Benefits of Being an Undercover Customer
Walking in customers’ shoes is the path to clarity.
Delivering premium customer responsiveness, care, engagement and service is certainly not a new “bright idea.” However, it is one that has never been more critically important given today’s wickedly competitive and consumer-driven landscape. This imperative is not lost on most security company owners and operators. They will typically tell you that focusing on the customer is their top priority. This year’s Operations & Opportunities Report shows customer loyalty/satisfaction is the No. 2 greatest boost to a company’s bottom line. So then, why do so many businesses continue to flub it up so royally?
The reason is that, while conceptually simple, the successful implementation and execution of a consistent customer experience program is a tall order. It’s analogous to aspiring to be lean and physically fit; most people embrace the inherent benefits that brings and commit to its pursuit, but the majority fall short of achieving the desired long-term results. Those who have fought the battle of the bulge (me among them) know all too well how much discipline, determination and never-ending vigilance is required to prevail. It’s the same with customer service – only multiply that by every person within an organization who must work together cohesively as a team with a unified mission to get it right. Just as health management can call for a radical change of lifestyle, customer management can necessitate instituting an entirely new corporate culture.
It is critical for company owners and operators to realize that all the customer feedback surveys, service rep scripts, postal or electronic mail correspondence, bill inserts, newsletters, outbound phone calls, Facebook updates, tweets and any other communications in of themselves do not and will not constitute the means to the end. As part of a comprehensive program, those things are important but all too often they are rote with people going through the motions rather than legitimately engaging the customer. Direct interactions with customers are where the rubber hits the road. It’s where action speaks volumes.
A recent experience with my telephone company is an example of how badly service can go awry. It all began when I summoned a repairman to fix the main line outside my house after accidentally severing it with an electric hedge trimmer. A few days later, I discovered that my two voice lines were restored but the fax line was not working. A technician returned and remedied the problem, but an hour after he left I noticed the upstairs bathroom’s electrical outlets (directly beneath the attic area where the tech had been) were dead. After finding no GFI switches and checking fuses, I called for a phone company tech to return, but no one ever did.
I spent a maddening week calling more than a dozen times and escalated the situation to a supervisor, all to no avail. On each call I was subjected to the same endless voice prompt hell and the same automated voice telling me how important I was as a customer. Eventually, I would reach an attendant only slightly more capable than the automated voice, who would trot out the same tired apologies, empty promises and remind me as an eight-year customer how much they appreciated my business. Fed up, I contacted the provider’s corporate headquarters, where a rep said someone would follow up. Out of the blue I got a call from the phone company’s insurer telling me to have an electrician do the repair and submit the receipt. Apparently this seemingly minor issue was beyond the phone company’s technical capabilities.
While arranging an electrician’s service call and discussing the problem with him, he informed me that GFIs can be located elsewhere within a home from the affected outlets. Sure enough, I checked the downstairs bathroom and found a tripped GFI that when reset returned power upstairs. Who knew? No need for an insurance claim, an electrician visit, the gut-wrenching aggravation or irreplaceable lost time. All might have been averted had the company promptly gotten a tech with half a brain back to the scene, or subsequently been more responsive. What really threw my phone company for a loop was coping with an atypical problem – it fell outside the bounds of what is typically encountered.
The lesson is to make sure your organization is not only exceedingly well prepared to deal with common customer issues that may arise, but also nimble enough to effectively and expediently resolve almost any conceivable circumstance to that customer’s satisfaction. To make sure your company meets that standard, in addition to properly training and aligning personnel, I recommend management regularly pose as actual customers and present employees with both conventional and unconventional issues. This practice will uncover your ultimate customer service truth. Now how’s that for a bright idea?
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