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Customer Service

Posted on: 22 August '11

Last November, I bought a car which had just launched in India, from the stables of a renowned global carmaker. On Christmas Day, while returning from Coorg to Bangalore, the car developed problems on the highway, 30 kms from Mysore. I called the sales manager who had sold me the car, and with his help I called the customer service professional who took down all the details, but the promised tow truck did not come. I kept calling repeatedly and was told he was “busy” and that he would call back. Two and half hours later, I was told he had gone home. The first thought that struck me was “how could he?” Forget the job, here you have a fellow human being stuck on the road with their family, how can you go away without attending to a problem you could have solved? And if you just had to go home, could you not have made a courtesy call to the stranded stranger desperately in need of your support? Contrast this to my experience in Bali where I went for a vacation last month. I had hired a cab for the four days of my stay. On the third morning, Adi, my cab driver and tourist guide, came to work, introduced me to his replacement, and explained he was extremely unwell from the night before and was very sorry he could not take me around. He had also explained to his friend which places we planned to visit that day.

Why did one person respond to a customer complaint as an avoidable evil and another as an opportunity to serve? What prevented the first professional from empathizing with a customer’s problem? Why was he indifferent to creating a happy customer even when it was possible to make a difference and feel proud about it?

When I talk to unhappy customer service professionals, I see another problem. They don’t have pride in their profession, and believe customer service is the wrong job to be in.

This view of customer service is uninformed. As more and more products get commoditized, quality customer service will become the differentiating factor in building a brand. What distinguishes a Singapore Airlines from another international airline? Is their aircraft superior to those of other airlines? Why buy air tickets at cleartrip.com rather than the airline site? Why shop at flipkart.com and not the conventional bookstore?

I have repeatedly noticed that successful customer service professionals are not just proud of their profession and their organization but are also enjoying the opportunity to serve, and solve their customers’ problems.

When organizations recognize that quality customer service is the differentiating factor over competition, their professionals will sport a different attitude. Such firms have stopped looking at these as cost centers, and ensure motivated professionals are on the job. Senior managers spend more time with customer support executives and learn about customer expectations. And customer service is justifiably proud doing a critical job for the company.

While customer service execs at my car company were disappointing, it’s the sales manager who wowed me. Why did he go beyond his call of duty to offer me continued support till my car was back in action? Of course, he is a good human being, but it goes beyond that. He understands that he can sell more only if the brand is endorsed by happy customers. His engagement with me was actually a good investment for the future. Successful professionals take accountability for a longer time window, which is why the sales manager also wants to ensure happy customers.

A critical factor to quality customer service is pride. I must feel proud that I am doing a first rate job, proud that I am making a difference to my customer (and to my company), proud that I am generating happiness, proud that I go the extra mile to make an impact. I must also feel proud that I work for a value-based company that provides value to its customers.

How does a company build pride in customer service in a systematic manner? When we talk pride, and not merely compliance, we need to look beyond the usual carrot and stick approach.

  1. Create a shared vision of the future, and show how great service will be the key differentiator.
  2. Show why in a rapidly changing environment, being connected with customers and customer problems is the best way to remaining employable.
  3. Senior management remains in direct touch with customer facing executives.
  4. Think not in terms of closing the call, but on why the customer faced the problem, and what we can do to solve the problem now and prevent it in the future.
    1. Think how your solutions can address future problems of other customers as well.
    2. Look upon an unhappy or difficult customer as an opportunity.

When we do these, we convert a transaction into a thinking challenge, tuned towards creating a happy experience. The pride in making a difference to others thus becomes our focus.

 

 

  • sunil jogdeo

    I think the sharing gives clear idea and reinforces attitudinal issues connected with service sector. There needs a drive in general to be taken on educational institution level if to have better results in professional life. great sharing, thank you.

    • Kalyan Banerjee

      Very rightly said, Sunil. There will be more services jobs in the next decade, and people are learning it by trial and error, sometimes at heavy cost to themselves and to stakeholders.

      We need a formal academic program on this topic.

      • sunil jogdeo

        Kalyan,I am very happy to receive your response. I have great faith in corporate taking over education sector, or if not taking over, at least controling quality part of formal education. It is the seniors like in corporate who can force educational institutions to bring in lot of qualitative changes. Rather, to force HRD ministry to be active which has not at all been playing its role. I am reading `rich dad, poor dad`. It has some eye opening experiences shared. I am also involved in `informal education spread` through one of my projects. When we come across village level or even z.p schools, we realize that it is the other side of the coin of India shining. Awareness among young educated talents to get into education sector looks the need of the hour.

  • Geetha Chandar

    Dear Mr.Banerjee,

    Thank you for giving us the ingredients that go into the recipe for delighting a customer with remarkable professional pride.

    Am glad you were fortunate to sight a Fred at Bali!

    I am a ‘Raving Fan’ of two books on Customer Service: ‘The Fred Factor’ by Mark Sanborn and ‘Go-Givers Sell More’ by Bob Burg and John David Mann.

    To be ‘Beyond Category’ in Customer Delight, we need to make that paradigm shift from ‘pitch’ to ‘serve’?

    Thanks and regards,

    Geetha

    • Kalyan Banerjee

      Thanks, Geetha. You have enlightened, as always. I am sure these books will be useful for us, in appreciating customer service within MindTree.

  • Inba

    “We convert a transaction into a thinking challenge, tuned towards creating a happy experience. The pride in making a difference to others thus becomes our focus.”

    Agreed ! Great thought too !

  • Mahi

    Service orientation is a like a core value that has to be internalized by professionals in service-oriented role.

    Though we could attempt to educate and enlighten but this I believe is a skill that one inhibits in oneself.

    Hence organizations should be more wide- eyed to identify people with this special skill and hone their skills to the next level, rather than recruit somebody and attempt to work on their customer service quotient.

    • While I agree that some people are more customer friendly by nature, I believe this skill can be taught and learned, Uma. It’s about empathy, and about serving others, both can be learnt and improved upon. I, personally, will find it easier to teach this than to identify this trait whole hiring. 🙂

      • monimoy mukherjee

        once a product is sold,a timely customer service willbe greatly appreciated.A scheme of incentives by the seller may also be useful.

  • Kunal

    Kalyan,

    I think the problem in our country is that we are judgemental about most of the professions and that’s the reason we do not take our jobs seriously. Untill and unless, a son/daugther is an engineer/doctor/scientist, he/she isn’t respected by the family surrounded by them. So, somehow, pre-concieved notions of the people play an important role too.
    I just hope, we the people of India, are more appreciative, things might be stagnant.

    • I agree completely, Kunal. there is a profession hierarchy in our society. And in this hierarchy, Service is not prized.
      The spirit of service is missing in the more sought after professions as well.

      Business organizations cannot change family. But organizations can build pride around the spirit of service. That is possible, and some organizations have done it better than others. Those who create the service culture within their organizations will survive longer than those who don’t (in my view).

  • Byomakesh Debata

    Respected Sir,
    I learned a great lesson out of your experience. It is giving a clear message to make a shift from only completing duty to a great sense of involvement in understanding and resolving issues with diligence.Its my pleasure to be a part of this discussion. Thank you.