Good Agent, Bad Policy

Excellent Customer Service - Bad Policy

Today we are pleased to feature a post by guest blogger Sarah Simon.  Sarah shares a recent personal experience to demonstrate how important it is for companies to take a good hard look at their policies and procedures through the lens of the customer experience.  Some great tips, and a great read!

Background

Recently, I stopped at a big box hardware store to purchase a residential wood chipper to help manage my five acres of forest.  An associate politely informed me that they didn’t carry this equipment in-store, but that I could select a chipper online and have it shipped for free to the store for pick-up.  This sounded like a reasonable solution, so I returned home, jumped on my computer, selected a suitable machine and clicked the order button.

When I received my order confirmation email, I realized the chipper would be shipped to the wrong store, a location clear across town.  A dedicated “do-it-yourselfer,” I tried to resolve this issue online to no avail, so I picked up the phone in an attempt to get help.  It was quickly apparent that this is a common customer headache, as my agent’s knowing tone suggested he had heard this issue before.  Courteous and eager to help, my agent sadly had few options for me: a) drive one hour across town to pick up my article, or b) refuse the delivery, essentially canceling the order, and place a duplicate order.

I didn’t like either option: “suck it up and spend an evening picking up your chipper” or “game the system and leave the retailer with an unpaid return and hassle on their hands.”  Here is a policy that is not only customer un-friendly but also creates an inconvenience and cost to the retailer.  Worse yet, a Google search of the issue I experienced reveals this is a common headache experienced by consumers, as complaints were easy to find.  My agent went above and beyond and called the destination store, inquiring about options for having my order transported to the store near me, but the stores would not collaborate with us.  I could sense this agent shared my frustration.

Assessment

So what happened here?   A smart, customer-focused agent was painfully hamstrung by corporate policies.  This agent wanted earnestly to ship my chipper to a store near my home.  He wanted to take care of the customer (even if the mistake was hers!) but company policy and procedures stood in his way.  Had this agent changed the shipping destination for my chipper, I would have been delighted.  But inflexible procedures stood in the way of a good agent providing the excellent customer service he clearly wanted to provide.

How to overcome this:

I would be surprised to learn that this retailer purposely goes out of its way to annoy their customers with quirky policies resulting in consumer frustration and shipping inefficiency, but that was indeed the end result.  So what could this company – and your company – do to avoid this situation of preventing agents from providing top-notch service to valued customers?

  • Listen to your employees.  They know the frustrations plaguing customers – they hear these every day!  Given the right channels, employees will reveal broken processes.  My agent was painfully familiar with this scenario playing out over and over again, and regretfully aware that his hands were tied.  Front-line agents are clued-in to common customer complains, concerns and sources of grief – leverage their experience.
  • Test your processes yourselves.  Whatever your business-to-consumer business model, try it out yourself: Reserve a room at your hotel; Eat at your restaurant chain; Call your customer service desk; Shop on your website.  You may be shocked at how easily you stumble over roadblocks to customer success simply by walking the customer’s path first-hand.
  • Listen to your customers through multiple channels.  Listen to customer feedback via a variety of channels, including social media scraping and support event content analytics.  This wasn’t the first time this issue was reported, so stay on top of the trends in your own call center.  And thanks to social media, there may be no need to wait to hear a complaint through a survey or inbound call, so get out there and listen to what consumers are saying about you when they think you’re not around.
  • Ask the right survey questions.  I happily agreed to take the follow-up survey after my call.  To my dismay, along with being asked to rate the agent performance overall and provide open-ended commentary, I also had to indicate whether or not the agent resolved my issue.  Well, no, he didn’t resolve my issue, but it wasn’t for his lack of trying!  He couldn’t resolve my issue because his employer’s policies and processes prevented him from doing so.  Inquiring about agent helpfulness toward resolving my issue instead of his ability to solve my issue would have provided a much more accurate assessment of my interaction and this agent’s capabilities.  It’s a shame this agent got penalized for not solving an issue that his own employer prevents him from solving.

Reflecting on this experience, I realize that it didn’t have to be this way!  The retailer could adjust their online ordering process to more strongly emphasize the importance of shipping to the correct store.  This would save customer frustration and calls to their support desk, increasing loyalty and reducing cost.  They could also make the agent-assisted (or self-service!) process of correcting the ship-to store easier when the customer selects the wrong store.  To do so requires opening their eyes and ears to be more sensitive to the experience the customer has with their company and empowering agents by eliminating policies and procedures that stand in the way of customer service excellence.  Change is a difficult wheel to set in motion, but the happiness of a repeat customer combined with reduced service costs are worth the effort.  Just imagine an environment where gold star agents are able to provide gold star service!

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About Jack Dempsey

Jack Dempsey, CEO, heads Pretium Solutions’ Customer Experience & Sales Area focusing on Customer Loyalty, Brand Loyalty and Customer Retention Strategies. He directs Pretium’s revolutionary customer loyalty program, the Golden Touchpoint™. Pretium Solutions is a premier provider of cutting-edge, sustainable and globally-recognized customer experience management solutions and customer service, call center and sales training, consulting and leadership programs. Pretium shows companies how to create, build and maintain customer loyalty, the most important measure of a company’s success with its customers and the most profitable customer service outcome.

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