Customer Service Gone Digital

When it works. It’s magical.

image of aladin's lamp for blogThink about the last time you ordered merchandise online. If you are like me, you get a kick tracking where the new merchandise is moment to moment. “Oh look! It’s been loaded on the truck!” Followed by “Your shipment is out for delivery.” Then, best of all, “Your package will be delivered by 2pm!” It’s simply terrific for everyone—the merchant, the shipper and the customer.

Yet, customer service today can be tricky. Establishing that delicate balance between digital technology and personal interaction is critical. Especially now. Here are a few examples of how even the best intentions can go awry.

Where have all the cashiers gone?

I’m puzzled why some retail chains feel compelled to follow the Walmart “greeter” model. It works for Walmart because of its size and scale; and, because it has nailed the check-out experience. A relative newcomer to this retailer, I took comfort when greeters let me know I wasn’t alone as I ventured inside the store. Then, I was mesmerized at check-out, watching the cashier scan and bag my items as the bagging station rotated with ease and efficiency. Breakables were put in a different bag on the turntable. The turntable approach lessened the likelihood of forgetting a bag. A good idea, I thought.

Walmart GreeterSome smaller retailers, however, have decided to add greeters at the expense of cashiers. Do I really need someone to say “Welcome to (pick any store name); let me know how I can help you” only to be left alone at a “self-check-out” station?

Try as I might to embrace this new customer experience, the self-check-out process is anything but smooth. It usually ends up with a computer-generated voice repeating endlessly “Help is on the way. Help is on the way,” at which point, I abandon my purchases; and, you guessed it, go to Walmart!

Greeters are fine but not at the expense of a reliable and quick check-out experience. For self-check-out stations to be effective, they need to work 99.9% of the time. “Help is on the way” should be the exception, not the rule. And, paying someone to sit on the self-check-out perch, overseeing customers as they struggle with the technology, is infuriating.

Retailers (you know who you are), there are experts that can help deliver a far better way!

Is CYA now Customer Service SOP?

I genuinely wanted to say “thank you” to an airline crew that helped me during a difficult travel experience. My intent was pure. I wanted the flight attendants and pilots to know I appreciated their efforts, and I didn’t want to do it in a post or a tweet. I pondered sending snail mail but decided to go the online route when I discovered the carrier’s website had an easy way to register a compliment or complaint. There was even a box to check if you desired a response. I checked “yes.” All I wanted was an acknowledgment that my comment was passed along to the crew.

What I got back was interesting.

goat head onThe five-sentence message began “Thanks for Your Kind Words!” So far, so good. It continued with the carrier saying it was sorry to learn about the difficulty I had experienced at the onset of travel. Ok, too. Then the message showed a sign of the times–some CYA legalese that really got my goat.  It went like this:  “…which was handled efficiently to avoid any unexpected consequences. We’re happy this was your experience and it exceeded your expectations.”

Really? Perhaps it’s my 20+ years in the PR/Communications business, but was it necessary to go all legal on me? I wonder what type of response I would have received if I conveyed my heartfelt thanks in a tweet. The kicker was the tag that followed the customer rep’s signature—“You Share, We Care.”

Unfortunately, today, the spontaneity of digital communication has fostered a sense of corporate paranoia where even the simple, most sincere intents are turned into track-able customer service “case numbers” that can and may be used against you.

No magic here.

Just a Fax Please!

If you are like me, you have snapped many photos of merchandise, receipts, letters and texts and forwarded them to clients or vendors to speed the customer service process. It’s commonplace. So when I switched from one TV/Internet/Phone provider to another, I had a reasonable expectation it would go smoothly, especially considering how well customer service reps (regardless of provider) solved past technical issues.

Ahh but switching service providers is a different customer service story. Yes, the rep efficiently sent specially-designed boxes, with pre-paid labels to return my equipment and I shipped the boxes promptly via UPS. I became a bit hesitant, though, when it was suggested that I keep the shipping receipt for six months because “things tend to get misplaced” by this service provider. Hmmm. I snapped a photo of the receipt for safekeeping.

Sure enough, months later a piece of equipment was declared missing and my final bill included a charge for $398.61 to cover its replacement cost. The equipment was indeed returned in person months earlier (I’ll spare you the details). I had the signed and dated “TV Customer Equipment Receipt” which also included the matching serial number to prove it. Yay!

A_drawing_fax_machine_110609-231127-103009Then the conversation with the customer service rep got interesting:

“I’ll send the receipt via email as a jpg. What is the email address?” I asked.
“No, send a fax,” the customer service rep replied.
“A fax? One of the largest Internet providers in the country, advertising the fastest Internet speeds in the world, doesn’t accept email.” I pressed.
Doubling down, she said, “Just a fax, please.”

So, a fax it was. I’m still waiting for the charge to be reversed.

Mind blowing.

Share your customer service stories here, especially those that have gone right.  As customers, we all may benefit!

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