Was it the “Year of the Frustrated Customer?” Here are a few highlights: Airline passenger complaints to the U.S. Department of Transportation were up 70 percent, as last summer saw the worst delays in 13 years of record-keeping; Verizon was ordered to pay $1 million to customers the company terminated for “excessive use” on a plan that was advertised as “unlimited”; and the state of Minnesota is body slamming Sprint with a lawsuit on behalf of hundreds of its residents who claimed the carrier extended its contracts without their informed consent.
While customers are increasingly irate with call center agents — some of us spewing combinations of expletives that would make a convict blush — no corporate solution to shut us up has yet registered. Like Sprint, many companies are throwing more warm bodies at the problem. Sure, beefing up staff in call centers across the country may reduce phone wait times, but is this solution really going to restore our faith in industries that continue to fail us?
Move Over, COO
Here’s an idea I wish the top brass of my cable company would hear loud and clear: “Customer service should be taken out of the contact center and put into the highest corporate level.” This was suggested by Chip Gliedman, a Forrester Research analyst, during a webinar he hosted last month: “23 Best Practices for the Customer Service and Revenue-Focused Contact Center.”
What that means is scoot over Mr. COO and Ms. CFO, and make room for someone with an eye on your most valuable asset — me, your customer.
This boardroom shakeup could be helpful in many sectors, Gliedman explained. For example, the consumer electronics industry often struggles to sell a variety of products that appear to the average consumer to be exactly the same. Instead of mulling over which color laptop you should buy, what if you could consider a company’s outstanding customer service department as a key product differentiator?
The Sales Connection
Gliedman also suggested that customer service reps should not simply answer phones and troubleshoot but that call centers should be “tightly integrated with sales.” That’s kind of a no-brainer for any profit-loving executive. CSRs often talk about how a window of opportunity opens for a sale when a customer is grateful for the company promptly resolving a problem. It’s a win-win strategy for customers and corporations if the prospect of an upsell motivates companies to improve their service.
At least some companies out there are getting the message. Emphasizing customer service at the corporate level is working for some companies — such as JetBlue Airways, which has a “Customer Bill of Rights.” That type of directive coming down from the boardroom is bound to have a positive effect on how a company treats its customers, Gliedman said. Considering the praise the relative newcomer has earned lately, it shows.
Not every company needs an official declaration written on parchment, but I hope that in 2008, the suits in the boardroom get Gliedman’s point.