The Australian Small Business Blog

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Customer Management is not Customer Service



When you have many customers, you need to manage them, certainly, but this is not the same as customer service. Unfortunately, big businesses think this is the same thing. It is easy to recognise them.

When you call them, you end up listening to a recording telling you which button to push, and then in a phone queue listening to annoying ads for their business, interrupted every few minutes by a recording that says “Your call is important to us…” Obviously not so important that they will pay for more staff to answer the phones.

Then when you get to speak to a human being, they want to manage you in a particular way.
A recent experience with a phone company that will remain nameless (but think of a number between 2 and 4), illustrates this point well. I received a bill which said if I wanted to receive paper bills in the future I had to pay a charge. This was to “save the environment” they said, and then they said if I wanted a paper bill, I could print one from their website. Not much carbon saved there.

Well, I need a paper bill for tax purposes and I find it easier to check things on paper than on a screen bill that goes for several pages. Do you think this was about saving the environment or saving them money?

So I called the company, and said they had no right to increase the charge for my invoice. They then quoted a clause in the phone contract which they claimed gave them the right. I pointed out that this was a new contract, and this clause did not exist in my older contract. They did not have a copy of the old contract and tried to bluff me and intimidate me. After a terse exchange of words with the operator and supervisor, who tried to convince me I did not really want a paper bill, they relented and waived the fee. They said they did not have to and it was just a “good will gesture on their part”.

How gracious.

I guess they felt I would create a mass revolt and their cost cutting exercise was to be put in jeopardy if I was successful.

What it demonstrated to me, is they did not care about their customers, they wanted to manage them. They were prepared to be manipulative and deceitful in doing this. They cared more about saving $2 than bad word of mouth affecting their reputation.

(Why did I go through all this for $2? I have a professional interest in seeing how people manage their customers- in this case not very well, and I believe customer feedback on poor service helps a business improve and benefits the business as well as their customers. Whether they accept the feedback, of course, is another matter.)

When your customer service department thinks it is reasonable to argue with your customers and impute their motives, you have lost the plot. How many other similar conversations do you think occur on other matters with this company if this is their attitude?

What could have they done? They could have said, because we are interested in saving the environment, if you request an electronic account, we will donate the money we save on printing to an environmental cause. (There would be other costs beyond the printing which will still save them money). Does that sound more convincing and better marketing?

While it is important to manage the cost of delivering your service, it is also important to consider the cost of bad word-of-mouth. Don’t be petty. If the customer has a point, and particularly if the cost is small, be gracious. Learn from the experience. You might be surprised by the good word-of-mouth you get which is worth many times the alternative.

May Your Business Be – As You Plan It!

Dr Greg Chapman

Over to You. What do You Think? Post Your Comments Below.

Dr Greg Chapman is the Director of Empower Business Solutions and The Australian Business Coaching Club and is Australia's Leading Advisor on Emerging Businesses and provides Coaching and Consulting advice to Australian Small Business Owners in Marketing & Business Strategies Planning & Systems. He is also the author of The Five Pillars of Guaranteed Business Success.

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