Lessons Unlearned Radio Tour: Customer Service is a Hot Topic Coast to Coast
This week I completed my Lessons Unlearned radio tour of North America. Over the last few weeks, I’ve done 14 interviews with large and small radio stations in such diverse locations as Boston, Virginia Beach, Colorado Springs, Des Moines, Detroit, Atlanta, and Minneapolis. Some of the interviews were syndicated, broadcast all over the c0untry. While some of the shows were business oriented, and we talked about topics like enterprise CRM, tech trends, why most startups fail, etc., the majority of the interviews were with morning “drive time” DJs who just wanted to entertain.
Based on what I heard in these 14 interviews, customer service is a very hot discussion topic. In fact, my contract was only for 10 interviews, but so many stations replied to the interview request because they loved the topic that I ended up doing 14. Thinking back over all these interviews, which ranged from 5 minutes to 25 minutes, there were 3 themes I heard over and over again:
- Certain brands have a terrible public perception for service, deserved or not. Bizarrely, three consumer companies came up in almost every interview, with DJ’s asking, “Why does this company hate customers?” These three are AT&T wireless, DirectTV, and Best Buy. There are definitely some brands on my “black hole of customer service” list (read the book to find out who!), but personally I have a great relationship with all three of these companies. I’ve been an AT&T customer since my first dorm room phone line in 1982, and an AT&T wireless customer since my first cell phone in 1997. DirectTV is the only satellite provider in my remote mountain area, and I love them. And Best Buy has bent over backwards to fix any problem I’ve ever had. I love shopping at Best Buy. But clearly these companies have some brand building to do.
- Phone support is painful. Another complaint I heard on almost every interview is about the endless wait times for phone support, the infuriating voice menus that never have the option you want, and the worst: the non-stop recording saying “Thank you for holding; your call is important to us.” Clearly, if the call were that important, the company would have more phone agents available. Other complaints included recordings saying, “Please listen to all options, menus have changed” when the menu hasn’t changed in 5 years, agents with poor English skills, and in general, bored,uninterested support employees. It pains me to hear these complaints with so much focus on the customer experience. Clearly, companies need to make some major investments in quality monitoring technology.
- Customers would rather churn than complain. I have a section in my book with advice for consumers when they encounter customer service problems. Nothing surprising really: take a deep breath, speak with a supervisor, and if all else fails, write a registered letter to the CEO. But what I heard in these interviews is that no one is interested in fixing the problem, they seem on the edge of an explosion at any time, and would prefer to make a scene, trash the company on social media, and start shopping elsewhere. When I suggested that complaining was the only way to let the company know they had an employee needing additional training or mentoring, the reaction was usually the same: “Not my problem.”
While the New York Times has yet to call to say my book made it to their best seller list (I’m still waiting!!!), the timing of the book seems perfect. Customers have had it with bad service and poor experiences, and both patience and tempers are in short supply. Perhaps the most infuriating piece is how easy most of these problems are to fix: better training, CSAT tracking, linking customer experience to performance reviews, doing basic quality monitoring, and for heavens sake, dial in to your own voice system periodically to see how painful it is for customers. And as I say repeatedly in the book, if you truly love the customers, most of these problems evaporate.
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