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.