A hard lesson in consistency

Be consistent and keep your customers happy. It’s a lesson I learnt from the other side of the counter. SUE BARRETT

Sue Barrett

By Sue Barrett

One of the things that frustrate me the most as a customer is inconsistent service standards, inconsistent procedures and people’s inability to deal effectively and honourably with different types of people.

If left unchecked, this leads to confusion, frustration, wasted time, wasted effort, impaired brands and reputations, lost revenue and lost customers.

These issues don’t seem to be as much of an issue when you deal with very small companies because usually everyone knows what everyone else is doing and how it should be done, even if it is only via word of mouth.

However as businesses expand and get on board more people to work in the front line, you, as the customer, can’t always expect to get the same person to deal with – then the challenges begin.

Here is a live example of what I mean.

I was trying to change a periodical payment amount over the phone recently; normally a very simple task from my previous experiences. When I have called in the past I usually get put through to a regular group of three or four people who take care of our region. They have always been very helpful and pleasant to deal with. They know who I am and I enjoy speaking with them.

I follow the appropriate security protocol they instructed me to use and more often than not our tasks are completed very quickly and promptly. This has been the case for over two years now. No fuss. No bother.

So when I tried to change a periodical payment to a new amount a few days ago, it took three calls and 45 minutes to still get nowhere. And when I tried again a few days later it took only one call and two minutes to rectify what I needed done in the manner I had always done it in before. What a waste! Wasted time, wasted resources, wasted relationships, etc.

Here is a summary of what happened and you’ll see what I mean. My first call was taken by a young man who was very abrupt to begin with and would not give me his name when I asked for it later on in the call. I admit he did give me his name when he answered the phone, however he said it so fast that I didn’t hear it, so when I asked him to give it to me again he said “I have already told you my name and I don’t have to tell you again”.

In short he refused to help me with my request and behaved in a belligerent manner. I then asked to speak to his supervisor and he said, “no I will not do that”. I was at an impasse, so I hung up and tried again.

My second call was much more pleasant. I explained what happened with the last call and the woman (who sounded older) was very gracious and understanding, however she was unable to help me with my immediate request as per my usual method as she claimed I needed to do it another way and had to get more information.

So I hung up again and gathered the information needed to be prepared the next time I called. (It should be noted that I have not needed all this additional information in the past as they had it on file, and I use the appropriate security information to process my tasks.) And sadly I was not able to call her back direct to carry on our discussions. I had to start back at the start with a new person all over again.

The third call is too long to go into, so in summary after I explained what I wanted to do as per the previous two calls, I was spoken over, interrupted, told that staff were getting sacked over not doing things properly, “I don’t want to lose my job” and that the way I had been doing things in the past (ringing up and giving my account details and security passwords to process simple tasks) was no longer valid and that I had to fill in forms and fax them through, etc etc etc etc etc.

And in this person’s attempt to finally empathise with me and my frustrations, they said “Yes I get nasty too when I am not happy”. I sighed again and explained that at no time had I behaved in a nasty manner. Sure I was frustrated, but not nasty.

She had to admit this was the case and apologised for inferring otherwise. She stated she would send me a PDF to fill in and fax back. More wasted time, more frustration, more inconsistencies. I gave up and went back to try to enjoy my day off.

The fourth call was a few days later. I ditched the fax and did what I normally do and it was done in two minutes, no fuss, over the phone.

I have to say I was confused. I mean what is the right way to do things? The way calls one and three went were so far off the mark of effective service standards I wondered if I had walked into a comedy of errors and just a bad day at the office.

My expectations as a customer in this situation are not high at all, as it was only a simple transaction that shouldn’t have taken much effort to process at all. All I expected was to receive the polite and helpful processing of my request. Calls one and three were handled so badly that they potentially ruined all the good work put in by their colleagues previously who knew better (consciously or not) how to treat customers well.

So who is to blame? I don’t know specifically in this case, however I would talk to management and find out if the issue was an isolated incident or systemic. If it is systemic we need to identify the problem(s) and put in place a change process to resolve this as effectively and efficiently as possible.

So, what are your service standards?
How do you educate and work effectively with your clients?
How do you expect your staff to interact and behave with your clients?
Does everyone know want is expected of them and how they should behave?
Are you all “singing from the same hymn sheet”?

While it’s easier to strike up a relationship with one person only, having to deal with multiple service people about the same common issues or procedures needs a streamlined consistent approach in procedures and tools in how to work effectively with different people. Educating customers on the right ways to work with you is very important, especially if you are not going to provide them with the same person to contact each time. Customers want consistency.

For instance at Barrett every member of our team is aware of our standard policy for “psychometric assessment” procedures and that we guarantee a 24-hour turnaround for delivery of reports once the assessment has been completed. If a client gets its within 24 hours, that is an exception not the norm. Everyone in our business knows this and makes it clear to our clients, especially the new ones who begin to work with us. This reduces confusion and sets clear expectations.

For instance, if we are going to make it better for everyone concerned, customers and staff alike, we need sales and service staff to:

  • Handle a query simply and easily.
  • Know, understand and follow due process.
  • Explain things clearly.
  • Clarify and solve people’s problems.
  • Use plain language the customer can understand.
  • Help correct any misunderstanding politely.
  • Communicate in a positive professional manner.
  • Make people feel welcome.
  • Distinguish how customers really feel.
  • Adapt their communication style with different people.
  • Handle frustrations effectively.
  • Don’t take things personally.

If they can’t do this, they potentially send your customers away unhappy and maybe unwilling to come back, and this will ruin your reputation, your revenue and ultimately your business.

 

Sue Barrett is founder and managing director of BARRETT, a boutique consultancy firm. Sue is an experienced consultant, public speaker, coach and facilitator. Sue and her team are best known for their work in creating high performing people and teams. Key to their success is working with the whole person and integrating emotional intelligence, skill, knowledge, behaviour, process and strategy via effective training and coaching programs. Click here to find out more

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