Customer Service Today: Has it Gone Down With the Ship?

Nothing can sink your brand faster than poor customer service.

Exceptional – or even acceptable – levels of customer service seem fleeting today:

  • As a “valuable customer” you are asked to hold on the phone as number 24 in line while “we are helping other valuable customers”;
  • Online, you are offered a laundry list of FAQs and poorly-defined options, none of which adequately addresses the problem or concern that a short two-minute discussion with an informed customer service representative can fix.
  • In day-to-day client/provider communications, it’s the attention to detail that’s critical: You can’t overlook a single component of a request. If you do you run the risk of a failure that can domino to poor response and loss of income.

Lack of service runs the gamut, from the brilliant offshore service representative who “so well understands” your challenges with your newly arrived laptop that he neglects to simply explain the solution of your problem to you. Or the catalog call center individual who can’t quite accept that you’re at 24 West St. and not 24 West Rd!

To illustrate the problem more clearly, I’d like to describe the contrasts in service between two different groups of passengers on a fateful trip in April 1912.

To set the scene: it is a chilly night on the North Atlantic, and the Titanic is en route to New York on her maiden voyage.

Titanic Customer ServiceIn First Class, the crème de la crème of Victorian Era Society enjoys sublime service and personalized attention. The White Star Line, owner of the Titanic, has trained its First-Class staff superbly. Soon after reports of striking the iceberg, the stewards gently rouse their customers from sleep or their card game and suggest they don their uncomfortable life jackets: “I’m sure sir/ma’am it’s only a momentary inconvenience. Captain’s orders, you understand.”

Below decks in Third Class, however, callous room stewards with only rudimentary or no training barge in and bark orders to the mostly non English-speaking passengers: “Put your life vests on!,” pulling the vests down to the floor from overhead stowage.

Today’s clients represent the First Class. The key is avoiding Third Class stewards: you must have educated, motivated people skilled at providing the necessary assistance and support. Today’s email-obsessed correspondences can often miss what an old-fashioned phone call can accomplish.

Often an individual in a customer service capacity becomes the first person-to-person exposure many mail order organizations have with their customers. A true customer-centric service system must include:

  • Well trained, well-spoken, and fully informed employees, ready to help the customer;
  • Staffers who actually smile while going about their business. Numerous studies have shown smiling while offering telephone aid is evident on the receiving end of the discussion;
  • A call system with the bandwidth to accommodate callers with only the briefest of wait times;
  • FAQs that actually address pertinent questions with options to either speak to someone or engage in online chat immediately, without delay;
  • Strong email communication guidelines. If you’re providing email support to customers, you may not always have an answer for them the same day. Don’t leave them hanging. An email acknowledging the delay but assuring the customer you’ll be “on it” the next day is always well received;
  • Representatives who observe ‘the golden rule’: treat people as you’d like to be treated yourself.

Most importantly, everyone reaching out to a client or customer is in the customer service business. The service they provide is a direct reflection of the professionalism and quality that a company stands for. Their failure is a failure of the entire organization and will reflect accordingly.

Enjoy smooth sailing through excellent customer service!

Titanic Customer Service Sinking
Alan Zamchick