The New Customer Service: Nice But Incompetent

I’ve been known to complain about things from time to time. Okay, sometimes I can get irritated with petty issues, but this isn’t one of those. I’m sure you’ve noticed it too. Customer service representatives in a wide variety of call centers do an excellent job on the relationship side. They ask “How are you?” That’s designed to make us feel that they care about us when we call. They exude a bright and friendly attitude. You can almost hear them smile over the phone. Every calling experience is a pleasure.

No, that’s not what I’m complaining about. It seems that the more effort organizations put into their agents’ phone manner, the worse their execution becomes. As a result, we callers get tricked into thinking we will smoothly and seamlessly achieve the result we are calling about. Not so.

DS Waters is my go-to example. I order bottled water from them for my home. The transactions are very simple—I call, and they schedule a delivery to my home. I always get to speak to a real person. The friendly call center agent looks up my account and schedules the delivery. She assures me it’s all set and gives me the date. Nine times out of ten, it doesn’t happen right. They fail to show up. They deliver to the wrong address. They come by but don’t leave the water. They deliver the wrong product. When I get a chance to speak directly to the delivery person, he gives me his cell phone and tells me to call him directly. He doesn’t trust them either.  In terms of the total experience, DS Waters is exceptionally nice, but not competent.

This isn’t the only example. I have had similar experiences with the Smithsonian gift shop, Verizon FIOS and my doctor’s office. I might be exaggerating here, but I’d almost say “nice but incompetent” is becoming the rule rather than the exception. What’s happening?

I see two culprits. First, we’re managing what we can measure. We can record and listen in on every one of those call center conversations. We can spot the testy behavior and coach, or even fire the offending agents. We can tack instant surveys onto phone calls to tie the voice of the customer directly to a particular experience. The result? Wonderful telephone interactions.

What organizations don’t seem to be measuring as closely is the execution side. They may count missed shipments, wrong medical diagnoses, and faulty service installations, but not with the same swift and direct impact on the delivery person’s performance review.

The second culprit is organizational structure. The call center folks and the service delivery folks are frequently on different teams. Of course they can talk to each other, but accountability does not stretch from one to the other. So Deb, the DS Waters call center representative, can assure me her company will take care of everything, but she has absolutely no accountability for making it happen. She never even knows there’s a problem until I call and complain.

What can we do to fix this?  I’d like DS Waters, Verizon FIOS, my doctor’s office, the Smithsonian gift store, and every other organization I call for services to operate more like NWN’s NCare Managed Services group. The person you get on the phone is accountable for resolving your problem or for explicitly escalating it to someone who can. The folks who answer the phone are measured on how well they take care of customers—the complete experience. It makes me proud and a little less cranky.

By | 2017-09-19T13:37:28+00:00 August 21st, 2014|Professional Services|Comments Off on The New Customer Service: Nice But Incompetent