28 Feb Call centers and customer service: The good, the bad, and the clueless
We always hear about how everyone is implementing best practices at their organization and how they have the greatest customer service center for their product or service. Let’s just cut through the rah-rah self-promotion and hype. The truth is, some are very good and some still can’t put it all together.
There are some consumer products call centers that definitely have it right. Their results are that they get repeat customers, larger sales, and build a loyalty base that generates a solid revenue stream from their call center efforts. There are others that somehow fall short of their hype and advertising. We should spotlight the good, the bad, and the clueless.
There are two that I have used over the years that have their call centers tied to their Internet applications and are good everyday examples of “getting it right.” Now these are not your big banks, your utilities, or even large companies that you would think would be in the forefront. (Most of those organizations are not even close to having a quality call center anymore.) The reality is that the two examples I have are not Fortune 100.
They have not switched their call centers to an offshore site to save some nickels while they crush their core of quality service to their customer base. They are simply focused on getting the product delivered to their customers.
I am impressed with the Tire Rack and Jewelry Television Network. Both sell to the general public. Both sell a mix of products from different manufacturers and they have their delivery systems, their confirmations, their guarantees, and their customer support down to perfection.
Tire Rack advertisements are in most of the major car magazines like Motor Trend, Road & Track, and others. Jewelry Television is on cable.
Once they have you in their database when you call, they have all of your information already in place and have friendly people that know the special applications of different manufacturers’ tires for SUVs, cars, and trucks. It is a very simple call to replace a set of tires. The same applies to Jewelry Television.
Both follow up with an e-mail confirmation and, by magic, your tires or jewelry arrive at the designated place you want them delivered and you even save some decent money on top of it.
Sound simple? If it really was, how come other products and services are still so difficult to get right? How many times have you called companies and the person on the opposite end doesn’t know the product you are asking about?
Bad example: U.S. Cellular
I have been a loyal customer of U.S. Cellular for years. I recently upgraded two cell phones and first received good service at a local retail center. I thought I made a good decision for remaining loyal to them, but then found out when I needed them, they let me down.
I was in a rush to get to the airport, and I needed to replace the phone I just bought. Somehow it got lost and I needed to deactivate it. I also needed to get a replacement phone. I called their 800 number and the agent said, “just go to the retail store and they would get me another phone” and that I would be “given a discount because I was up for new equipment.” (As I said, I have been with them for a long time – more than several years.)
Well, I went to the same store and different people were there. No other customer was in the store because it was a Sunday in January with NFL play-off games on television. It was like a different store. There was no sense of urgency to get the customer what they needed. When I told them about my conversation with THEIR customer service center, they were completely unaware of any discount or anything else.
Nothing aggravates me more than that “deer-in-the-headlights” look you get from someone who is supposed to know their product and policies. All of a sudden, everyone with the assistant manager title and all the “team leaders” can’t make a decision or get an answer.
Did you know they use the same 800 number for store retail consultants that they provide to a customer? There is no higher priority 800 number for retail stores only. The retail consultant was on hold just like anyone calling in from the general public and could not get through to get to the agent I talked with and get a service question answered.
Was that a brilliant cost reduction idea some middle-management person suggested or was that a cost reduction that garnered the chief executive his bonus last year? In either case, it is a clear example of the knuckleheaded approach to running a business.
They are a commodity service and totally live down to that label and nothing more. They clearly demonstrated that they are clueless when it comes to establishing a cohesive customer-service system that ties the call centers with customers and their retail centers.
Hopefully, someone from U.S. Cellular will step up and take credit for this single-tier 800 service. Readers want to know who was the bright executive that figured retail consultants should call on the same 800 number with no priority? Did someone get some bonus for that cost reduction?
Bottom line: So much for US Cellular. As far as loyalty, I would not recommend them to anyone, and when my contract is through I will be seeking a new cellular phone company.
Maybe U.S. Cellular should hire an executive from Tire Rack or the jewelry sales company. I could hear their human resource people or an executive recruiter say, “Oh, sorry you are not from within the communications industry, so what do you know about cellular phone sales?”
Evidently, providing good customer service transcends knowledge of any singular product or service. I am sure U.S. Cellular is paying their call center executive a lot more than the Tire Rack or Jewelry Television is.
What happens in Vegas, gets messed up in Vegas
A call center I recently used that I thought would be of the utmost customer service was the reservations center for the Harrah’s group of casinos (which include Caesars Palace, Flamingo, Paris, Rio, and Harrah’s). The person was very good on the phone and explained the differences in room rates across the various casinos that are in the Harrah’s group. We selected the Flamingo because we “were sold” that we could get a deluxe room for a much better rate.
We get to the Flamingo and after standing in a long reservations line we are told our room is a standard room. WHAT? The reservations agent told us we were getting a deluxe room with a 42-inch Plasma screen TV as well as other upgrades. “No, you have a standard room” was the curt reply.
The assistant front desk manager was adamant that we should only get a standard room even though I give her the reservations confirmation number and everything else I wrote down. “Sorry, it is entered as a standard room,” was the icy response.
Now I start thinking, “Wow! Bait and switch.” You get sold the Deluxe Gold room from the call center and when you show up tired and ready to drop your bags, sorry, you get a standard room. This is NOT the Vegas I know and I questioned it.
Luckily, all conversations are recorded on their reservations. The assistant manager said it will be five or 10 minutes to check on it but her attitude, her body language, and her general negativity reflects a feeling that the customer is just trying to get something they were never promised. You all have seen that and know the feeling.
It’s like when you are in the grocery checkout line and the product rings up $2.99 and you know it was on sale at $1.99. When you protest, you are looked at like you are from another planet or worse, a criminal trying to steal. When the price check comes back $1.99, the clerk just keeps ringing things up, not even acknowledging that you were right to question the price. Chances are they don’t even update the database. Maybe the next customer won’t be paying attention to the items as they ring up.
Well, the Flamingo reservation checked out and the assistant manager coldly said, “Well, we have to check. You know it’s policy. Besides, you are now getting what we promised.”
Getting what I was promised? Over a half hour went by and I did get what I reserved, but in the process, I felt like I was treated like a criminal.
We didn’t get anything more. It used to be if someone made a mistake or kept you waiting, you would get a free drink, a dinner, something to show that they really cared about their clientele and that the mistake should have never happened.
Not only did we not get anything, when we checked out, they tried to add a $54 daily upgrade for the room. Good thing we did not do an express checkout. I said we went through this when we checked in. They apologized and took it off – AGAIN.
Quality service in Las Vegas? Fortunately, it is still there in other places that we patronized, but the Flamingo still has some work to do.
CARLINI-ISM: The Las Vegas standard for service is always set very high. Those that do not live up to it should not stay in business.
Recent articles by James Carlini
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• James Carlini: Energy conservation might take us farther than renewable fuels
• James Carlini: National broadband policy: Let’s get it right this time
• James Carlini: Data centers: Blowing smoke and raising red flags
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This article previously appeared in MidwestBusiness.com, and was reprinted with its permission.
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