I’ve had occasion lately to interact with two different broadband providers. I had different reasons for contacting them, but the outcome was more or less the same; they told me to go away. Does that seem unlikely? Perhaps, yet I’ve seen this form of poor customer service over and over again.
In the first case, as a prospective customer, I wanted to know whether a particular broadband provider offered service in my area. I visited their website, filled in a moderately lengthy form, and waited for a response. Several days later I received an email which thanked me for my interest and told me to call them on the telephone during business hours and ask to speak with a salesperson.
In the second case, I used a web-form provided by my ISP to report that a problem with intermittent connectivity outages continues. Again, after several days, the reply: "…we would need to speak with you by telephone. Please contact our repair line 24-hours a day, 7 days a week at the phone numbers listed below."
These incidents are just the two latest examples of a kind of poor customer service I’ve seen many times. For some mysterious reason many companies seem to prefer to do business by telephone, rather than electronically. While I can’t understand that, what really puzzles me is when those same companies offer interaction through their websites… or at least appear to do so. Furthermore, once one is in contact with a customer, particularly a potential customer, why let them get away? Why even encourage them to go away?
It appears to me that there are two dynamics at work here.
First, many companies are, very reasonably, set up with specialized processes. One department handles billing problems, one handles service requests, etc. In this case, it is very poor policy to ask a customer to call back at some other number. The correct way to handle such a situation is to explain courteously and without any implication of blame that the customer has contacted the wrong department, educate them gently on how to get to the right place the first time in the future, and then take responsibility for getting them into the correct queue. I’m imagining a phone contact, but the proper procedure is exactly the same for electronic communications. For example:
"Dear Mr. Jones, Thanks very much for emailing us at Acme Corporation Technical Support. We’re always happy to help out in anyway we can. Unfortunately we’re not very well informed about issues relating to direct purchases of Acme corp. stock. I’ve forwarded your questions to our Share Holder Relations Department and you should expect to hear from them today. For faster service in the future you can email them directly at Stocks@AcmeCorp.com. Thanks again for contacting us; we’re always happy to hear from you."
Second, many companies seem to be unable to handle electronic communications with their customers. This is stickier. If your company prefers not to interact electronically at this particular point in history, my first advice is: "Get Over It." If, however, presumably for unavoidable reasons, you persist in avoiding electronic communications, it’s better not to offer it. It may even be wise to say so in places where electronic communication might be expected. If you have a website but prefer not to communicate electronically it seems a simple to matter to add something like the following.
"While we at Custom Hand Made Products Corporation have provided this web site for your convenience we prefer to do business exclusively in person. The highly personalized nature of our products and the old fashioned craftsmanship which we bring to our work really require personal interaction and are not suited to the cold mechanism of telephone or computer. Please come down to see us and share a pot of coffee, at 12 Main Street. Thanks. — Joe."
I believe it is always best to be flexible enough to communicate with your customers through any means they find most comfortable, including multiple means for different situations. Ignoring this risks chasing them away. I’ve never called the first provider, and I probably will not. One of my purchasing criteria is high quality customer service.
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