Why Most Customer Service Sucks


Many of us have probably suffered through the kind of abysmal customer service experience Chris Curran relates on his CIO Dashboard blog. He and a business partner were shuffled from an airport check-in counter to a ticket office and back again while trying to correct an online booking error made by the partner.


While they could purchase tickets and print itineraries via the Web and at the ticket office, neither function could be performed at the check-in counter (despite the fact that an agent almost certainly had a PC in front of him or her and so, in theory, could access the relevant information). In addition, they could only change a reservation or print a boarding pass at the ticket office for tickets purchased there and not online. As Curran writes:

At a glance, it looks like the Web channel is pretty capable but that the rest of the business needs to catch up.

I vowed to never again voluntarily bump myself from a flight in exchange for a travel voucher after an experience I had with Delta. When I went to use a Delta-issued voucher online, I was informed the voucher could only be used for travel booked offline. After driving to the airport to do so, I learned the fares available offline were all more expensive than those I could get online. Grrrr. And guess what, now that I don't have to fly Delta for business, I don't fly Delta at all.


So what do our experiences prove? For one, companies need to better integrate the customer experience across channels. Don't give us the ability to buy something online and then make it difficult for us to exchange or otherwise revise it in the real world. Make sure we can get the same deals in virtual and physical stores.


IT Business Edge blogger Loraine Lawson wrote about it last month, citing a post from Monkchips blogger James Governor in which he contends too many companies have replaced true customer relationship management with salesforce automation. One of his greatest points: CRM should be about keeping customers, not acquiring them. As Loraine says, that means CRM should encompass not just sales information, but call centers, customer incidents, orders and analytics. Amen, sister.


But here's the thing: Even well-integrated customer channels won't solve a problem that often arises in the "last mile" of customer service, the employee who can't help you anyway. (I suspect this factored into Curran's airport experience at least once, if not multiple times.) As Strativity Group founder Lior Arussy told me when I interviewed him in July, just 39 percent of respondents to a Strativity Group survey said their employees had the tools and authority to solve customer problems. He said:

That is a shocking statement. Basically 61 percent of employees show up to work and the best thing they have to offer customers is their smile.

As Arussy noted, with self-service channels (like the Internet), companies are, in essence, outsourcing Tier 1 support to their customers. So, he said:

... When they seek human interaction, they are looking for somebody who can break the rules or think outside the box for them. They want somebody with the authority to get the job done. If you outsource Tier 1 to the customer, they want you to be ready with Tier 2 when they need help.