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Magic beans don’t mean Jack

Most organisations are buzzing at this time of the year. Recharged after a long break, we’re all searching for those new initiatives to propel us towards success. This is also a time when we are most at risk of being offered those “magic beans” in exchange for the “old cow”. But I often wonder whether the customer service sector in particular might be looking to trade the cow in too early.

OK the buzz words may have moved on, from ‘customer service’ to ‘digital customer engagement’, ‘multi-channel’ to ‘omni-channel’ or ‘hosting’ to ‘cloud’, but in actual fact has much changed in terms of the service received by the average consumer?

Not a lot, I would argue. In most cases, we have simply contrived to shift the problem from one customer contact channel to another. We’ve serve up on a plate more reasons or more ways for customers to complain about our brand. The customer doesn’t want to be ‘wowed’ or ‘delighted”. The customer just craves a prompt and polite response to a query or issue.

It is not as if companies don’t recognise the problem or aren’t doing anything about it. A quick look at analyst reports on technology investment suggests companies haven’t held back. But it’s what they are investing in and their approach to implementing these technologies that leaves me baffled.

Take my mobile service provider as an example. They have clearly invested in a survey solution because no sooner had I terminated my call with their contact centre, I was bombarded with survey questions via SMS. If I made the mistake of answering a question, I’d get rewarded by another. 10 of them to be precise! But here’s the laughable bit. Not once did they act on the information I gave them. Despite me rating them poorly on every single question asked, there was no trigger for their system to say – Oh dear, Mr. Khan is obviously not happy, let’s hand this over to a human being to deal with. They missed out on 6-7 clear opportunities I gave them to contact me and put things right. But hey folks, at least they have a customer survey solution. Management team happy, solution vendor happy, systems integrator happy, contractors happy – high fives all round. So what if the customer isn’t happy?

Theirs is not an isolated case, I can assure you.

So if you’re about to embark on a service improvement initiative in 2016, then I have three very simple points that I would like you to consider.

  1. Don’t bite off more than you can chew – We’ve all been guilty of this in the past. Many of us just can’t resist it. That sudden rush of enthusiasm or a bout of naivety leading us to believe that we can cure the world’s customer service ills in one full swoop. Never mind the fact that our customers can’t even get through to us by phone because we haven’t got enough people to man the phone lines. Roll out the ‘digital transformation programme’, hire the cleverest integrators, buy the whizziest piece of software and we’re done! Erm, sorry guv but no we’re not. We’ve just made ourselves look silly. Take the example of our dear friends at the HMRC. Whilst I commend them for investing millions of tax-payer’s money on digital services, they seem to have overlooked the fact that human beings still need to talk. They will still pick up the phone and call to address queries that are specific to them, which an FAQ section or notes the size of Everest cannot provide. Some 18m callers who just couldn’t get through to them. One can learn a lot from HMRC’s mistakes, even if they themselves apparently haven’t. Slow down please. Lay some solid foundations before you start to introduce a raft of changes in a short period of time that neither you nor your customer is ready for.
  2. Marketing is meant to be sexy, customer service just needs to be simple. I’m really sorry to break this to you, but unless you’re Justin Timberlake or you work in marketing, you definitely aren’t bringing sexy back! Customers just want plain, old, boring customer service. Why do we get so caught up in this self-generated hype of customers wanting the ‘wow factor’ or ‘cool’? Why must we torture ourselves and our customers? Customer needs are a lot more basic than we kid ourselves into believing. People have neither the time nor need for sexy stuff when the basics aren’t even addressed. YOU might think that customers want so many channels, so many choices, but in truth they won’t mind if you did just one contact channel right. Just one simple way of getting in touch with your company that they know they can rely on. By all means perform as many net promoter scores, customer segmentations or customer lifetime value analyses as your heart desires. But at the end of it all just give your customers simple, reliable service. The simple things still make customers happy. So there’s no need for you to dress up!
  3. Put money back into the wallets of your customers and employees instead. They will appreciate it, they will thank you for it and I guarantee that they will tell others about it. Instead of over-investing in technology where the returns are unproven, try investing that money on your staff instead. On their well-being, their training or rewarding them with appropriate bonuses for helping resolve difficult customer issues. As for your customers, their needs remain fairly basic. And getting better value (translated – lower prices) is definitely one of those basic needs. Aldi or Lidl for example deliver the greatest value for their customers, yet their customer service levels are consistently higher than many of their bigger rivals. In fact both brands remained unchallenged at the top two spots in a recent YouGov Brand Index. They may not be fun brands or brands synonymous with cool but whilst other retailers are getting distracted by hype, these brands continue to focus on the core of their customers’ needs. And they continue to win market share. You should try their formula. It seems to be working.

I don’t want anyone to misunderstand me though. I am all up for investment in new technology and bringing in consultancies to help find different ways of improving customer service. I make a living out of that.

However the next time a technology sales person or a consultant offers you some magic beans, it would be a good idea to stop and ask yourself whether you might be trading in your cow too early, Jack.

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