Articles Tagged with service

Is courtesy from customers important?

We often hear stories about rude shop assistants and poor service, but how polite are customers? And does it matter?

If a shop assistant is rude to customers, there’s a number of problems that could be the cause. If that’s how they normally act, there must be a management problem or they would have resolved the situation.

But what if customers are rude? Should sales assistants and other customer service staff have to put up with it?

Customers can become impatient and dissatisfied if they have to wait a long time in a queue, if service is slow or a shop doesn’t have required items in stock, but these are no reasons to abuse staff. If there is a problem, it isn’t necessarily the fault of the sales assistant, so why should they get the blame?

From a sales assistant’s point of view, they have to deal with possibly hundreds of people every day. Their job could be repetitive or tedious, but that doesn’t prevent them trying to give good service.

Customers saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, making eye contact and being helpful can make shop assistants’ working life more enjoyable. This behaviour also acknowledges the value of the person’s role: we want to buy something from the shop and they make the transaction possible.

In shops with busy check-outs it’s not always possible to have a conversation, but in some shops it is possible and it tends to make shopping a more enjoyable experience for us.

If we are really annoyed in a shop, being rude achieves nothing. If we think if makes us more important or gives us more authority, we’re wrong. If we’re rude to staff in a big shop, they have very little opportunity to act outside the shop’s processes, so they probably become more frustrated and upset than we do. If we have a gripe, it’s best to take it up, firmly but politely, with the management. If we don’t get a fair resolution, we can exercise the ultimate sanction: take our custom to a competitor.

It costs nothing but a few seconds to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and it’s just as important whether we are the customer or the supplier.

I can assure you we are not to blame

Many of us complain about poor service, but what do we mean?

When the wrong goods are delivered or don’t do what they’re supposed to do, there is definitely something that needs to be put right, but more often than not poor service relates to the treatment we receive rather than anything to do with physical products.

Recently, I have tried communicating four times with an international Internet retailer from whom I ordered some goods, which have not arrived. Part of the problem was my fault, but I was genuinely confused by their ordering process, which I feel was not clear to me.

What annoys me is the impossibility of any phone contact to discuss the order; the length of time it takes to receive a reply to an email; and that every reply politely points out what I should have done and invites me to re-order the items.

I have owned up to my mistake and all I want in return is an acknowledgement that I was misled by their site and some effort to investigate where my goods are. Polite responses ignoring my concerns strike me as being smug and totally oblivious to my satisfaction as a customer.

In this case, their apparent courtesy has had a negative effect.

If care and concern are not genuine, overt courteous behaviour can anger customers more than an outright insult, because it comes across as devious – even if not intentional.

A customer service representative whose role is simply to reiterate what the customer should have done and that what the company has done was correct is a waste of time and money, both for the company and the customer.

In this case, the company has had to answer four emails – how much has that cost them? As well as creating email traffic on their network, four people have had to spend time referring to earlier responses and typing four replies.

On its own, this may not seem much, but multiply this by thousands of queries and you arrive at a considerable cost spent maintaining a redundant resource that is neither satisfying the customer nor creating any value for the company.

Also, I have told the company that it has lost my future custom – it’s no skin off my nose as there are hundreds of alternative suppliers.

Companies relying on the masses to purchase from them need to care about their customers, because fashions change in a flash, leading consumers to switch brands without warning – their customers could literally vanish overnight and one day they will.

However sophisticated their technology, however advanced their marketing strategies, companies need to consider the feelings of every single customer.

Not caring about the small percentage of transactions that go wrong is dangerous. Putting themselves out to satisfy customers in these instances actually gives companies an opportunity to shine and strengthen customer loyalty.

And courteous behaviour should be the result of care for the customer – even when, like me, they have made a mistake.

I want to complain . . .

. . . you want to complain – everyone wants to complain, because everything goes wrong.

Trying to accomplish even a simple task, like registering a change of address with a big company, can turn into a nightmare these days. And if you share your bad experience with friends and acquaintances, together you find you can put together a whole catalogue of administrative disasters chronicling the commonplace corporate inability to understand customers’ requirements and take appropriate action.

A recent letter on this topic in The Times newspaper suggested that these experiences are created either by bad fortune or because nothing works in this country.

But perhaps we feel things are worse than they really are, because we are bombarded by adverts and direct mail depicting utilities and suppliers of everyday services as emergency services staffed by super-heroes, who are driven by a single-minded vocation to help ordinary people to change a car tyre or buy house insurance.

We know they are not super-heroes; they are not emergency services; they are not vocations – they are utilities, literally things that are useful.

Having set themselves up, these companies then knock themselves down further by committing to unachievable levels of ‘service delivery’.

It’s no wonder that we want to complain when let down by poor service. But just how poor is the service we receive?

Recently, I moved house and was mildly surprised at how smoothly it all went. On the whole, people were extremely efficient. Many organisations coped well with the change of address – perhaps because my expectations were lower as a direct result of far-fetched advertising claims, the reality was able to exceed them comfortably.

This is rather a negative way of achieving a good result, but the point is that I am happy because most things went well. If you work in a utility or an advertising agency, I’ll repeat that specifically for you: I am happy because most things went well.

Some things did go wrong.

The order for the changeover of our home telephone failed, even though it had been confirmed to me a fortnight previously. On moving day, I did almost lose my temper when I found it impossible to prove my identity when trying to sort this out on my mobile, as most of the documentation was not close to hand. But when we had surmounted this obstacle, I was impressed that our telephone line was connected within minutes. I apologised for my moment of weakness and thanked the chap who had sorted out the problem.

The postal redirection for our business post also failed inexplicably, although again this was sorted out quickly and efficiently over the phone and the important cheques I was awaiting were redirected to my new address within several days.

These initial failures were disappointing, but the efforts taken by call centre staff to put them right were admirable.

It is a shame that so often it is what goes wrong that sticks in our minds. After all, we were helped by marvellous removal men, our solicitor and his secretary, a delightful telephone engineer and many others who did their jobs so well to our delight. We’re making sure that we let them know that we appreciated their services, even though that’s what they are paid to do.

On balance, I feel good about the move. It was not without its moments of tension, but my overall feeling is one of contentedness – and that is all I want: not super-heroes from infallible emergency services.

It is far easier to thank and appreciate people when our expectations are realistic. No service is ever perfect, but most of us are able to cope with the odd hiccough and even to sympathise with the person who has to sort it out.

But it’s unrealistic for utilities and services to kid us that they are perfect. Please, let’s have a sense of perspective. It would stop blood pressure from rising and prevent call centre staff from receiving calls from irate customers, if these companies had the courtesy to say in their advertising that they’ll do the best they can.

Who could ask for anything more?