When Customer Service is the Lemon
Although the Federal Government doesn’t often talk of “customers” the way the private sector does, customer service is a key competency of every government employee. Your “customer” may be survivors if you’re at FEMA, internal leaders if you’re in HR, veterans and their families at the VA, foreign governments if you’re at the State Department, other government agencies if you’re at OPM, or taxpayers if you’re at the IRS.
Providing good customer service, however, goes well beyond the competency of the people in the Federal Government. Sometimes highly competent people are hindered by process and tools that destroy the customer experience before the customer even interacts with an individual at the organization.
I recently bought a computer that I think may be a lemon. Moments out of the box I got multiple “Blue Screens of Death” that may be familiar to some of you. When I called tech support I had to wade my way through no fewer than five voice or keypad response menus to get to talk to someone who could answer my questions.
In the meantime, I was continually bombarded with “selling” messages – telling me about how wonderful the computer I was having a bad experience with really was, how important my call was to them, and other automated information that was unrelated to why I was calling in the first place.
When I finally got through to a live person, I had to make sure the company’s database was up to date by repeating my name, address, email address, phone number, and serial and model numbers before they would talk to me about the reason I called. As if they were worried that I was simply bored and just looking for someone to talk to. And when my call got disconnected, I had to go through the entire process again. Some of you may be able to relate to this part of the experience.
We’ve all heard of paying attention to the “Voice of the Customer.” Whether you are a Federal employee dealing with the public, or internal customers, or working in a commercial enterprise, it is important to listen to your customers to make sure you are giving them what they want. I am also confident that this is not news to many of you.
Those who worry about branding and marketing spend a lot of time and money shaping how people view your organization, its services, and products. Marketers work hard to motivate people to make contact with their organization to sample what it has to offer. Lots of money is spent to close the gap between becoming aware of an entity and taking an action to engage with that entity.
So why is it, that once a customer is convinced to pick up the phone to make a call, the organization feels the need to interpose itself between the customer and the designated point of contact? If the goal is to build a sense of community, why are there obstacles impeding that connection? It is almost as if the organization is saying, “We’ve got you, and now we are going to make you jump through our hoops before you get what you came for.” In my case, this is the antithesis of what I am looking for. I was motivated to connect because of my lousy product, and was thwarted at every turn by infrastructure that defeated the very purpose of the connection the organization spent so much money to encourage and nurture.
If this describes interacting with your organization, find someone to tell. Angry customers only get angrier when they are delayed by irrelevant (to them) requests for information. Timid customers, who had to energize just to make the call, will likely abandon the call rather than endure the delays.
If organizations say the customer is important, then why are their systems set up for the convenience of the organization, often to the detriment of the customer?
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