Poor Customer Service Hurts Your Business

One thing I always notice is how often quality is sacrificed for speed. At the local supermarket near where I live in north Dallas, they have a “self-checkout” lane that can accommodate up to six customers. For those who have never had the pleasure (I’m being sarcastic here) of using one of these “self-checkout” lanes, let me fill you in on what you are not missing out on.

Apparently, in the quest to improve customer service (and cut cost), grocery chains and even Wal-mart have created lanes that allow customers to scan their own items. In essence, the customer now becomes the unpaid employee.

The idea is fine, that is let the customer do the work while reducing the cost to hire an employee because by doing the work the customer is in control.

This is not very smart. First, your customers should never perform duties meant for employees. This is not elitist, it’s simply the idea that when I go into a store to buy a product, I should not also be forced to work as an unpaid employee.

Second (and my biggest complaint) is that the customer is not trained to perform tasks that paid employees can do. Let’s go back to the “self-checkout” lane. Maybe it’s just that I always have bad luck because these “self-checkout” lanes never work right. At first my wife thought that I didn’t know how to use them. And while it’s true that my wife is right about lots of things, it turns out that she also has trouble with “self-checkout” lanes herself.

Why?

The first problem is the annoying automated voice that speaks when it senses any item being removed from the bagging compartment without permission. Makes you feel like a second grader doesn’t it? For some reason, this bagging compartment police prevents you from scanning your next item until you put back what you took out. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to know when things are removed or placed back and will keep repeating the same message.

So, after slowing down the process (with people staring and waiting impatiently behind you), I’ll look around for some assistance (there’s always one person standing there, I think, to supervise). The “paid” employee then walks over, punches in a few codes, and then it’s back to work for the “unpaid” employee.

The second problem is that when you have an item that isn’t listed, you have to find it on the touchpad. But it isn’t always simple to find because there are different varieties of tomatoes, etc.

So, again, after slowing down the process, I’ll look around for some assistance and the “paid” employee then walks over (again), punches in a few codes, and then it’s back to work for the “unpaid” employee. You get the idea.

Call it bad luck because this insane scenario seems to happen to me 9 out of 10 times I’m in these “self-checkout” lanes. It’s rarely ever faster, and instead creates more problems and ends up wasting time (mine and the “paid” employee).

In Harvard Business Review’s “What service customers really want,” Dougherty and Murthy (2009) point out that customers are no longer putting up with “rushed and inconvenient” service that’s become commonplace in today’s business. Customers want a great experience when they come into a business establishment, whether it’s selling groceries or dry cleaning clothes. Businesses that understand this will gain customer loyalty.

In their research, Dougherty and Murthy (2009) discovered that when customers contact businesses for service (i.e., calling customer service), they want two things.

First, is the employee helping me (frontline employee) knowledgeable?

Second, will the issues I have be resolved on the first call?

Regrettably, many service centers (call centers) continue to track and measure time on hold and minutes per call just as they have done so for decades! The irony is that when companies do this, the message to the employees is to hurry up, resulting in a rushed job – exactly the kind of experiences customers hate.

On average, 40% of customers who suffer through bad experiences stop doing business with the offending company.

Companies need to allow for some flexibility. Give your employees some latitude “to meet individual customers’ needs and provide positive, satisfying experiences.” Managers should check whether the customers’ problems were resolved during first contact, find out what the true problem is (if the issue isn’t resolved in one call), and then make the change needed.

Some companies are arrogant enough to believe that irritated, pissed off customers will forgive them and come back for more. But “research indicates that, on the contrary, alienated customers often disappear without the slightest warning.”

Bottom line: Never sacrifice quality for speed. Your customers will become irritated and disappear and your business won’t have the “customer” in customer service to worry about anymore.

Reference

Dougherty, D. & Murthy, A. (2009). What service customers really want. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved January 1, 2010 from http://hbr.org/2009/09/what-service-customers-really-want/ar/1

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