We dread calling 800 numbers because we can be tied up for hours due to being put on hold, getting passed around, and being dropped off. If that’s not bad enough, after we have spent the afternoon on the phone trying to solve a problem for which there was no resolution, we hear, “Can I be of any further assistance to you today?” They have been of no assistance in the first place! And this is from the Customer Service Department!
We have a friend who gets particularly frustrated with canned answers from narrowly scripted representatives. He asks them, “Is there any one more intelligent I can speak to?” The answer is usually, “No, I’m sorry sir, there is no one like that here.”
When you call into a customer service center you can be routed from tree to tree, then you can choose “branches” to zero in on your particular issue. All this is done in the name of efficiency. During your journey, you may hear, “In order for us to better serve you, please give us your name, account number, last 4 digits of your social security number, and the nature of your call.” So you dutifully enter your data in the belief that a live representative will get it and it will help speed the resolution of your issue.
When you finally get a representative, they typically have no idea who you are, or why you called. All the information you punched into the system is evidently lost. The representative doesn’t care and doesn’t report the glitch to his/her supervisor and it never gets to the C-Suite. Then the rep asks for all the information again! You give it again only to be dropped, put on perpetual hold, or transferred to another representative who asks you for the same information once again, often in an unintelligible foreign dialect!
What does this do for your image of that company? What gives their top managers the hubris to allow this kind of poor customer service to prevail? Is it indifference to the negative effect this type of treatment is having? Or is it that they just don’t realize it’s happening due to poor internal communication? Maybe they have a monopoly on that sector of the market and they know you have no other choice. We have found the above scenarios especially true with mortgage companies, airlines, utilities, insurance companies, and large electronic products companies.
We always get, “This call may be recorded.” But is anybody listing to the recordings? We hope so! Any company executive interested in offering an excellent customer experience should be listening to those recordings. Better yet, they should play “undercover boss” and call in themselves with a customer service issue and see how they are treated.
The customer judges a company more by what they do to resolve problems than at any other point of contact. It’s where the rubber meets the road. It’s where the company really shows the customer if they are valued or if they are taken for granted. That impression (both good and bad) gets broadcasted to family, friends and colleagues and is more effective than any form of advertising.
Companies that view customer service as “complaint resolution” are missing a golden public relations opportunity. Even a large company that has monopolized its market sector doesn’t want customers that “have” to do business with them against their better judgment. They will lose that precious market advantage and open the door for the upstart company that treats people as advocates and takes the “dread” out of the Eight Hun-dread number call.
Who Are We.
Having built and sold a bestselling national brand, we appreciate the value of brands and everything it takes to make them successful. Companies are valued by their brand equity. Achieving and maximizing brand equity requires tremendous respect for all your customers, from your wholesaler to your end user.
Starting in our laundry room with no money and no knowledge of the industry, we built the famous Barefoot Wine brand. We learned a lot they don’t teach in school and much of it the hard way. Although our success was in consumer products, our real world experience will be helpful to anyone looking for information and advice about brands.
We have written the New York Times Bestselling Business Book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand, which chronicles the history of the famous brand from its inception through its acquisition. Our book is now required reading in schools of entrepreneurship across the country. We hope this book will provide inspiration and encouragement for all those contemplating starting a brand or wanting to improve their existing brand.
Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey
-Barefoot Wine Founders