatically improve when ease of business is sufficiently provided.
  2. Never allow a process, a procedure, and a business standard of measure to celebrate a second birthday. The ease of business should be a constant aspect of the daily workflow.  Functionality, as an extension of ease of business, should be the second prerequisite in the evaluation of processes to meet customer service goals.  Never forget, if a process, procedure, or business matrix cannot be explained completely in a single elevator ride, then that process, procedure, and business matrix are too complicated and need revision.
  3. Customer service should never involve telling a customer about an internal process. Thus, if the back-office is demanding a customer inconvenience that hinders ease of business or functionality, the back-office needs to be held to task and the process changed.

Businesses cannot long shirk ease of business and functionality and survive.  Human-to-human interactions are customer service, and when anything gets between the customer and the employee, business leadership must return focus to ease of business and functionality, not cut out the human.  Customer service should never be tossed because of technology, ease of employees, or as a staff reduction effort.  Your employee today is your customer tomorrow, and your customer today is your employee tomorrow, do you really want to proliferate problems handed to external customer’s as they become tomorrow’s internal customer?

Trader Joe'sTrader Joe’s remains the pre-eminent example of ease of business, functionality, and customer service working in an environment that is well balanced.  No self-checkout, no hassle when asking questions, and several of my local stores have added physical security without changing the human element.  Ease of business and functionality are apparent from the prices to the products, the shelves, to the physical store environment.  No technology separates the customer from a robust shopping experience that is both pleasing and adventurous.  Nothing special is done as a process by Trader Joe’s, but the ease of business and functionality promote the customer experience, which is shared by customers who spend short or long periods shopping and desire to return.  I recently witnessed a Trader Joe’s employee explaining to a customer how to improve fruit ripening techniques, the employee then went out of their way to guide the customer through what to buy and how to use the methods discussed with several different varieties of fruit.  This example is not a one-off singular event, but a regular occurrence at every Trader Joe’s store I have visited.  When you commit to ease of business and functionality, as a person and as a professional, opportunities develop.

© 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.