Thursday, 10 March 2011

Why is customer service variable?

This question has been vexing me recently - why do we put up with poor customer service in some areas and not in others?

I won't wait in line to go into a restaurant - and yet I wait in line in the bank, quite often, and certainly spend a good deal of time queuing in the post office. I like to feel special when I buy things in a shop, and yet put up with being ignored by my bank. Why is this?

The question was put into focus for me recently by two 'transactions'. Working with a client (a large law firm looking to borrow about 8% of their turnover in total), I was arranging a change from bank A to bank B - moving accounts, loans and overdrafts. I understand completely that compliance officers are being more cautious than previously - but there seemed to be an expectation that the compliance team would work at their speed ("Compliance, eh! What can you do...?") and that we all just needed to put up with a delay. They returned some forms because the signatures (just) fell out of a box - it was perfectly legible and in the right colour ink (!) but did indeed cut the edge of the box and so was not acceptable. The compliance team had forgotten that they - just as much as the unfortunate customer liaison people who had to bear the brunt of out frustration - worked for us, the customer. Why did it matter that the signature had crossed a line? That was never explained - it was just a rule. Why did someone who was borrowing £25k in an unsecured loan need to give five years' worth of income details and the values of all the property they owned? That too was never explained and it was expected that we just needed to put up with it.

This is a clear case of forgetting who is important. Yes, of course compliance is important - but the bank's client should be the most important. Compliance teams need to trust their sales people - that the new clients they have found are good credit risks. Everyone concerned needs to think about customer service - are they working hard to ensure that the experience is a good one for the customer? Sadly no.

My second experience was a personal one. I have traded in my old Volvo (which has given me over 120,000 miles of service) for my first brand new car. I moved away from Volvo partly because of the models available but also partly because of the shoddy support that has been provide over the years every time the car has been serviced. It was quite usual to book the car in for a service, deliver it first thing on the booked day - and then to find that they hadn't, as such, actually done anything to the car that day and so needed a second to service the car. We would only find that out, of course, when ringing to see if we could collect the car - the conversation would usually start with them saying "We've found a couple of problems..." before admitting (once I knew to ask) that they hadn't really started.

So we decided to buy a new Audi - partly because I like the A3 and it's wonderful milage, but partly because I had higher hopes for their service. Oh dear - perhaps I'm just unlucky and so have been the only customer who had not been contacted post-sale and whose car had "by accident" been delivered to the wrong dealer. I accept that these sorts of things happen - but, again, I only found out there was a problem when I rang to check that the promised delivery date was still ok. Once again I had a conversation which started "Ah, there seems to have been a small problem..."

Issues seem to have been resolved (although I have had to make more calls that I would have liked and I suspect that I am now considered a difficult customer) and I hope to collect my car, as planned, later today. What has struck me, however, is that I could not - and certainly would not - consider treating one of my clients in the same manner. Imagine if I could simply decide that a problem meant that I could not be on site as planned with a client - but waited for them to ring before telling them.

Many years ago I worked in a banqueting department. We did a lot of weddings - providing the catering and venue for couple's special day. I used to have a fantasy of standing on the entrance steps and greeting a brand new bride and groom with "Ah. Hello. There's been a bit of a problem and we're not going to get things working today. I've sorted things out, though, and worked really hard - so we should be able to do your wedding on Tuesday. Wednesday at the latest...". While we all know that this would never work for a wedding - substitute the circumstance to that of a plumber and a client, or a car dealer, or an estate agent, or a bank (or a consultant...) - and suddenly it does seem much more likely, and perhaps even normal.

I don't believe that I expect too much from companies. Sadly, I think that we all expect too little. Let's all raise our expectations - and accept that we may need to shout a little until those raised expectations are met.

1 comment:

  1. An interesting question (and hope you car arrived OK!).

    Our local Skoda / Mazda dealership (where I have got my last two cars) is an interesting case study here.

    They seem to have a real service culture which is driven from the top down (the owner is apparently quite religious and for that reason they don't trade on a Sunday for starters!).

    In my experience they make a point of delivering the basics reliably (servicing your car when they say they will etc.), but they also have a lot of added extras.

    If you show up on a Saturday morning for example they will wash your car for free and after a recent service when they noticed I had two tyres which needed replacing immediately they called me twice afterwards to check I had changed them (even though I had politely declined to pay main dealer prices for the privilege of them changing them).

    They seem to have an incredibly loyal customer base and they organise a number of events through the year like a regular carol service at Christmas.

    It is interesting from a law firm perspective because they aren't doing anything radically different in terms of the basic services they provide (they still sell cars in much the same way), but their obsessive approach to customer service really marks them out from the competition.

    I don't have an answer on the bank front though... seems like a much more difficult problem!