Is it just me or is customer service getting worse? I’m a consultant working in the field of customer management, and my wife hates going out with me to a restaurant or shopping. She says I am always “on duty”, observing how customer-centric are the people serving me. And every time something goes wrong (which is more and more frequent, it seems to me), I take the role of difficult customer just to see how they handle the situation.
Now I may be an official grumpy old man – heck, my wife thinks I majored in it – but if customer service people have received the training, why can’t they put it onto practice? It’s not rocket science. They just have to stop thinking about themselves or their company and try to imagine how the customer feels and what would be best for them. But they don’t, despite all the training and superficial ingratiation. When something is clearly broken or just plain stupid, why can’t they say, “You’re right and I am really sorry it has happened but this is why. Here’s what I can decide to do for you. And I will recommend a change in the policy, process etc to correct it to avoid it happening to other customers”. They can’t say that because they are not allowed to. The command and control culture lives on in the 21st Century.
In July 2004 I bought a 40GB iPod whilst travelling in the US. I’m seriously into music and I became a raving fan. I even wrote an article about customer needs that was circulated in Apple. In the article I said that T-Mobile, my cellular carrier, did not understand my needs as they had given me BlackBerry and that it would only require Apple to add mobile capability to the iPod and BlackBerry was dead.
Boy was I wrong. I forgot something kind of important … reliability. After 6 months, my iPod broke. The disk had crashed. I took it to the Apple Store in London who confirmed it had indeed crashed but advised me that I would have to take it back to the US, as that is where I had purchased it. “That’s a separate company to EMEA.” A very kind lady in customer support agreed to replace the dead machine. The UPS man who collected gave me the warning: “I collect a lot of these; they’re always going wrong”. Sure enough, 6 months later, he was back collecting the replacement, which had the same problem. Then 6 months again, and finally my 3rd replacement iPod died exactly 6months later, just two years almost to the day since I purchased the first one.
So back I went to the Apple Store in London. I wanted to see one of the technical people at the Genius bar. The technical lady was very empathetic but confirmed that the offending item was indeed deader than a dodo. I said that I felt that a 6 months lifecycle seemed a little short for such an expensive item, especially as I used it very seldom because I had all my music in iTunes on my very reliable Dell laptop. She read the serial number on the back – which is more than I can do – and went off to speak to a manager who came over and offered me a brand new 60GB video iPod free of charge, including all the stuff in the box such as a USB cable and headphones and a year’s free warranty.
I was ecstatic but also a little disappointed. If the technician felt that the situation warranted a free replacement, which she clearly did, why couldn’t she make that decision? Why did she have to get a “manager” to make the decision? Don’t they trust her? Why do companies train their frontline people to be customer-focused and then not trust them to make decisions for customers? It seems plain stupid to me. Am I unrealistic, insane or just plain idealistic?
What do you think?