Slippery Customer Service Issues Put Companies on Thin Ice

by Jeannie Walters

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Slippery Customer Service Issues

People are funny. When I speak to large groups, I always get a handful of people from the audience come up to me afterwards and say something they think is unique, but is something I hear over and over again.

“I love what you say about caring about your customer’s experience! I totally get what you’re talking about. I sure wish the rest of my company would, too!”

It’s easy to decide we get it.

Because in truth, we do get it. We get it when we’re customers. We know that feeling of rage when a promise is made but not fulfilled. We know the dread we feel when we need to make a customer service call over a problem with billing. We feel defeated scheduling a repair, knowing our days will be subject to the 4-hour window when the service person might appear. We get it.

And yet…what happens when we step inside the walls of an organization? We are tasked with totally different goals. We are told to focus on our small piece of the customer puzzle. We are rewarded for profits over people. And we seem to have collective amnesia of what it’s like to be a customer.


Here’s a perfect example.

Recently, a 3-alarm fire in my neighborhood disrupted daily life for thousands of people. (People were injured but nobody died in this fire, thankfully!)

Many households were without electricity, phone lines and Internet access for days. A Facebook thread quickly took off as one after another, they asked the same questions. “Is this company serious? They’re telling me to go to a web site for updates. I don’t have power or internet!” Or the description of the customer service rep who wanted to send a technician out to check the lines, even though the BIG FIRE had already been explained. There was clearly no code for “THERE WAS A GIANT FIRE AND EVERYTHING IS MESSED UP” so the rep kept asking for permission to send a service technician.

Or my favorite description from my writer friend:

“I have to wonder if anyone in customer service has actually used their customer service tools. Because they are a Kafkaesque mess.”

The short answer, unfortunately, is no. Those who work inside the company rarely take the time to truly understand what customers go through to fix a real problem. They think they know, because the codes used by customer service reps and customer relationship management software seem to be working just fine.

They don’t get what they don’t get.

But there’s a way to solve this. It’s called walking the talk. If you care about customers, get out there and really live through it with them. Find out what it takes to solve a minor issue.

The new head of the embattled and embarrassed Veterans Affairs is trying his best to do that.

After ignoring complaints for decades, the new VA Secretary, Bob McDonald, is visiting with vets in hospitals and even released his mobile phone number to the public to try to streamline solving problems. It’s a huge undertaking that won’t happen overnight, but he seems to be approaching the experience completely differently than his predecessors.

In one example, he refers to the veterans as customers. It’s a mindset shift meant to underline how they drive the business. I’ll be watching to see what happens next, and sure hope he’s successful in improving the experience for everyone.

If you’re a business leader, ask yourself, when was the last time you walked through a real issue like a customer would? When was the last time you talked directly to a customer? When was the last time you realized it’s not them, it’s you? Shake off the amnesia and commit to understanding. That step alone could make a huge difference.

Image credits: Jerry Daykin@sage_solar via Creative Commons license

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Jeannie Walters

Jeannie Walters is the CEO/Founder of Experience Investigators, a global Customer Experience consulting firm. She has 20 years of experience helping companies improve loyalty and retention, employee engagement, and overall customer experience. Jeannie is a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP,) a charter member of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA,) a Professional Member of the National Speakers Association, LinkedIn Learning instructor, TEDx speaker, and President-Elect of the National Speakers Association Illinois chapter. Learn more here.

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