Technology key to customer relations

Technology key to customer relations

Posted: Tuesday, June 24, 2008 9:04 pm
By: Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

By DOUGLAS COHN and ELEANOR CLIFT WASHINGTON — It is often said that private business is far more efficient than the government because business is incentive based. How then do we explain the utter incompetence of so many large companies. The answer is that their technology and product mix has outrun their ability to service what they sell. Typically, these companies hire low paid customer service personnel or even outsource to phone banks in India and elsewhere. You have a problem? A near-robotic person answers from a script. If you don’t fit the script and ask for a supervisor, very little additional help is available. You ask to speak with a person at the next level only to be told no one at the next level speaks to the public. Meanwhile, you wait for interminable periods to receive bad or incomplete information and as often as not are disconnected in the process. Who among us has not had this problem, usually with a phone or cable company; sometimes with an airline; and occasionally with a retailer or manufacturer. We cannot resist wondering if the CEO of the offending company actually knows what is going on. We wonder how such a company survives. In short, customer service has been the budget cut of choice for many large corporations. Outsourcing this service to foreign countries or hiring poorly educated, poorly trained employees, many of whom barely speak English, is a methodology that is certain to cause a consumer backlash. Meanwhile, these poor business practices are beginning to make government-run programs look better and better. As maddening as the DMV can be, at least it doesn’t forward your call to New Delhi. At least the government bureaucrat usually knows the subject matter. And so the pendulum has swung. Big business can learn how to treat customers from government. The problem is that the overall threshold has been lowered because government has never been a good model in this arena. Rather than government pointing the way up, business has simply sunk to unbelievably low depths. And it will remain at those depths until the public refuses to take it any longer. The genesis of the problem comes from a choice between price and service. A cynical management team too often says, “All the public cares about is price.” This is why leg room on airlines decreased as air fares decreased, why product help lines helped less as product prices dropped, why telephone and cable company customer service quality dropped in tandem with prices. All the while, government services remained relatively static, which made them look superior to business by comparison. Verizon provides a classic example of the problem. Even though it is a telecommunications company, its computers are not completely linked. Long waits are followed by disconnects or uninformed customer service representatives who often cannot access information that was previously given to another representative. Appointments and deadlines are missed. But the company offers quality products and services at low prices. How long will it be before its competitors offer the same prices and quality customer relations at the same time? Perhaps then this communications company will learn how to communicate using fully linked high speed computers and improved software. This is the formula that will allow Verizon and similar companies to handle more customers with fewer, but better qualified and better paid customer service representatives. Published in The Messenger 6.24.08

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