• July 20, 2011
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

Can I Help You? Can I Help You? Can I Help You?

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Dialogue. We all want it. Whether it’s a rapport between individuals or a give-and-take between customers and businesses, everybody seeks to be heard and hopes to hear something in return. CRM practitioners, especially of the social CRM variety, try to facilitate conversations in the world of commerce, and it’s gratifying to see the payoff.

It’s also fun to watch when a dialogue goes off the rails, as it often does. I’ve got an example of this from my own life.

I was having trouble with my Internet connection at my home office. The signal would drop, and it would take five to 10 minutes for the cable modem to pick back up. This could happen several times in succession, or just occasionally, but it was cutting into my workday. Once this problem had started, wireless was unreliable at all times, so my girlfriend was getting the muddy end of the stick as well.

So I gave a shout to my service provider to explain the problem. After establishing that there wasn’t some larger network problem in my area, we arranged a service visit for Friday, two days hence—pretty fast service around here. I gladly took the post-call survey to rate my experience. All seemed well so far.

Thursday dawned, and my intermittent problem remained. Around noon, though, I noticed a ladder outside my kitchen window: My service provider seemed to be working on another tenant’s connection. Was there a broader problem? There was no good opportunity to speak to that technician; I was busy, and it’s not wise to interrupt people on ladders.

The unexpected tech left before too long, and an hour later I got an automated call from the ISP asking whether I still needed that service visit. I did because it was an intermittent problem, so I couldn’t point to a solid stretch of service to indicate a definite fix. The hiccups continued and the wireless was still spotty, so I affirmed the need for service.

A few hours later, I received an identical automated call, to which I again responded that the technician needed to come. I was a bit annoyed, but I understood the company’s need to halt a truck from going where it was no longer needed.

The third call, which came that evening, elicited the same response, delivered with the fastest and firmest press of an iPhone’s virtual keypad in recorded history.

Well, the service call happened, complete with a courtesy call to let me know the truck was on its way. A splitter was replaced at my request with a barrel (straight connector), and my modem was replaced with a newer one. All seemed well.

I got a call that evening to tell me I had service earlier that day. Read that closely. It didn’t say anything about taking a survey to rate my experience, and it didn’t ask if my problem had been resolved. It just reminded me that I had an appointment that had happened. I was, and still am, too perplexed by the weirdness of this call to speculate on why it was placed.

The cherry on the sundae: The next morning, a person appeared at my door to confirm the previous day’s visit had happened and was successful. After all those robocalls, they still sent a person to check on me. While I was polite, I started thinking about changing ISPs out of spite for the company’s utter failure to understand how and why—and when—courtesy calls make sense to a business.

Outbound dialers making courtesy calls with workflows attached to them can save corporate resources and make workers’ lives easier while showing customers they are being cared for. But wasting those resources on duplicated effort and useless filler is stupid, and it’s made worse when you send personnel into the field to duplicate the effect of the calls. This has the opposite effect of what’s intended, making the company look like it doesn’t know what it’s doing, and indicating it’s only capable of broadcasting, and not listening.

Maybe we CRM-savvy folks are more critical of these things than the typical customer is. Somehow, I don’t think so. Frustration drives many of us into this profession in the first place (and eventually into a white coat with extra-long sleeves). Businesses should make sure their communication strategy is sane, or they risk the sanity of us all.

Marshall Lager is the managing principal of Third Idea Consulting, and tries his darnedest to keep companies from behaving like they have a personality disorder. Contact him at marshall@3rd-idea.com or follow him on Twitter via www.twitter.com/Lager.

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