Frustrating customer service

For the last three months, I’ve been trying to resolve a payment issue with Reliance Home Comfort, a water heater service provider in Canada.

When my wife and I moved home last July, we switched from our current provider to Reliance, and took advantage of a special introductory offer that would see us receive nine months free rental.

Unfortunately, the sales guy completed the form incorrectly, and we only received eight months. Additionally, the payment amounts on the paperwork didn’t tally with the payment taken (early) from our bank.

So I contacted Reliance customer service – or attempted to. That’s where the fun began.

Why Would You Make Your Customers Dizzy?

On attempting to call Reliance, I was placed in the phone tree from hell.

  • Did I want French or English?
  • Did I want customer service, sales, technical support, billing, rental, overdue payments, or arrange an appointment?
  • Did I have an account or did I wish to create an account?
  • Did I wish to speak to an operator or automated message?

A-ha – the last option meant I was going to finally get somewhere, right? Wrong.

  • Do you wish to speak to a sales operator or a service operator?
  • Is this for your current bill or are you inquiring about payments?
  • Is this your account?

WTF?? Why would I call up to pay someone else’s account? This is getting ridiculous. But then the magic statement:

We are transferring you to an operator, please hold.

And, kudos to Reliance, they actually placed me through to an operator. Who promptly asked me for the account number I had just entered previously using the touchpad buttons on my phone that Reliance had told me to use!

Sense any frustration here? And this was the exact same process I’ve gone through every time I’ve called for the last three months.

Add to that the fact that no-one called back with a resolution, even though that had been agreed between myself and Reliance’s customer service resolution team, and you might wonder about how customer service is defined at Reliance (or any other company that believes phone trees are still the answer).

What’s even more ironic is Reliance’s customer service statement on their website:

Our Vision:

We will change the way people think about our industries by providing vital products and services in innovative ways. Working together, we will lead the market in customer satisfaction.

A worthy mantra – except using a phone tree with about 100 branches isn’t exactly innovative, nor does it encourage “…leading the market in customer satisfaction.”

It doesn’t need to be this way, either.

Becoming Agile With Customer-Centric Service

Back in 2010, I was tasked with a client’s customer satisfaction rating. They were a call centre for a leading smartphone provider, and their rating was awful. Since I’d led customer service teams back in the U.K. with leading mobile telco O2, the client was hoping I could improve their own team’s performance.

After reviewing their set-up, the problem became instantly clear – they were wasting too much time on the little things, and the big issues were being left unresolved because of this.

Add in the fact their phone tree was even more archaic than the Reliance example I used earlier, and it wasn’t too surprising customers were hanging up and going elsewhere.

The solution was simple – become agile and use better tools to provide a truly customer-centric experience.

The social media solution

My team discovered that around 80% of the problems were simple, relatively minor calls. How to set up voicemail, how to access the app store, etc. We also discovered that many of the customers were on social networks, especially Twitter. So we allocated around 20% of the call centre team to Twitter to answer these questions, and we had direct links to FAQs and graphic guides to direct the customer to. The result – dropped call stats fell by half, and customer satisfaction rating went up by 67%.

The channel solution

As well as the social media approach, we implemented a survey of our client’s customers, either when they called in, by direct email, or via Twitter (sharing a link to the survey). This was to determine how they would like the resolution team to contact them. This ensured two things – the social team could concentrate on the small stuff while the resolution team not only worked with the customer directly, but on their preferred channel (phone, email, letter, etc.). This was a key moment in the strategy, and saw the client win an award in both customer rating and escalated call resolution.

The pro-active solution

As well as using Twitter for dealing with simple issues, we also trained the technical service team to use social monitoring platforms. This allowed them to take control of any mentions of the brand negatively, and jump into the conversation to see how they could help, as well as arrange a solution. We also monitored how the customer had been treated at one of the client’s resellers; and we monitored competitor conversations and directed the sales team to potential leads. The result – new activations increased by just over 30%, and better education tools were sent out to resellers. Additionally, tech calls dropped by 14% in the first six months, since the tech support team were handling and solving issues online.

And the client phone tree that had previously been in use? That was restructured to three simple choices – customer service, tech support and sales. Simple, clean, and direct to a relevant company agent.

Since 2010, the client has continued to improve processes and is regularly cited as one of the best in class in the mobile communications market for customer service and best practices using social media.

Your Customers Are Your Brand

The example with the mobile client isn’t a unique one, nor were the solutions anything majorly innovative – it was simply a matter of looking at what was going wrong, and turning the company into a truly customer-centric one.

We can talk all we want about great marketing initiatives, and crisis communications, and how cool our products are – but if none of that rubs off on our customers, we won’t be talking about the cool stuff for very long.

Customer service, and how you treat your customers, is the biggest, most organic method of marketing your brand will ever use. Frustrate them, and you will lose them. Work with them, and you will build advocacy more effective than any marketing or customer acquisition budget could ever hope to offer a return on.

Your customers are your brand – and you wouldn’t let your brand suffer, would you?

Update March 21: Reliance saw this post and Mandy Champagne, a supervisor on the Customer Solutions team, reached out to me. After looking at my account in detail, Mandy credited the account and added a goodwill gesture of an extra month’s usage. My thanks to Mandy, and here’s to the reported continued improvements in the Reliance communications process.

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70 comments
AngelBiz
AngelBiz

Automated Phone System is the worst thing that has happened to customer service. Your experience with Reliance Home is not unique. Companies such as Netflix and Zappos understand the problems that automated phone creates. That's why Netflix at one point did not have Email based customer service. You had to call them and it was not the machine that was answering the phone. It was a human being. Not sure if they still have this policy. No wonder both of these companies consistently on the top in customer service.

AngelBiz
AngelBiz

Automated Phone System is the worst thing that has happened to customer service. Your experience with Reliance Home is not unique. Companies such as Netflix and Zappos understand the problems that automated phone creates. That's why Netflix at one point did not have Email based customer service. You had to call them and it was not the machine that was answering the phone. It was a human being. Not sure if they still have this policy. No wonder both of these companies consistently on the top in customer service.

Mel Egerton
Mel Egerton

Hi Danny - Loved Reliance’s customer service statement! It's as if these companies don't realize the irony! 

Mel Egerton
Mel Egerton

Hi Danny - Loved Reliance’s customer service statement! It's as if these companies don't realize the irony!

dbvickery
dbvickery

merylkevans DannyBrown Common response from those who "get it" Meryl

James_Smith
James_Smith

Nice article, The company always tries to provide a great service to their customers and satisfy their demands. Don't make them so much frustrated about your services. Always try to make them happy by providing great service without any problem.

James_Smith
James_Smith

Nice article, The company always tries to provide a great service to their customers and satisfy their demands. Don't make them so much frustrated about your services. Always try to make them happy by providing great service without any problem.

JeffreyDavis108
JeffreyDavis108

This morning, I spent 90 minutes trying not only to resolve a refund matter with Advantage Rental Car but simply wanted to know how to connect with the corporate-level customer relations. A local agent told me there wasn't one, only the incompetent (almost his words) people in reservations 800#, which I had already called. 

I called that #, and when I asked to speak to someone in customer relations, the reservations agent told me there wasn't such a department with a public # but that he could relay and file the refund request. When I asked anyone for the name and address of the VP of Customer Relations, I left them befuddled. They weren't sure there was such a person. I then found a "claims" phone #, and the person answered, "Customer Service."! 

When I asked her for the name of the VP of Customer Relations, without question she sent me automatically to the CEO's assistant whom I got on the phone. Bizarro. So in addition to politely filling her ear, I'm sending a letter + an audio recording of the phone calls to the CEO so he can "see" and "hear" what's going on in the name of his company. 

Advantage has had a number of buy-outs in recent years, and I'm sure "customer service" got completely lost. But one way to effect change is to gather evidence and present it to someone sympathetic with a VP or CEO attached to their title.

JeffreyDavis108
JeffreyDavis108

This morning, I spent 90 minutes trying not only to resolve a refund matter with Advantage Rental Car but simply wanted to know how to connect with the corporate-level customer relations. A local agent told me there wasn't one, only the incompetent (almost his words) people in reservations 800#, which I had already called. I called that #, and when I asked to speak to someone in customer relations, the reservations agent told me there wasn't such a department with a public # but that he could relay and file the refund request. When I asked anyone for the name and address of the VP of Customer Relations, I left them befuddled. They weren't sure there was such a person. I then found a "claims" phone #, and the person answered, "Customer Service."! When I asked her for the name of the VP of Customer Relations, without question she sent me automatically to the CEO's assistant whom I got on the phone. Bizarro. So in addition to politely filling her ear, I'm sending a letter + an audio recording of the phone calls to the CEO so he can "see" and "hear" what's going on in the name of his company. Advantage has had a number of buy-outs in recent years, and I'm sure "customer service" got completely lost. But one way to effect change is to gather evidence and present it to someone sympathetic with a VP or CEO attached to their title.

peterarmaly
peterarmaly

Great article, Danny. I call what you're doing, adopting an assertive stance with clients.  That is, get engaged, speak, and listen on platforms that clients find helpful and productive.  Don't force clients into your processes. You get it.

peterarmaly
peterarmaly

Great article, Danny. I call what you're doing, adopting an assertive stance with clients.  That is, get engaged, speak, and listen on platforms that clients find helpful and productive.  Don't force clients into your processes. You get it.

janebinnion
janebinnion

Sounds like Reliance have been trained in British customer care! Great article, thanks Danny :)

janebinnion
janebinnion

Sounds like Reliance have been trained in British customer care! Great article, thanks Danny :)

Frank_Strong
Frank_Strong

"Who promptly asked me for the account number I had just entered previously using the touchpad buttons on my phone that Reliance had told me to use!"  --> this drives me crazy!  I'm in the process of moving -- and closing exiting accounts with the utilities and opening up new ones with different utility companies in a different region.  What is the point of having a customer use an automated line and enter data if it doesn't speed up the process? 

Frank_Strong
Frank_Strong

"Who promptly asked me for the account number I had just entered previously using the touchpad buttons on my phone that Reliance had told me to use!"  --> this drives me crazy!  I'm in the process of moving -- and closing exiting accounts with the utilities and opening up new ones with different utility companies in a different region.  What is the point of having a customer use an automated line and enter data if it doesn't speed up the process?

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

It really comes down to if a company views customer service as a cost or an asset (same with their employees). Most view it as a cost which is truly messed up.

I hate the ACD lines (automatic call distribution) most are set up by Engineers who never will be calling themselves or Managers who aren't taking calls and only care about how to reduce the time spent by employees helping customers.

Ironically while ComcastCares was a big hit among the Social Media Idiots, what that really did was say 'if you use twitter we will help you, if not go rot in hell' I think businesses need to take this stuff seriously because in most cases we can go elsewhere.

HowieG
HowieG

It really comes down to if a company views customer service as a cost or an asset (same with their employees). Most view it as a cost which is truly messed up. I hate the ACD lines (automatic call distribution) most are set up by Engineers who never will be calling themselves or Managers who aren't taking calls and only care about how to reduce the time spent by employees helping customers. Ironically while ComcastCares was a big hit among the Social Media Idiots, what that really did was say 'if you use twitter we will help you, if not go rot in hell' I think businesses need to take this stuff seriously because in most cases we can go elsewhere.

Jane | Problogging Success
Jane | Problogging Success

I've been on many of these trees! Even 30 minutes waiting before I even get to speak to a person. And then the person transfers me to the "right" department. If you annoy your customers for any reason you fail - doesn't matter if you perceive it as "giving your best".

Great post as always Danny :)

Jane | Problogging Success
Jane | Problogging Success

I've been on many of these trees! Even 30 minutes waiting before I even get to speak to a person. And then the person transfers me to the "right" department. If you annoy your customers for any reason you fail - doesn't matter if you perceive it as "giving your best". Great post as always Danny :)

JoeCardillo
JoeCardillo

Amen,  Danny. Plus, if I may point out, for people who are fairly tech savvy like yourself...if they have a half decent website, by the time you are bothering to call them it's probably something you need a real person to assist with (as with the case you mentioned). Not accounting for that is dumb and wasteful.

I think it's funny how co's always tell everyone how great their customer service is. If I ran my own company I wouldn't even bother. I would just have a page on my website with testimonials from customers.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@AngelBiz It's crazy how many companies are still living with a "put the customer through hoops" mindset, and yet still feel they're giving great service. As you show with your examples, those that react to the customer need are the ones that reap the biggest rewards.

Latest blog post: The Art of Managing Change

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

AngelBiz It's crazy how many companies are still living with a "put the customer through hoops" mindset, and yet still feel they're giving great service. As you show with your examples, those that react to the customer need are the ones that reap the biggest rewards.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

Mel Egerton Hi there Mel, That did make me chuckle.  At least they got in touch and resolved, so that's a nice bonus. Now if only that could have happened three months ago. ;-)

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@JeffreyDavis108 Wow, that's crazy mate. So not only does the company not have a clear chain of command in place (it would seem), but they don't have a procedure in place for resolving specific types of calls or queries? Outstanding!

Have companies just gotten complacent or do you think there's a bigger malaise in play here?

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

JeffreyDavis108 Wow, that's crazy mate. So not only does the company not have a clear chain of command in place (it would seem), but they don't have a procedure in place for resolving specific types of calls or queries? Outstanding! Have companies just gotten complacent or do you think there's a bigger malaise in play here?

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@peterarmaly Hey there Peter, 

Exactly, mate - and if you want to keep customers or clients, try not to frustrate them too much in their dealings with you. ;-)

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

peterarmaly Hey there Peter,  Exactly, mate - and if you want to keep customers or clients, try not to frustrate them too much in their dealings with you. ;-)

DannyBrown
DannyBrown

@BrianBlatnicki Cheers, Brian - Reliance have since reached out, so I'll update the post with what happens.

DannyBrown
DannyBrown

BrianBlatnicki Cheers, Brian - Reliance have since reached out, so I'll update the post with what happens.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@janebinnion Ha, after spending 10 years in the CS field in the UK, both from being part of and then training and integrating with other parts of the organization, I know exactly where you're coming from Jane! :)

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

janebinnion Ha, after spending 10 years in the CS field in the UK, both from being part of and then training and integrating with other parts of the organization, I know exactly where you're coming from Jane! :)

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@Frank_Strong It's pretty easy to overcome, too - once the customer comes through, ask if it's okay to tie that phone number to the account. Then, if a new number comes through, ask if it's a work number, etc, and can that be added to the account. Then guess what? You know the numbers that are used for that account, and you can get straight into the real service stuff.

Sigh...

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

Frank_Strong It's pretty easy to overcome, too - once the customer comes through, ask if it's okay to tie that phone number to the account. Then, if a new number comes through, ask if it's a work number, etc, and can that be added to the account. Then guess what? You know the numbers that are used for that account, and you can get straight into the real service stuff. Sigh...

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@HowieG I recall seeing an analysis of Comcast. While it was a great social media usage story, customers were still pretty pissed at the company, and the goodwill generated by the @ComcastCares account was still just a smaller drop in the bigger ocean of complaints.

Like you say, meet the customers head-on across all channels, not just the gee-whiz ones.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

HowieG I recall seeing an analysis of Comcast. While it was a great social media usage story, customers were still pretty pissed at the company, and the goodwill generated by the ComcastCares account was still just a smaller drop in the bigger ocean of complaints. Like you say, meet the customers head-on across all channels, not just the gee-whiz ones.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

Jane | Problogging Success Now here's a question, Jane - how many times is that "right department" actually the right one? ;-)

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@JoeCardillo That's a great point, Joe - I'm a huge proponent of offering live chat via the official website. Or, have a "Call me" button on there, and that goes into the queue for the outreach team to call, with an agreed timescale.

It can't be that hard, can it?

Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber

@Danny Brown @HowieG @ComcastCares So yeah. I've been fighting with Comcast over a $145 bill. I closed my account in August and paid a bill in September I assumed was to close out my account. I unwittingly reinstated service on an apartment I no longer lived in. I have no idea, they send me to COLLECTIONS three months later. It would have been faster to pay my bill than to spend the hours I did trying to get it cleared up (given what I could have been billing at work during that time.) 

This happens with mortgage companies, huge cable companies, organizations that are so big they just can't see what's going on. It leaves consumers defenseless and seriously hating the brand. It needs to be fixed. 

Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber

Danny Brown HowieG ComcastCares So yeah. I've been fighting with Comcast over a $145 bill. I closed my account in August and paid a bill in September I assumed was to close out my account. I unwittingly reinstated service on an apartment I no longer lived in. I have no idea, they send me to COLLECTIONS three months later. It would have been faster to pay my bill than to spend the hours I did trying to get it cleared up (given what I could have been billing at work during that time.)  This happens with mortgage companies, huge cable companies, organizations that are so big they just can't see what's going on. It leaves consumers defenseless and seriously hating the brand. It needs to be fixed.

JoeCardillo
JoeCardillo

@Danny Brown @JoeCardillo That's what we keep telling ourselves... =) 

Of course it's obviously a DNA problem, a company like Reliance would probably approach those call/livechat features with the same warped logic and render the technology useless.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@Lisa Gerber @HowieG I know that at one stage, back in the early 2000's, British Telecom was so embedded in British culture as a communications solution, they pretty much believed no-one would leave them. They soon found out that wasn't true.

Whether it's apathy or vanity, I completely agree it needs to change, Lisa. Before these companies eventually find out they have no-one left to change for.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

Lisa Gerber HowieG I know that at one stage, back in the early 2000's, British Telecom was so embedded in British culture as a communications solution, they pretty much believed no-one would leave them. They soon found out that wasn't true. Whether it's apathy or vanity, I completely agree it needs to change, Lisa. Before these companies eventually find out they have no-one left to change for.

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