Masking process dysfunction: Support’s role as customer ombudsman
Last month I had the misfortune of having a credit card hijacked for fraudulent online purchases. Citibank was wonderful, detecting the activity and stopping it immediately. I had direct billing from several places going to that account, and I quickly set about switching those to a different card using online self-service. All went well for my electric bill and NY Times subscription, but when I tried to change the direct billing for my home land line, Internet and satellite TV, which are combined into a single monthly bill, things went seriously wrong. As luck would have it, that month’s direct billing was set to process the next day, so I felt a sense of urgency in getting it moved to a different payment source.
The telco would only take direct payment online by Visa, so I couldn’t use my Amex and wouldn’t have a new Visa number for a week. I could have it directly billed to a bank account, but that would take 2 weeks (!) to setup. So I called customer service. I knew I was in trouble when the billing IVR asked me to “press 1 for land line, 2 for Internet, 3 for satellite TV” but had no option for converged billing. I spoke with 6 people at 4 different 1-800 numbers before resolving the issue, and it took over 2 hours of my time. One lady told me I could use Amex to make a payment by phone. Wrong. I tried making a payment using a debit card, but to do so I had to enter the 18-digit account number for my phone/internet/satellite bill. And where do you get that? Turns out the ONLY place to get your 18-digit account number is on your paper bill, which I don’t receive because I have paperless online billing. My account number isn’t shown online “for security reasons.” What a debacle.
All 6 people I spoke with had one thing in common: the attitude that this wasn’t their problem. And that, my friends, is the reason for this rant today. I’m doing a webcast later today entitled, “Achieving Service Excellence Across the Organization: It Takes a Village (and Automated Workflow),” and my terrible customer service experience is a good example of why support organizations should care about this issue.
The customer service/tech support organization is the voice and face of the company. When support is contacted about an issue they can’t solve, they still have a responsibility to make sure the customer resolves their issue–even if it is outside of support’s control. Many companies seem to have created walls between different departments, and customers find themselves being thrown over the wall from department to department, trying to find anyone who cares enough to take responsibility.
What percent of issues require input or involvement from another department to resolve? The number differs by industry. According to the SSPA Benchmark Database, around 10% of incidents received by technical support are “non-technical inquiries,” and could be related to billing, inventory, or sales related issues outside the purview of support. The numbers are likely higher in other industries–take telco for example–AT&T Wireless says 75% of their calls are billing related.
Here are some hints at improving service for these issues that often ‘fall through the cracks:’
- Take ownership. Customer support should own the problem, even when it requires assistance from another department. Think of yourself as an ombudsmen for the customer. If their satisfaction declines, support is likely to get the blame, so take responsibility to shepherd customers through the process of getting any issue resolved.
- Identify the scope of the problem. Collect attribution to track cross-department incidents separately so you know how big of an issue this is. Maybe a custom field or checkbox for these issues, allowing you to report separately on resolution time.
- Remove the walls between departments with workflow. Use workflow to track where issues are, who owns them at any given time, what the next step will be, etc., to monitor progress. Even if you can’t fix the problem, at least you can tell the customer where their issue is in the process and who is responsible for the next step in case escalation is required. If the other department uses a different application to track issues, get your support reps access to that system.
- Understand where the buck stops. Identify employees in other departments who are required to resolve customer issues and verify their priorities. I did an audit once for the support organization at a cable company and found billing issues were being routed to someone in the back office who was told by their manager to stop spending so much time on customer issues. There was a backlog with weeks passing before simple questions were resolved.
We talk a lot about how support is receiving more visibility and influence for customers with Value-Added Support, but along with this power comes added responsibilities. Support must step up to the plate as advocate for the customer when poor processes or policies get in the way of customer satisfaction. Realistically, you aren’t going to overhaul your processes and resolve long-held departmental conflicts overnight…or in your lifetime. But support should do everything in their power to mask this dysfunction from customers, because from the customer’s point of view, a failure by any single person or department impacts their satisfaction and loyalty with the whole.
How big of a problem is this? Have you been stuck in a black hole as a customer? Please add your comments or shoot me an email. And as always, thanks for reading!