I’m not sure if it’s the economy or just bad luck, but my customer service experiences recently have been awful. Customer service reps have frustrated me and wasted my time without ever leaving me pleased. Based on my experiences I have extrapolated the modern customer service handbook:

Customer Service State of the Practice (All Wrong)

Client-facing representatives should:

1) Start by telling a customer "no"

2) If the customer persists, ice them for some time (10 minutes should suffice) then return and say "no" again

3) If the customer is still around, pass the buck

4) There is no step 4 because customers do not have the time and energy to get through to this level

If at any point the customer asks to speak to a manager,

1) "Accidentally" hang up or walk off and "forget" about the customer

2) Instead, route them to the wrong department

3) Tell them your boss is not available

If the customer gets to a manager, the manager should

1) Never allow the customer to reach their manager. Working excuses include "I am the manager on duty." "My boss is not available." "My boss is not available can I leave a message?" "You can only reach my manager via email."

2) Reply as slowly as possible

3) First tell the customer "no"

4) If they persist, look into possible solutions

Further compounding the frustration a phone system should:

1) Start with at least 15 seconds of unavoidable speech

2) Slowly offer the first options without preemption if the customer knows where to go (i.e. no pressing '1' early)

3) Consist of at least two menus

4) Terminate with a recorded message directing the customer elsewhere at least 50% of the time

If a website exists it should:

1) Be slow

2) Be confusing

3) Terminate in a message directing the customer to call customer service

I’ve encountered this workflow twice in a few weeks and it is all wrong! If you want to succeed in business, do the exact opposite of this. Customer service should have one objective: pleasing customers. I understand this may cost more, but the funny thing about customers is that you want them and you won’t get that when your representatives run all customers off.

Two of my favorite bloggers, Seth Godin and Joel Spolsky, have commented on the simple act of pleasing customers and the big impact it has. See Joel’s take on customer service and Seth’s many posts, especially apologies and what they mean and the clearance culture.

My desperate plea to employers is really quite simple:

  • Empower entry level customer service representatives to solve problems–they are the ones making an impression
  • Give customer service representatives respect–they drive as many sales as the marketing department
  • Pay customer service representatives fairly–this may require hiring people of a worthy caliber
  • Offer customer service representatives a career path–again, you may have to be awake while hiring
  • Reduce the overhead in communications–reduce wait times, shorten telephone spiels, etc.
  • Go out of your way to thank and appreciate customers–your business does not exist without them!