Many years ago I remember a successful business executive saying that the most important person in a company was the receptionist. His reasoning was that the receptionist was often the first person a customer, prospect, or business partner would interface with. The receptionist was often the first one who got the call from a customer looking for help. A good receptionist, one with a solid customer focus, deftly handled these inquires and put customers and others at ease. The opposite sort would irritate, infuriate, and aggravate people until they no longer wanted to do business with the company. This executive’s advice was to put real effort into the receptionists – hire well, pay well, train well, and empower them. Otherwise your business would fail.
This advice came to mind as I thought about the latest marketing buzzwords – customer experience and customer engagement. The idea behind both is to create an awesome, personalized experience that keeps customers loyal, hopefully turning them into brand ambassadors. It’s not a new idea really. What is new is the ability to continuously generate positive interactions with customers through social media and other marketing activities, directly and indirectly. And yet, with all this new technology, companies still ruin customer experience in old fashioned, low-tech ways. Like bad customer service and support.
I was thinking about this as I “interacted” with a tech company over problems with a tablet I purchased. It occurred to me that the same logic behind placing a focus on the receptionist applied to first line support. All the digital marketing messages, all positive social media interactions, all the Facebook offers, and recommendations from “the community can dissolve in a second when a company ceases to provide basic and reasonable service options.
It doesn’t take a callous attitude toward the customer either. It’s the attitude toward employees that hammers the customer experience In the case of my tablet, it is painfully obvious that first line support is not empowered to do anything other than to take your information and have someone call back in a few days (that’s right, days!). Is it obvious the product needs to be returned? Someone else has to call back to authorize and arrange it. Need to send something in for repair? Wait for an email from the repair depot?
I marveled at how first line support is also short of vital information such as repair status or even if the product is at the repair depot. I felt for these support agents even as I started wondering if I would ever buy anything from this company again. What a tough job, trying to provide service to people while completely constrained by a lack of any useful information. In many cases, the best an agent could do was send an email to the repair depot and wait three days for a reply. Three days seemed to be a standard wait time which was obviously too long for a reply to a simply question.
What is painfully obvious is that this company doesn’t trust, value, and respect their own workers (or business process outsourcing partners perhaps) enough to give them the basic tools of customer service. It was clear that they even forced them to make disingenuous, scripted apologies at certain intervals to (supposedly) mollify customers. It was painful to hear this forced humility. What a job!
This situation is an example of how the structural pyramid of a company is turned upside down. The least care, attention, compensation, and especially empowerment is given to people who have the most personal interaction with customers.
So, all the goodwill that has been built up though engagement during events, digital outreach, social media, and through their retail partners, has been frittered away in a short series of support mishaps that was easily avoided. No matter the technology, customer experience and customer engagement are doomed if you don’t trust and empower all of the people in the organization to support customers.