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There’s something rotten in the world of customer service

Image: Customer Service Manager Magazine

There’s something rotten in the world of customer service and three events this week have highlighted the problem.

Today, my daughter tried to book some driving lessons. They took all her details, including phone number, date of birth, home address, mobile phone number and then… told her everyone is fully booked so could she ring back in a week. Could she ring them back, she being the customer and them being the service provider. This call followed one earlier in the week where the woman on the end of the ‘phone sounded like she’d just been woken up and after five minutes chat said she wasn’t taking on any new customers at the moment. Not even a ring back, just a goodbye.

Yesterday, my wife got herself a new phone and was horrified to find out that the independent network she thought she was with had shifted over to a nationwide network that she dislikes intensely, as do many others judging from the bad press it gets on a regular basis. Anyway, her deal gives her just 1Gb of data, which she says is fine but she rang them up to ask if they could put a cap on her data so that she doesn’t go over and incur extra costs. Oh, we can’t do that over the ‘phone, you have to download the app, register yourself via the app, then go into this section and that menu and tick this box. Then we’ll send you a confirmation by e-mail and a code to your phone that you have to cut and paste and… But you did it over the phone for my son the other month after you hit him with a bill of £150 for going over his allowance. Nope, no can do, that must’ve been a mistake, you have to download the app. Do you know what? Forget it.

Earlier in the week I rang a plumber. Yes, the very thought gets your irritation juices flowing. An intake of breath, a suck of the teeth and he tells you that he really can’t get to you before the end of September at the earliest. Give him another month and he will no doubt trot out the line “I can’t do anything this side of Christmas” which we’ve had on several occasions. My need is now, which is obviously why I am calling now, and while I understand plumbers are in demand whatever happened to the plumber who was once struggling and grateful for such calls? Hey, we were all learner drivers once, harping back to my first gripe.

The problem with too many successful businesses – okay, so the plumber is a single person but still offering a service – is that they can take prospects for granted. The person ringing up is not only a potential customer but they also know many other potential customers and they also use that incredibly powerful tool called social media where they can freely air their views. I don’t know about you, but when I get the cold shoulder from a service provider I don’t hold back in sharing this information with whoever I happen to be chatting to or whatever social media platform I happen to be on at the time, especially if they have been rude as well.

I can’t imagine ever receiving a call from a prospect and telling them to try again in a week or – even worse – that I’m simply not taking on any more work at the moment, so bye. I’ve contacted many freelancers and service providers over the years offering them work but I can guarantee that every single one of them who said they were too busy to help me never got a call back. Am I really going to keep their details on file, put my requirements on hold and ring them back some time in the future in the hope that their workload might have eased and they can fit me in? In a word: no.

Sure, we all get insanely busy at times but just remember the times when you were scrabbling around for work and would have loved to receive an enquiry. Never forget those days and don’t ever think that they can’t come back, believe me they can. Circumstances can change literally overnight and then you will be wishing you still had the phone number of those people that you were so abrupt with and turned away.

It cannot be that you dismiss people when you’re busy but welcome them with open arms when you’re not – they are the same prospects and the way they are treated should not alter based on how well you are doing work-wise.

Always treat everyone with the utmost courtesy, however busy you are, never tell them to ring back later when you might not be so busy, because they will walk and you will have turned a very hot lead into one that is non-existent.

Think you can afford to treat people this way because your order book is full? Think again.

And one more tip – if you really are choc-a-bloc with business and know that you can’t take on any more work, put this on your website, set up a special message on your phone or e-mail so that people find out up-front and don’t waste their time (and, inevitably, yours). Do something so that prospects don’t feel slighted because if you do nothing you risk damaging your reputation and that may come back and bite you hard in the future.

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Rory Baxter, owner of The Word Factory, has decades of experience as a writer, editor, and public relations practitioner.

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