As a consultant who specialises in stakeholder engagement, I am by turns amused and horrified by the abject levels of treatment that pass for customer service in the UK. Many organisations, lured by the cost savings that can be made by installing automated customer management systems, or outsourcing their call centres, or whatever pea-brained managerial trend is current…seem to have forgotten one thing. While cash may be king, customers represent cash. Engaging the people that buy your product or service is not only good for your brand, it’s good for your bottom line!
Today was a case in point for me. My car insurance is with a company who claim to be ‘winning the battle for cheaper insurance’. Sadly, they haven’t won the battle for my heart and mind. ‘There have been several errors with the policy – all of them as a result of adminstrative bungles by the people who inhabit the parallel universe on the other end of the phone. Yesterday I received a letter saying that my policy had been cancelled. Oh really? That’s strange since the insurance premiums keep going out of my account on a regular basis. This was in addition to a letter that queried my no claims bonus information & practically accused me of insurance fraud – information that the insurer already had since this was the 2nd year I’d renewed my policy with them. What a fabulous way to reward customer loyalty. Needless to say, I shall be voting with my wallet and cancelling the policy for real this time.
But the hilarity continues. In the spirit of good customer service, my energy supplier wrote to me to say that a meter reading had been scheduled. Now, this is progress because usually the meter readers turn up when you aren’t at home – yes, I do work for a living! Even better, they left a number for me to call, to rearrange should this not be convenient. So, I did. Cue…an automated customer service system which asked me to put in my account number and then said…‘Sorry’ before it disconnected. What on earth were they apologising for…? The fact that they placed so much reliance on IT that it had let them down, when in fact employing a real human being might in the end be a better option? The fact that they weren’t actually providing a service, just wasting my time, and dime? Really, these machines should have an option that says…Press #5 and hang up if you want to speak to someone who actually gives a monkeys!
Mary Kay Ash, the US businesswoman who founded a cosmetics empire based on personal service is well known for saying; ‘A company is only as good as the people it keeps’. While this certainly applies to talent retention, it’s a maxim that UK retailers, recruitment agencies, banks, energy providers and insurance brokers would do well to take to heart when it comes to their customers.