Recently, I had a somewhat “brash” encounter with a company and received some painful customer service experience. This company was Comcast (or is it xfinity? It’s so hard to tell anymore.). In the mail, I received a notice that I found surprising and caused me to investigate further. The subject line of this notice:
Final Notice Before Termination of Comcast Service
Perhaps the most telling of this was that if this was the final notice before termination, then where was the first notice? But the point here is that this was an unwarranted notice since I had set up auto-payment using Comcast’s online payment system. It seems that nearly two months ago, there was an issue with the transaction details and that caused the auto-payment system to not work, but Comcast’s system failed to let me know. In fact, it seems that their website is not really scaled to handle a true user experience because as you use the site, the confirmation screens along with full-on details get a bit fuzzy. Suffice it to say, when I looked at the account and saw proof that auto-payment was set for enabled, I didn’t understand why Comcast would be threatening me with termination of service. After all, wouldn’t the responsibility for collecting from auto-payment be with Comcast and not myself (isn’t that what “auto” means?) I sent a few tweets to Comcast’s main Twitter account @comcastcares (see below), but to my chagrin, it seemed that the account manager was out on vacation — but in his defense, he tweeted that people should send tweets to his colleagues:
So after finding @comcastmichael still tweeting around that time, I sent a tweet to him and he replied that I should send my information to the email address firstname.lastname@example.org, to which I sent screenshots and information requesting resolution. Seeing that it was late in the evening when I sent a reply, I didn’t expect to receive an email or phone call until the next morning.
At 7:00am the next morning, I decide to call Comcast’s customer service number and spoke with a representative who helped handle my case and he explained to me the faulty system, to which I am crediting to Comcast. It was during this conversation that I requested that they insert a note into their system telling them that I called and did not want them to contact me regarding my email since the problem was handled – the representative did so. But it wasn’t until around 8:30pm PST last night that I got a call from Comcast that really convinced me to write this post. When they announced themselves as Comcast, I thought it was someone who was going to respond to my email and politely communicate with me to make me feel that they took my case seriously. But what I got from that phone call was an entirely different dialogue.
The first thing after we got all the greeting and small talk out of the way was this customer service representative (CSR) explaining to me that my account was delinquent and “how would I pay for it?” There was no warmth or understanding in that CSRs voice nor any recognition of me having it resolved earlier that day. When I told her it was handled, I was rebuffed by the CSR with the statement “what do you mean ‘handled’?” which led me to basically remind her that it was in the notes. In the end, she looked and told me that everything was settled and that any further communications from Comcast regarding this matter should be disregarded.
That was it. No apologies. No appreciation or gratitude. The only inkling of customer appreciation and service I got from my conversations with Comcast came when I initiated the call and spoke to the first CSR who thanked me for being a loyal customer.
Promoting yourself as a customer service friendly organization is more than a phrase
You might have seen Comcast’s recent commercials on television advertising, the whole idea about guaranteeing customer service is widely promoted, but is it actually practiced? For companies that wish to pursue this belief, it should not be just a motto, but an actual practice. A great example of this idea in practice is with Zappos – it’s engrained in their culture and everyone understands how to respond and treat their customers. In fact, a few key takeaways from this encounter could be the following:
- Thank your customers – it doesn’t matter what their issue is…whether it’s a product question, complaint or, in my case, a billing situation. Make sure you thank your customers for their business and that you appreciate them.
- Just because you’re the only one in the area doesn’t mean your customers like you – think of it as a lack of options. Once someone new comes into your area, you’re going to have a lot of deserters head over there without any regard for you. Show them you appreciate and support your customers now before it’s too late.
- Develop your website for your customer’s experience – account for the lowest common denominator who would be using your site. Make sure that instructions are clear and that your customers will be able to easily understand the entire website without any questions about whether something was submitted or if information is available. Is this something that your grandmother would be able to use easily?
- Community management is absolutely important – your relationship with your customers doesn’t stop at your website. It’s on all forms of online media, including those that are social. Are you managing your relationships as much as possible? In my Comcast story, I’m fine with the person behind @comcastcares to take vacation, but when someone tweets to that account, the other community managers should automatically pick up the slack and respond accordingly.
- Set forth the expectations on customer service – in some of the most important issues relating to customer service, people will want to know how soon will their problems be solved. Regardless of who’s fault it is, they would like to know that you’re not sitting back and just hoping they’ll go away. Make sure you tell them what to expect (e.g., when will you respond, information on FAQs, how to keep in touch, ticket number, etc.).
- Be nice – I believe this goes well with the first point of thanking your customers, but make sure that all customer-facing employees are nice to them. It will reflect on the company.
- Integration with at central customer relationship management (CRM) system is essential – customer service doesn’t live in one media or medium. Rather, it is tied into every single point of contact and there needs to be one central place for that information to be stored and updated. Whether it’s using a Salesforce integration or some other CRM platform, this needs to be fully integrated to allow customer representatives to help manage relationships and inform other internal teams of problem resolutions.
The Customer-Company Pact
When it’s all said and done, one company is interested in helping to make the customer and company relationship that much smoother. Community management service, GetSatisfaction (@getsatisfaction) has come up with a pact that offers rights for both parties. They believe, and I agree, that the relationship should not be one-sided. Rather, it is a mutual relationship that will help bring more brand loyalty and deliver satisfaction to all. This petition is a call to arms and offers five distinct points to help shape that conversation:
For the companies:
- Be Human: make sure you’re respectful, using a conversational voice, and avoid corporate speak and scripts
- Be Personal: encourage staff to use real names and have a personal touch
- Be Ready: Murphy’s Law will strike and make sure you’re prepared for any incidents and set expectations
- Be Accountable: open up a public dialogue with your customers to show you’re accountable
- Be Earnest: demonstrate good intentions by speaking plainly, earnestly, and candidly.
- Be Understanding: show the respect and understanding that you’d like shown to you.
- Be Yourself: Use a consistent identity and make an attempt at a long-term relationship with the company.
- Be Helpful: Recognize that problems occur and give companies time to resolve it (aka, be patient).
- Be Fair: Share issues directly and in an area that the company can respond so they can share the resolution.
- Be Open: Give companies the benefit of the doubt and open to hearing their feedback.
Regardless of whether you support this pact or not, the concept is a sound one and something that both companies and customers should endear themselves and use in their conversations with each other. By increasing the respect and trust, the environment can be less adversarial and questionable and more valuable and constructive.
And that is something I would love to have a guarantee about.
Photo Credit: ktpupp / flickr.com