I’d be remiss if I didn’t say thanks to all of you bloggers and tweeters out there. I always learn more from your feedback, than I do from my own writing. I am convinced however, that you’ve got to work both sides of the equation- ‘give to get’ so to speak. I can only hope my posts this week made a “small dent” in what I’m sure will be a perpetual debt balance I hold in the “‘bank of innovation and improvement ideas” fueled by the blogosphere and Twitter-verse.
All in all, it was a good week. But today was most interesting, from the standpoint of a few Customer Service experiences that left a lot to be desired in my eyes. I’ll leave you with a few parting thoughts from one those interactions, which I’m sure will end up being fodder for some of next week’s posts.
Earlier this afternoon, my wife and I had to run three errands, all of which I estimated would take all but an hour or two tops. One of those involved what I believed would be a quick run to the ATT store to re-evaluate my mobile WIFI data card and plan, and evaluate some new options I’d been thinking about. While the other two errands were less than perfect from a customer satisfaction perspective (I’ll spare you the details on these), the ATT experience was absolutely priceless in terms of providing new fodder on the topics of business improvement, and specifically “how not to run a customer service storefront”.
In today’s environment, many businesses elect to leave their “storefront” open for a variety of reasons, despite the myriad of online and mobile options available to their customers. It’s no easy decision for them to do this, and the pressures to go the other way and abandon them altogether, are more than compelling. So when they are left open, be it for product sales, or specialized service, I would imagine the company would want to extract maximum value from that decision. In fact, if I were the CCO of that company, my strategy for any local offices that were maintained (left open) would look something like this:
- Create the most welcoming and helpful environment for customers to shop and buy my products
- Make sure than any service I elect to provide in that office to existing customers (which, because they are provided in the local office itself, will be visible to my new shoppers/ future customers) is first rate and without blemish
- And where possible, begin to show existing customers (that are there for “service on their existing account”) other channels that are available to them to help them (THE CUSTOMER) make their life a little easier, and perhaps even deliver a BETTER level of service than they had before (which would really be a true win win: make the customers life easier and lower the company’s cost at the same time!)
On this particular day, and at this particular store, ATT (and I rarely name a company when I rant on a CS experience!) failed miserably on all three counts. I was there to take care of several things with which I was having trouble taking care of online. I’ll spare you the details on the entire experience, but there was one aspect of the interaction that was truly mind-blowing for me.
As a backdrop to the story, I am a very heavy “data user” given the degree to which I travel. I have always had an unlimited data plan, which I was “grandfathered” into a few years back when ATT converted over to a plan that was less expensive, but capped the user at 5 gigs of data. While my usage is significant, I felt I was still undershooting the capped plan even in my heaviest months. So while the lower cost was appealing, I was still worried about the probability of me overshooting the cap, and what it would cost me if I did.
Specifically, my question was how much I had used in the past several months, whether or not I was operating below the 5 gig threshold, and in the months where I may have gone over, what the overage charge would have been. I tried to answer those questions on line but was unable to get a clear enough picture, so I figured I’d just stop in and get some one on one assistance in dealing with the problem. Some may say that this is a simple “self service” transaction, and maybe it is, but as someone who is fairly familiar with online and mobile channels, I found this one to be more difficult than usual and figured I would have more success in person. I had considered calling them by phone, but I had dealt with this store before and expected this to be relatively painless.
While at the counter, I began to describe my issue to the rep- an issue I would have expected them to have faced hundreds of times previously. After several quasi blank stares, I explained the problem again, this time illustrating on a piece of paper (complete with illustrative bar charts) exactly what I was trying to evaluate. Still no luck. And that’s where things went south.
Progressively watching the rep deal with this mathematical dilemma was like watching a robot get short circuited in front of me, not to mention the other shoppers (prospective customers) that were in the store watching this unfold :
- First, we had to endure him searching several different screens for the usage pattern (10 minutes (felt like an hour)) for him to find two months worth of history). He tells me it would have been easier for me to do it online because the customer has access to more info. Nice try. I’d already tried to locate the usage history on the site and it was like looking in a maze. That’s why I was there to begin with.
- After concluding that waiting a for him to find another 2 months of history would have taken another 10 minutes, I decided to rely on the one month overage that occurred in December (which was about 1 gig over the 5 gig threshold) to begin to begin the process of ascertaining what the overage “charge” would have been. Again, like a deer in the headlights…
- After watching another blank stare for a while, I just laid out the complex math problem for him as simply as I could (Cost per kb * the kb overage). Calculator in hand, he does the calc 3 or 4 times, and tells me (God honest truth) $20,000. I tell him that’s impossible (like I really should have had to!) because if I was on the 5Gig plan, I would have only paid $45, and while I did go 20% over, I seriously doubt the overage would have been $20 grand. That’s one heck of an overage fee, eh? I’m a bit impatient at this point, as he keeps recalculating and coming up with the same $20,000 answer, over and over again…
- Now for the climax of the story… he kind of gives up, shrugs his shoulders and says (you cant make this stuff up!!!), “well sir, I find it hard to believe too, but all I can tell you is that most people don’t look at their bills and just pay it. Sir, I’ve not had a question like this before.”
Now, had this been an agent with only a few days on the job, I may have cut him some slack. But this guy has been there more than a few years. I was rather speechless, as were the 3 people around us listening and watching this painful exchange. In a state of amazement (the emotion of frustration had left me by this point), I decided to leave and take care of this by phone, or perhaps by spending another hour or so back on the website trying to figure it out myself. But my confidence in this being a simple exercise was shot. All I was sure of, was that taking care of this myself would be easier than enduring any more of the “in store” interaction.
And therein lies the “lessons learned” from my Friday afternoon at the ATT Store:
- If the company wanted to encourage self service transactions in lieu of “in store” transactions— mission accomplished
- My confidence in the website and mobile transactions being easier for the customer —0
- Confidence of the other shoppers that ATT’s “after the sale service” will be a good experience—- 0
- Likelihood of trusting another bill from ATT without being accompanied by a forensic accountant—Less than before I walked in the door.
Seriously though, I actually do believe that ATT is the right vendor for me at the moment, given the alternatives, and my rather long and uneventful relationship thus far with the company. In fact, there are some unique things about their product that I can’t get from their competitor. So I will likely remain a customer despite the experience on this particular Friday afternoon. For now, I’m going to just chalk all this up to the guy just having a bad day, the CSR equivalent of a “senior moment” or perhaps a minor stroke!
But I believe the real story here is about the state of Customer Service in general, and how the industry is executing the transition to more self service technology. I genuinely don’t believe this is a problem unique to ATT.
There is nothing wrong with trying to shift customers to lower cost channels, be it for payment or general inquiry. But we appear to have swung so far to that end of the spectrum, that the staffs that are left to deal with specialized problems have forgotten what Customer Service is, and more importantly why it exists in the first place.
In the end, I think we will ultimately get all of this into equilibrium, but it is incumbent on CS leadership to make the transition to new technology, new channels and new processes a much more deliberate one. And that will be dependent on their ability to design processes, factoring in the customer experience at a level equal to, or greater than the cost savings involved. Not to say that cost savings aren’t paramount, but it cant be a trade off at the expense of the customer, all else being equal.
Win win solutions that enhance customer service, while still producing a much lower cost structure for the company, are out there. I am confident in saying that. It just wont happen inside of cultures like the one I experienced today. Let’s just hope he was having a bad day.
CC: ATT ???
Author: Bob Champagne is Managing Partner of onVector Consulting Group, a privately held international management consulting organization specializing in the design and deployment of Performance Management tools, systems, and solutions. Bob has over 25 years of Performance Management experience and has consulted with hundreds of companies across numerous industries and geographies. Bob can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org