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.
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.