As a companion piece to my last blog (Time to Address the Relationship Disconnect), I’ve written a handy ‘how not to do customer service’ checklist.

Poor customer service is now so commonplace in the UK that comedians build entire routines out of it; the curse of the unexpected item in the bagging area, the endless ‘your call is important to us’ messages while they leave you sat on hold and the never-ending IVR menus. (“Press seven if you’re ready to poke yourself in the eye with a fork”).

So here’s my checklist for anyone in charge of Customer Services.  If your brand is guilty of any of these practices, it’s time for a rethink.

Does your organisation…

  • Fail to be honest and proactive when there’s a problem?  If the customer has gone to the trouble of contacting you, something is usually wrong.  The default position should still be ‘the customer is always right’ even if you’re in doubt.  At least listen empathetically and apologise.  Don’t interrupt just so you can get them back onto your script.
  • Only offer a premium rate phone number as your main contact point, and then leave people on hold for 15 minutes?  If my call is important to you, employ more call handlers.  Otherwise, it’s clear that this is just a nice little earner for you.
  • Have a website that makes it impossible to find your contact details?  Whether that’s post, standard rate phone numbers or individual email addresses.  Do you make your customers scroll through pages of irrelevant FAQs before they can email you a simple question?
  • Send specific account emails (not general marketing messages) from a ‘do not reply’ address?  How is a one-way conversation customer service?  What other business function would think this was an acceptable form of correspondence?  It’s the digital equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and going “la la la, not listening”.
  • Treat your customers’ time as irrelevant and unimportant?  By putting them on hold, or passing them around so they have to have the same conversation over and over again, or not phoning them back when you promise to?
  • Employ the Spanish Inquisition as a retention technique?  The Cancellations Team are there to persuade people to stay, of course.  But that doesn’t give them permission to keep people on the call for an unreasonable amount of time, ask endless, intrusive questions or behave like a megalomaniac before they action a simple request (see the two examples, below).
  • Underestimate the power of Twitter?  For many, especially younger customers, Twitter is a freeform customer services channel.  For others it’s a last resort when they can’t get hold of anyone by more conventional channels.  Never ignore direct Tweets that ask for help or lodge complaints, even if they’re posted on the ‘wrong’ Twitter account (is it clear which account is for customers?).
  • Use overseas Call Centres?  Not worried about the economic impact of making thousands of UK jobs redundant so long as the shareholder gets their dividend?  Then could you at least stop pretending that your CS team is in the UK when we can’t actually understand a word they’re saying (and vice versa, probably).  “Hello, my name is David!”  No, your name is Sandeep.  How’s the weather in Bangalore?
  • Fail to reward loyalty?  Everyone knows that the best prices are for newbies, despite the cost of acquisition.  Recently, my Breakdown Recovery insurance premium doubled when it was time to renew.  When I complained, I was told that, “as a loyal customer” I was instead being offered discounts on stuff I didn’t need or want.  It’s too easy to switch, make more of an effort.

On going customer management should be a key aspect of the brand strategy.  Build it into the guidelines.  Don’t leave it to chance… or another department.

* Two recent examples of the Spanish Inquisition;

Barclaycard – asking endless questions about my other financial arrangements and cards when I called to terminate an unused credit card.  I politely told them this was none of their business, and Data Protection forbade me from revealing any details anyway.  Undeterred, they tried the ‘but you’re a valued customer!’ line, completely missing the point that I hadn’t spent anything on the card for about 4 years.

Sky – and the worst case of Customer Assistant rudeness ever experienced.  Calling to cancel the subscription after a house sale, I had to repeatedly refuse their pointless pleas to reconsider (“Can I just remind you, the house is sold”).  Finally, I asked if we could just get on with it and complete the process.  At which point he replied abruptly, “I don’t have to do anything.”