When Customer Service Breaks Down

Is Terrible Customer Service Ever OK?

Every book I've read about succeeding in business talks about the customer experience - from first inquiries, through the sales process and on to resolving issues. Customer service is a hallmark of great companies.  If your customers like their experience, they come back, and they tell friends.  Since we all basically know that, then why is there so much lousy customer service?

OK, we have all had a bad day, and we have all had the cranky customer that comes in to pick a fight.  Then there are days when pressure just keeps building.  Conditions explain some, but they don't excuse it.  Yet, this is NOT what I'm getting at.  Let's discuss when institutions encourage poor customer service.  When the business policies encourage poor customer service.

Institutional Policies That Encourage Poor Customer Service

Does your company have policies that are in conflict with putting the customer first?  Recent interactions with two companies brought this question:

"Is There Ever An Excuse For Terrible Customer Service?"

Unfortunately, both examples are BIG companies.  Are they are too big to fail?  I'm not sure, but their policies put their wants in front of customer needs.  I will give the examples so we can all consider the ways in which we serve customers every day.  Hopefully we learn Good Service by pointing out Bad.

Graphic of Broken Customer Service

First Example:  Insurance

Perhaps it is wrong to name them?   I will because I have spoken with them about the poor customer service and though they apologize each time, it comes up again with each new phase.  Obviously the apologies were not a recognition of the lacking customer service.  Maybe empty lip service to appease?  (Well, that in itself is lousy customer service.)

Phase One

My teenage son recently bought a car and of course needed insurance.  Prior to the purchase, I wanted to teach him that there is more to the cost of ownership than just the cost of the car, so among other things we called State Farm and asked for a quote.  They would not give a quote to my son because he didn't know what will happen with the vehicle he is currently insured on - my truck.  I intervened and explained again what we were trying to do.  After some persuasion, they finally gave him a quote.

Rhetorical:  Why push a customer away when they want to spend money with you?  (If I didn't have current insurance policies with them, I would hang up and never come back.  Yes, it was that ridiculous.)

Phase Two

Your Actions Represent?After the car purchase, a $1000 beater, he went to get the insurance.  He came home nearly in tears and extremely frustrated because of the horrible experience.  According to him they said he had to pay a full 6 month premium up front.  He doesn't have that much money at the moment.  (He just saved up to pay cash for the car.)

Well, that's hogwash.  Apparently, because he said he wanted the same coverage as my truck he's been driving (we pay 6 month premiums), they could not see past the end of their nose to offer him month-to-month payments.  The truth is they do better financially with 6 month payments, so they pressured him to do what's best for them - not best for him.  Again, I had to call.

Phase Three

The next day my son went back to purchase the insurance.  Sure enough, they made the policy just like the truck policy including things good for a nicer vehicle, but certainly not for a beater.  Why would you carry Comprehensive and Collision insurance on a car that is worth less than the deductible?

I just can't believe the agent would write a policy without asking about specifics and teaching about the coverage!  Especially after the first 2 phases described above.  I was beyond astonished!

This is a young driver is buying insurance for the first time.
It does not take much intelligence to realize that this customer needs guidance.

When he got home he told me what he is paying and I asked to see the policy.  Almost $800 annually for coverage he couldn't collect on even if the situation arose.  Basically State Farm is stealing money knowing full well it is useless insurance.  It borders on Fraud.  Again, I had to intervene.

Their company policies maximize the sale, instead of helping customers understand and make proper choices.  Perhaps it is the Agent not corporate State Farm, but from a customer perspective, they are the same.  Total Customer Service FAIL.

Rhetorical:  Why must someone look over our shoulder to avoid a rip-off?  Especially from a company that is . . . "Reputable"?

What Can We Learn?

First, listen and learn from the customer.  You know more about your business than your customer does, so listen to them and tailor your services to their needs.

Second, listen and learn from the customer.  Especially in a situation as complex as insurance, help them the way you would help your little sister.  Put their needs first.

As a side note,  my son learned a lot more in this stressful process than I could have taught him without it.  For that I thank them.  "Buyer beware" is a lesson best taught in the school of hard knocks, and in this case it didn't hurt too bad.  It also gave us the chance to explore and learn about coverage, deductibles, etc..  He was not interested in that before.  So, in the end, there is positive that came from it.

Second Example:  A Bank

Again, it may be wrong to name them, but they are already in so much hot water it probably doesn't matter.

Customer Service FailureWells Fargo recently changed policies for over-the-counter transactions.  I work with a non-profit, FRJC, and it is not uncommon for me (and other coaches) to accept money for the team.  In the past, I would simply buzz by the bank and make a deposit.  The policy change now says I can't deposit money unless I'm named on the account.

As a customer, I want to know why?  But, they won't say.  There must be reasons, but the policy is inflexible which makes it more difficult for us, as their customer, to transact business.  For security, we don't want everyone named on the account, so we must now do a lot of extra running around.

Sorry Wells Fargo, your policies drove us away.  We went to a smaller, more local bank that seems to care about what the customer needs.

Another example, same bank.  My mother had her accounts with this disaster bank too, but she lives in a different state.  You can see where this is going.  Several of their policies make it difficult to assist my aging mother with her finances.  For what reasons?  They won't say.

I won't go into detail, but I have made several complaints, which they won't respond to.  Hard to argue with logic when they are coming from a place intellectual absence.  Perhaps they have a huge Dunce Dome over the Wells Fargo offices, because I can't seem to figure out how so many people can act so stupid over so many things.

What Can We Learn?

Policies are required, of course, but they should not drive away customers.  If there is a problem that needs a policy, find a solution to address the concern while still accommodating customers who are not part of the problem.  If a new policy will inconvenience a customer, go back and reconsider it.  If it is absolutely necessary, help them understand.  That way, they don't feel left out in the cold.  (This feels like a "Duh" statement, but apparently it's not.)

How Important Is Customer Service?

Even in a regulated industry, customers matter, and so does Quality Customer Service.  Unfortunately, just like in our previous discussion on quality, as a customer the only real recourse is to leave.  We vote with dollars for things we want.  Which is a better way at solving issues than some others might choose.

I suppose one step worse is to make policies that are not only terrible customer service, but also bullying the customer.  We certainly see a lot of those too.

On the other side, if you, as a customer of Synthesis, ever feel like you have had poor customer service, please let me know.

As stated above, there are situations that cause mess-ups, yet in my opinion, there is never an "excuse" for bad customer service.  Let us know if you feel otherwise.  I would really like to hear that logic.

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