The brain of a call center clerk (“Call Center Dave,” by Ray Smithers)
Dear business owners and bureaucrats: If you fill your customer positions with stupid people, or if you don’t empower them to address issues that come up, you damage your own brand.
All customer service people are by definition part of your marketing team. If they perform badly, they drive customers away.
I’ve just had one-too-many encounters with a stupid person in a customer service position, and I realize I won’t get any real work done until I can blow off some steam. So I may as well blow that steam as a blog post. I’m overdue for a good rant in this space.
I’m helping an 85-year-old, not-very-computer-savvy Japanese citizen renew his passport. The Japanese Consulate Boston website says their online renewal form only works with PCs; my friend has a 12-year-old Mac. So I called them to get an application form mailed to him.
The idiot I spoke to was amazingly UNhelpful. First she said we had to send a self-addressed 9×12 envelope to Boston with $1.20 in postage just to get the forms. And then she refused to give me the consulate’s address and told me to get it off the website (which is in Japanese, which I don’t read). I actually had to yell at her before I could pry the street address out of her.
You would think they could simply mail out the packet, and tack an extra $5 onto the renewal fee if using postal mail.
This has the effect of pushing Japan farther down on the list of countries I’d like to visit.
It also got me thinking about the hundreds of times I’ve encountered an employee charged with “customer service” who either didn’t have a clue about what customer service actually means, or haven’t been empowered to actually deal with situations that come up.
I’m remembering in particular the time (about ten years before they went out of business) that I was in a Blockbuster Video and I saw a sign with great language about how they empowered every one of their employees to do right by their customers. I was writing a book on marketing (as usual 😉 ) at that time, and I asked the counter clerk for permission to photograph the sign so I could quote it in my book. And this disempowered employee in this supposedly enlightened store said he didn’t have authority and I’d need to ask headquarters!
It wasn’t so much his inability to let me do what I asked. It was the disconnect between what the sign said and the 180-degree-opposite reality that completely wrecked my perception of Blockbuster’s brand. I never set foot in a Blockbuster again. They lost a decade of my business for being stupid.
Then there was the chief mechanic at my local Toyota dealer, who called me after several days of non-response to my status queries and told me I had 24 hours to get my car off his lot, and by the way, the engine is in pieces in the trunk. I was so appalled I wrote a long letter to the VP of customer service for the United States, and I never went back to that dealer for anything else, ever, not even a tube of touch-up paint. I drove 40 extra miles round trip when I needed something from a Toyota dealer. And the next time I bought a new car, it wasn’t a Toyota. That mechanic threw away 20 years of brand loyalty and a lifetime customer value in the hundreds of thousands.
Let me say it differently: front-line customer service reps are either your marketing ambassadors (think Southwest Airlines, Nordstrom, Ritz-Carlton) or your marketing saboteurs. Which do you choose to represent you?