My parents (in their eighties) live in a small village in the east of the Netherlands. Already for years they have the fastest internet in my family. With their fiberglass connection they can send their two e-mails per week with the speed of light. Why do they, who do not need it, have fiberglass and why is our house still connected to the web with an old coax cable that was put there somewhere mid-seventies? Life is unfair.
My recent contacts with my internet provider Ziggo (see also my post “How good is HR at Ziggo NL: 6 observations from a client”) inspired me to the following nine tips for service providers:
- Empower your front line people in the call center
The people in the call center are the most important interface to the client. They should not only be friendly, but also empowered to help the client in ways that are not in the script.
Once I heard a manager from DHL, and she said: if one of our customers has a problem, the people in the call center have to ask the question: “How would you like us to solve your problem?”. When you ask that question, most customers have very reasonable requests, like “If you deliver the package tomorrow, it will be fine”. Only very sporadically a client has a proposal that requires out-of-the box action. If it is serious, the DHL people are empowered to take action (so I was told).
My Ziggo example: in all my contacts with the Ziggo call center people have never asked how I would like the problem to be solved. They are friendly, but apparently are not allowed to go out-of-the box. “We can send a mechanic on Monday”. “I would really like one on Friday night or Saturday morning, because I desperately need internet”. “I am afraid that is not possible”. “Can I speak to your supervisor?”. “You cannot speak to my supervisor, and even if you could speak to him, he would have the same answer”.
- Instruct your people not to hide behind bureaucratic procedures
My Ziggo example: “We might be able to help you better, if you were a business client”. “Ok, please change me from private to business client”. “I am afraid we can only do that in October 2014”. “Why?”. “You got a discount, and when we change your account, the business client division cannot get the discount back from the private client division”. “??”.
- Beware of outsourcing
It is very difficult to create a culture of quality and client focus, when many of the people with direct client contacts do not work for your company.
The Ziggo example: I do not know about the call center, but none of the mechanics who were at my house worked for Ziggo. You feel that. They are hired to do one job, but they are not committed to really solve your problem. Some are even critical on the company, because they do not get the support they need.
- Solving complex problems requires a systematic approach
The Ziggo example: I live in a neighborhood with an old cable TV infrastructure that is at the end of its life cycle. Ziggo provides modems that are probably bought cheap and are not world-class. The mechanics who installed the modem maybe made a small mistake. The result: internet issues. The best approach to solve a more complex problem: take a holistic and systematic approach.
- Do not make too many assumptions about your customers
The pool of customers is diverse, and they have diverse requirements.
The Ziggo example: just splitting the customers in business and private, and making assumptions about the two groups, does not work. Example: We assume private clients need internet less urgent than business clients. Example: we assume people do not work in the weekend. Example: we assume people can easily arrange to be home during working hours (“Our repair man will come on Monday between 08.00 and 12.00, and you better be home, otherwise we will have to charge a fine”).
- Close the loop with your customer
It helps enormously if you check with your customer if the problem is really solved.
The Ziggo example: when you have had contact with a Ziggo employee by phone, you immediately are phoned by a computer, who asks how happy you were with the contact. It does not seem to make any difference what your response is. How great would it be to talk to a real person, who asks: “Is your problem solved?”
- Use the available customer data
As a customer I would expect you would use the data you have available to my benefit.
The Ziggo example: if a customer calls the call center more than 10 times in a period of let’s say two months, there must be something wrong. Either the customer is stalking Ziggo for no purpose, or there is a serious problem that needs to be elevated to a higher level. I do not have the impression this kind of data is used at all.
- Give your clients options, do not assume “one-size-fits-all”.
Again, not all clients are the same. It helps to give your clients options.
The Ziggo example: Ziggo offers one internet modem. This CISCO modem is not very good, probably because Ziggo wants to save some money on the modems. Example: the Wi-Fi range of my old Fritz Box modem was a lot better than the reach of the CISCO Wi-Fi. If Ziggo would offer me a choice, I would be happy to pay more for a better modem, as for me the Wi-Fi range is very important.
- Treat your customer as a source of information
Customers might know more than you think. Customers are close to their problem, and they might have observations and ideas that can be helpful for you. If you treat your client as a source of irritation, and someone disturbing your neat processes, it might take more time to solve problems and thus cost more money as well.