Guest post by Cathenry.
The eighth lesson in the Forbes article Nine Impactful Customer Service Lessons That Can Change Your Business Approach is “If you always think you’re right, you’ll never learn anything new” and it reminds us how important it is to listen.
Recently, I needed some unresolved printer help. I bit the bullet and clicked my way through the manufacturer’s website to find a chat room with a “live” tech. It was a nice surprise when the tech, Aaron (after I granted my approval), connected my pc to remote desktop sharing to solve my printer problem. It far superseded my expectation of a typical “chat” room experience (going back and forth with given step-by-step instructions) which is tedious. He then went beyond the call of duty after solving my dilemma, asking twice to wait while confirming my printer was all set and ready to go, and sent me an email with his contact info should we get disconnected. The guy anticipated my needs and then some. He was listening.
To me, it’s a sign of ambivalence when businesses (particularly the mega-corporations) toot their customer service horn yet, in this digital age, a customer seeking support is directed to an automated voice message as the initial communication. Or, if on the corporate website, having to deal with a myriad of customer service “bots”. Another pet peeve about the big guy businesses is referring a customer to their “community” (routinely done by Google, Facebook) to find answers to similar questions from other customers that have to be culled through to find a solution. Then there is the current global trend of outsourcing call centers which can be frustrating when there is a language barrier. For a company to achieve long-lasting relationships with customers, the conversation needs to be personal, direct, positive, and meaningful in its every word. Ideally the representative should be motivated to utilize all the systems in place to acquire the necessary familiarity with the brand and its operations. That’s listening.
One parachurch company I was associated with did not utilize an automated answering service during normal working hours. They answered “live”. They also had a volunteer pool utilized to fill the chair for office employees out due to training, workshops, maternity leave, etc. This set the bar high for me on their intent to a personal approach to the people they were trying to serve. When I call for help in any given area, I try to correctly articulate my question. At times I don’t but the “live” person hears what I am asking (listening for my intent) and reframes my concern by asking questions to confirm. A “bot” doesn’t do that. The real human may then have to transfer the call to the correct division for another live person to respond with the answer to the question. This company is listening.
I am a member of a large national bank whose services extend internationally. Initially, when signing up for their services, I found them to be ahead of their time, visionaries in their ability to accommodate the needs of a mobile society that wasn’t as mainstream as it is today. Back in the day, they set precedents (i.e. mobile banking, 24-hour service using remote workers) that are now standard banking practices. They engaged remote workers (albeit still using the familiar automated voice mail prompt to direct your call) to work through any banking situation.
Unfortunately, these service reps have since evolved into gatekeepers for the bank. The “live” person responding is not authorized to make decisions except for what is stated policy, repeatedly putting a persistent customer on hold, if need be, to get the new policy to read. Calls are vulnerable to getting dropped only for the customer to have to start the process all over again. The only accessible number to the bank is a 1-800 number. Along with the scripted responses are the canned acknowledgments of a customer’s birthday and years of loyalty which come across as insincere. This company has lost its ability to listen.
Due to my association and recommendation of Mark Lusky and his tenacious techniques of diving in to get answers after phone conversations, I wrote letters voicing my concern over unresolved issues and uploaded them into my bank’s secure messaging system.
Mark also has a not-so-secret suggestion of last resort to include contacting the public relations department and the corporate office heads when service goes unresolved (in my case getting past the gatekeepers). He pointed to the Elliot Advocacy group website which has email contact addresses of major companies as a resource to expedite a response. Once I bypassed the gatekeepers, the email recipients I reached out to listened.
Through the course of running a business, I am keenly aware of the needs of the customer. I tune in when my guests perk up with a suggestion or recommendation. I appropriate these ideas into my business practice when I can. They are simple ideas like providing surge protectors with USB charge outlets, flashlights, workspace with supplies, and extra seating in the rooms that are also equipped with extra safety devices (CM decors, fire extinguishers, etc.), basic medical kit, extra fan; amenities that are not typically expected in bed and breakfast guest rooms. If I hear or know of an interest in the area or what brings a guest to this destination, I put on my concierge hat to listen and assist.
To paraphrase Paul Tillich: “The first duty of (customer service) is to listen.”
This is the eighth in a series of posts. Read all posts here.
Cathenry has operated a boutique bed and breakfast enterprise in her home since 2014. Her business goal is to give guests a positive and memorable customer service-driven bed and breakfast experience. She always has gravitated to businesses demonstrating sound professional ethics, clear communication, and successful customer service. Having known customer service advocate Mark Lusky for more than 11 years, collaborating as a guest blogger is a natural outgrowth of their association.
Drawing on her extensive hospitality, hosting, event planning and customer outreach experience, Cat brings to the table unique perspectives and insights that expand the gravitas of this customer service-driven blog. She also brings to bear intense curiosity stemming from serving as a former reporter, teacher, and organizational coach with certified training.
As research and curating of information have long been Cat passions, she also will offer the perspectives and insights of third-party subject matter experts in the field of customer service as part of her guest blogger contributions.