I don’t think that poor customer service ALWAYS occurs. But when you do experience it, beyond your feelings of dissatisfaction, it’s often the case that the whole reason for your purchase in the first place often remains unresolved. And, adding insult to injury, every occurrence of poor customer service costs you even more time and money.
We all have experienced poor customer service at some point. But do you agree that it feels like overall organizational commitment to customer service has drastically declined over time, and the frequency of incidents of poor service has increased? So much so that, when you hear the phrase ‘customer service’, you might think of it being an oxymoron. Do you see misleading marketing and broken sales promises as the cause of your purchasing a poor performing service or product? Then, after a sale, do you experience frustrating limited or nonexistent follow up? And how often, when you ask about ways to resolve any of your service issues, do you end up talking to resistant organizational representatives, if you can reach them at all?
Who is at fault when customer service is poor?
Obviously, when a service provider fails to meet customer service requirements, most of the responsibility rests with them and they should be held accountable. But what about the people who purchased their services or product in the first place? Shouldn’t they assume some degree of responsibility for their decision to purchase from the service provider as well? Did they do their due diligence in investigating the service provider’s capability to perform? Did they properly evaluate all the options and alternatives that were available to them? Did they focus their decision-making on the end results that they would experience, rather than make their decision based on shorter term issues such as cost and convenience?
“The man who complains about the way the ball bounces is likely the one who dropped it”. Lou Holtz
Price and speed will not matter as much to you when your service experience is inadequate. Years ago I was talking with a friend who often purchased engineering consulting services for his organization: “They keep sending me young, inexperienced people who can never answer my questions. They can’t do the work so I have to get rid of them, and now I have to start all over again and look for a new consulting firm”, he lamented. When I asked why he hired them in the first place he said that “they were the cheapest firm that I could find quickly”. Now his initial costs had effectively doubled, and there was no reason to expect that he will not make another poor choice in his selection of the replacement service provider.
“If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur”! – Red Adair
Twenty years ago, CAES first started out as a third-party recruiting firm. The reason that I entered into this field was because I was disappointed in the level of service that recruiters were offering to my organization (and their approach), and I saw a huge opportunity to work in different and more effective ways. So CAES started out being different than most recruiting firms and we remain different than most today. Like many business people, my approach to service delivery has always been focused on both achieving final results, and on simply treating my clients the same way that I wanted to be treated by the organizations and individuals who provide service to me. So one of the most critical requirements for me has always been mutual trust. CAES eventually grew beyond only offering performance-based recruiting solutions to providing a wide range of additional organizational and individual performance-related services.
In the beginning, when I was occasionally asked about my work, I would often apologetically say that I was a recruiter, followed by going to great lengths to distance CAES from the public perception of the typical ‘hit-and-miss’ recruitment firm. My point being that, since I found most recruiters to be good salespeople, but they were not very good at the actual work of recruiting, they often produced poor customer service results. In comparison, our approach of focusing on long-term candidate performance, rather than simply ‘making the sale’, enabled CAES to provide a more effective recruitment service than the typical firm. As a businessman first, and recruiter second, this approach just made sense to me.
Today, in those times when I assume the role of recruiter, I never apologize for it, and it is very easy to ‘distance myself’ from the pack. Now, when I hear complaints about recruiters in general and how they work, I sometimes ask “What have YOU done to cause the strong recruiters to avoid you, and the weak recruiters to stay around you?” When a potential client is more concerned about speed of hire and cost of hire (believe me, CAES services are reasonably priced) rather than quality of hire I ‘run for the hills’. That said, I am amazed at the number of decision-makers who I have to run from because they focus on quickly filling a vacancy as cheaply as possible. And I am sure that they later complain about the recruiters that they end up with.
“There is so sense hiring the wrong person faster or cheaper”. – Jim Gilchrist
Consider looking at customer service in a different way
Most everyone will tell you that they factor customer service into their decision to purchase. If this is true, why are they so often disappointed with the end result? Most likely it is because they have not fully defined what they want in customer service. It is one thing to simply say “I want good customer service” but quite another to take the time to accurately define what good customer service really means to you. Rather than reacting to poor post-purchase customer service, wouldn’t it be more helpful to proactively look at what you really want in customer service prior to your selecting a service provider? Doing so will help you to better identify the service providers who are going to give you the results that match your definition, after which you will feel more comfortable in making the decision to move forward and work with them.
What is your desired outcome?
Without accurately defining what you want in customer service you are opening the door to be convinced to accept something that you don’t actually want (‘sold’). It should therefore be no surprise that this increases the odds that you will be disappointed in the results that you get. If you complete our questionnaire at the end of this article it will help you to organize some ideas regarding desired outcome determination, but in general terms, here are some initial considerations:
Identify exactly what you want to experience and when you want it to occur
Always make sure that your full definition of customer service is included in your purchasing decision
Expand your thinking to ensure that all considerations are accounted for
Make sure that your expectations are realistic
Focus on obtaining long-term sustainable solutions rather than quick fixes
Actively collaborate with your service provider to merge your expectations with their approach
Who will best meet your specific needs in relation to this outcome?
In a recent article, Stay Out of the Performance Grey Zone (link) I discussed the need to set internal performance targets, both as organizations and individuals, and then to not settle for anything less than achieving them. Just the same, we should not settle for anything less from our external service providers, because when we surround ourselves with poor performers it makes it more difficult to achieve our own personal and organizational performance objectives. You are only as good as the people around you, both internal and external to your organization.
Here are some ideas to help you with the selection process:
take the time to select the right provider in the first place, repeating the selection process will cost you more
be wary of ‘convincing’ marketing or salespeople, focus on end-result service, not the sales process
look for honesty and integrity in the service provider, both are valuable and inexpensive
ask questions that are relevant to getting what you want early in the decision-making process
gravitate towards real expertise, dig down to ensure that the supplier can explain the conceptual foundation behind their service, this is a great way to identify true capability and expertise
look for suppliers who don’t think that the customer is always right, or that their approach is always right
discuss ways that a provider can integrate their solutions with your requirements
talk with suppliers who add value because they can advise clients as to what is the best solution for their requirements
look for suppliers who provide end results in non-typical ways, why stay with typical when it fails?
look for appropriate pricing, you get what you pay for and poor customer service will cost you
avoid rigid RFP processes where price becomes a determining factor, the cheapest rarely provides the best quality
be cautious about provider recommendations, they tend to come from those who have received acceptable service, but they will not mention customers who were dissatisfied
select suppliers who display a customer service mentality in everything they do
beware of suppliers who make excuses early in the process, they will make them later in the process as well
Make the decision to move forward
After you have decided what you want, and who is most likely to provide it, move forward. Nothing will happen unless you take action. There is no sense staying with unproductive and ineffective service providers, either internal or external, out of loyalty or familiarity. If they are not providing the service that you desire move away from them. To help you with this, you will need to be aware of, and to overcome, any biases that justify maintaining the status quo. It will be necessary to embrace a growth mindset that will help you to manage personal and organizational resistance to change. And finally, you need to commit to achieving your desired outcome – if you don’t commit neither will your service provider.
To complete our customer service questionnaire, and better understand what you really want in customer service – click on this LINK
Jim Gilchrist | B.E.S.
caes | Career Advancement Employment Services