Customer Service


Adding Channels Won’t Fix Broken Customer Service

Technology allows businesses to take care of customers in new and different ways. Think of the multiple options we have for customer service with many businesses today: phone, chat, text, email and sometimes social media channels.

The challenge for businesses is to perfect their practice of satisfying the customer in each one. They all have their own nuances, and they all place specific demands on your staff.

The problem, it seems, is that in some cases the addition of a new channel to facilitate customer service is seen as a replacement or a workaround for an existing channel that is failing. Usually, it’s not the channel that’s not working — it’s some other underlying issue. Without fixing that issue — and thereby fixing the way you satisfy the customer today — you’re merely setting yourself up to fail via multiple channels.

Different Channel, Same Mess

Here’s an example: I buy the same black-colored khakis almost every time. The nearest retailer to me that sells them is routinely out of stock in my size — the absurdly average 34-34. Finding that out, however, is not easy, since the stock in the store frequently looks like a tornado has just hit. Hunting through hundreds of pairs of pants only to be disappointed is not my idea of a great experience.

However, the last time I was at the store, I was pointed toward a new kiosk that allowed you to order merchandise and get it shipped to your home free of charge. I ordered two pairs of khakis — and although the interface was clunky, it was a lot more pleasant than rummaging through stacks of random sizes.

A few days went by and my order came: one pair of 34-34 black khakis; and a second one, size 32-38.

I hopped on the phone and was told by a customer service rep that the most expedient remedy was to take the wrong trousers back to the store and trade them for the right size — thus condemning me to the same needle-in-a-haystack hunt I was trying to avoid.

Then it occurred to me: The same problem controlling and organizing inventory in the stores exists at the retailer’s fulfillment center. It doesn’t matter which channel you use to buy from them; their systemic problem is always going to damage your experience.

Motivation Matters

Now think about this in terms of the ways in which your business provides service. If there’s a systemic problem that keeps you from delivering a great experience, then it doesn’t matter how you attempt to deliver that experience. A crappy service experience delivered over the phone has the same effect as a crappy experience delivered over Twitter.

You might argue that recent uses of social media channels shows they’re more effective. Prominent cases, like Comcast Cares and its use of Twitter, suggest that using newer media can solve systemic problems. That’s an illusion.

In the Comcast Cares example, the company saw how dangerous it was to have angry customers venting their anger where thousands of other potential customers could see them, and it created a separate organization with a greater ability to solve customer problems. The motivation was not to deliver better customer service — it was to avoid negative PR. The systemic issues still existed with the channels Comcast had invested most heavily in and really wanted customers to use.

Silver Lining

It’s not enough to be great at servicing customers through texts and terrible over the phone, or to be responsive via Twitter and asleep at the wheel over email. Your business will be known by how well it provides service consistently across all media.

There is a potential silver lining here, though. These new, parallel organizations are successful because they bypass systemic problems at the point of their creation — thus, they can serve as models of how to build customer service processes and programs once those systemic problems are solved. If the lessons they teach can be applied to other aspects of customer service, then every channel can deliver a great experience to the customer.

CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz is director of content marketing at Relayware. Bucholtz is also a speaker, writer and consultant on topics surrounding buyer-seller relationships. He has been a technology journalist for 17 years and has immersed himself in the world of CRM since 2006. When he's not wearing his business and technology geek hat, he's wearing his airplane geek hat; he's written three books on World War II aviation.

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