CRM Rants On a Monday Morning

Do you ever wonder why when calling your credit card company the system asks you to enter your 16-digit account number, only to have the support person ask you as the very first question, "May I have your account number?" What's up with that? Presumably the reason for entering the number, or all 16 of the numbers, is so you can be routed to the proper person/department. How can they not know the account number? The CRM folks will tell you the story of how the account information will pop up on the support person's screen via the wonder of automatic call directors (ACDs) so they have all the data at their fingertips when they answer the phone. But too often that seems not to be the case. I sometimes think they have me enter my account number just to keep me busy. You know, make me feel like I'm actually doing something to help advance my position in the queue. Then there's the gauntlet before I get to ask my question. "Ah, Mr. Trailer, yes. I have your account information right here. For security reasons, let me verify a couple items. Would you give me your current phone number? And address?" This is a further annoyance. After stating my street address and suite number, in a normal sequence the city would come next. After saying "Suite #1B" the rep requests my zip code next. Buoyed by the hope that they have a zip code directory in their database, I'm always disappointed when they then ask for city and state. As if these may have secretly been moved. "Again, for security, are you..." I interrupt. "Can I just ask my question before we update my entire record?" "Um, just a couple more questions." I answer dutifully, but have a couple of my own questions, which I silently ponder: Is this really making me a happy and loyal customer? Do I feel appreciated and respected in this exchange? I don't think so. In fact, if I'd been happy with whatever I bought I probably wouldn't be calling customer service. "Oh, hi, is this Support? Good. I just wanted to call and sit through five levels of branching menus to let you know everything's working perfectly. Nope, nothing else. Thanks for making such an awesome product."
I wasn't a happy camper when I called in; now I'm downright surly. Ma, come home, please Let me give you a real life example of what I mean: A question I ask myself from time to time is whether we're all really better off since the break up of Ma Bell. I know rates are down, but I wonder if there's been an overall savings to the economy. There is the entire array of telemarketing programs, direct mail, advertising, and so on that have emerged to compete for our phone business. When you total it all up, is it a net savings? And are service levels better? I can honestly say there is almost no support call I'd rather avoid than calling the phone company (although a close runner-up is the cable company). Our phone, cable and Internet providers have all been bought and sold so many times I have no idea whom I'm trying to reach. AT&T Wireless for the Internet connection I had put in a year ago? Nope, it's now Comcast. Pacific Bell for local phone service? Uh-uh. Now it's SBC (though it's still Pac Bell Park!). The whole situation is so convoluted that I do what any rational human would do: I leave it to my wife. We recently moved to a new home, and it was her turn to call for phone service and to set up the high-speed Internet connection. She was delighted to learn DSL was available through SBC and signed up for both phone and DSL service. The phone service was to start on the 7th, DSL on the 19th. (Go figure.) Unexpectedly, the field technician showed up on the 12th to hook up the DSL. He asked my wife if she had the modem. "No, they said they were going to send it out. I'll call." This was Mistake #1; if you are ever in this situation, tell the technician to call. Do not under any circumstances volunteer to do anything that will cause you to be on the phone with your phone company's contact center After calling in, dealing with multiple IVR menus, explaining who she was and why she was calling, my wife asked, "Did you ship us the modem already?" "The service request came in on the 5th. Phone service was scheduled to begin on the 7th. Your modem is to be shipped on the 15th and installed on the 19th." "Yes, but the technician is here to hook up the DSL today, only he doesn't have the modem." "That's because we ship the modem separately." "OK, so have you shipped the modem?" "It's not scheduled to be shipped until the 15th." I won't bore you with the repetitious and oblique nature of the next 15 minutes of phone conversation, but the ending was too good not to share. This circular conversation continued until my wife finally said, "Your technician showed up to install the service, but provisioning will not ship the modem for three more days. You keep repeating that the modem will ship and I can call back for a tracking number, but not how to complete the installation today. I'm confused." "Well, I think I'm speaking English." I swear, this was the support person's response. To say my wife does not suffer fools gladly is a major understatement. At this point it is unclear to me whether she simply hung up the phone or actually had a brain aneurysm and became incoherent. She was still mumbling when I came home hours later. This month's favorite... This is not isolated to the telecom industry. Every company that has customers has the opportunity to have good or poor customer contact. My award for poor customer relations this month goes to ADT, the national security outfit. I thought this was my own bad experience but in an informal polling of friends at a dinner party last week, another had the same exact story. Coincidence? Maybe. Customer-hassling policy? Probably. When my folks spent half of each year away from home, having ADT security made some sense. Now that they're home year 'round, it seemed silly to have a system that they didn't turn on anymore. I contacted the company to cancel the service. First, since I was not on the account, I couldn't cancel it (unless I wanted to send along the Power of Attorney). Also, you have to give them 30 days notice. Twice I called from my folks' home to have them cancel but, wouldn't you know it, that darn system was down. Fearing this could go on indefinitely, I asked how else to end the relationship. An agent said, "You can fax in a note with your mom's signature." We made the last month's payment, and wrote on the bill that this was our final payment: Please cancel the account. When I dialed the fax number I'd been given, what a surprise: "The number you have dialed has been disconnected and there is no new number. If you feel you've reached this number in error..." So, we just mailed in the payment and invoice with the cancellation note on it. Apparently it took the good folks at ADT a while to process the request, because we just received another statement for $6.79. This is the outstanding balance on the account, which if not paid immediately, may result in the account being turned over to a collection agency. No note thanking my folks for years of business and sorry you're leaving. No inquiry about whether there was a problem or reason for canceling. Nope, just pay up or we may have to sick the hounds on you for your six dollars. Gotta love that Customer Relationship Management. In closing It can't be this hard and, furthermore, it better not be. In conducting interviews for The Sales & Marketing Excellence Challenge: Changing How the Game Is Played it became clear that companies are increasingly looking to their contact centers to carry more of the customer support and relationship role. Bernie Goldberg, founder of Direct Marketing Publishers, says: "Every sales executive today knows that the economics of sales are dictating the necessity to leverage telephone selling in order to supplement and complement face-to-face selling. Yet as companies try to combine these two approaches, we are still seeing plenty of program misstarts, and a number of outright failures." Southwest Airlines, unlike every other established airline, continues to make money and inspire loyal customers. I'm not a huge fan of its no-frills approach, but I do fly the airline on short trips, because of its low fares. I know what I'm getting and Southwest does a consistent and terrific job of delivering it. And, on top of being low-cost--and even though I'm not a Lifetime Gold (as I am with American) or Premier Flyer (as I've often been with United), I never mind calling Southwest's contact center. A human being answers the phone--and my questions. Do you ever wonder how we got so far from the basics? About the Author Barry Trailer is a partner of CSO Insights and coauthor with Jim Dickie of The Sales & Marketing Excellence Challenge: Changing How the Game Is Played Contact him at www.csoinsights.com
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