Life – With a pinch of salt

Everything passes. It has to. That's the beauty and tragedy of it.

Good customer service: Having a heart to win the tug of war

There’s this thing I kinda have with bad customer service – I hate it. Period.

Whether it’s apathetic behavior at a check-out counter at a shopping mall, irresponsible service at a restaurant or insensitive, rote remarks from call-center executives, my teeth are always set on edge when it comes to customer service. Even though the world seems to have made great strides in competitiveness in all spheres, good customer service is yet to become a reality in a great many places.

Recently, my friend and I had been waiting in line for a good forty minutes to place our order at a quick take out burger joint close to our office. Now, that was not the problem. Waiting in line is not that big a deal, its a way of life in a country like India. But with only one person ahead of you in queue you might think it wouldn’t take so long for your turn, right? Wrong! If the smartly dressed person at the counter is not really smart enough to take orders correctly or relay them efficiently to the serving staff – get ready to set camp and wait a long while. So finally when the guy actually did manage to take our order, he was stuck trying to figure out how to make the bill, all the while distracted by his beeping smart phone. I could see that he had no clue how he should handle the situation that was increasingly getting out of control as hungry customers in the queue demanded to be given priority. Anyway, long story short, many customers behind us grumbled, gave up hope and moved away in search or better options while some insisted on meeting the manager. Not a story with a happy ending either way.

Superman - customer satisfaction

Many such instances have got me thinking time and again about how the customer-provider relationship can be improved. What is the ideal system to counter negativity on either side?

I believe that at the very core, businesses need to orient themselves to the customer’s way of thinking and understand the importance of good customer service. Fostering the right customer friendly ecosystem can enable this. Quality of goods, timeliness, courtesy, agility, responsiveness, accountability and a systematic approach to service – are they too much to ask for? I think not. All it takes is treating customers as human beings first and most importantly, respecting them a source of your livelihood.

There are cases I have come across where there are more than necessary executives facing the customers, taking orders or ‘gathering requirements’ (I call them the ‘facers’) and relaying them to the ‘doers’ – the actual persons who deliver the goods – way too few in comparison. True, customer facing comes with its set of glories. But when there is an imbalance in the ‘doers’ and the ‘facers’, there is bound to be chaos at some point. Similarly too many ‘doers’ and too less ‘facers’ are also a bad idea. Stress with respect to delivering can make things difficult for all concerned – the provider as well as the customer. No surprises if such a system fails to make an impact with the customer.

On the other hand, when there is an orderly system in place where everyone in the team knows their role – the ‘facers’ take in orders and relay them to the ‘doers’ who in turn do their bit and in the reverse supply chain, deliver the product/service to the customer. In such a case, expectations are duly set and things work like clock-work more or less – with maybe a few glitches from time to time, but overall a manageable process. However, if these process-driven organizations do not keep room for contingencies, they are bound lead to dysfunction, even extinction, over time.

The ideal system therefore would be one where there is ‘Ordered Chaos’ – with enough order to ensure a process driven approach but also some amount of flexibility to factor in situational changes. After all when human interaction are involved, there is bound to be some amount of chaos, right? Hence, a system that evolves and adapts itself, constantly learning from its environment (people, processes and platforms that contribute to its subsistence) and staying grounded in the face of prosperity is perhaps the best, most lasting sort. The last bit is particularly important as it helps maintain a ‘learning mindset’. Humility plays a key role in wooing customers. The ability to say “We don’t know everything and are willing to continuously learn, adapt and evolve” can be a key differentiator between those who will stand the test of time, competition and a changing business climate.

Finally, in the tug of war between the business provider and the customer, the ‘human element’ can go a long way in making or breaking a deal. While businesses invariably have to prioritize the customer’s interests, customers should also keep in mind that they are also dealing with human beings at the other side of the counter. There are bound to be mistakes, lags, mix-ups, and a lot of other unforeseen issues. After all, it is human to err, isn’t it? It is important to keep yourself in the other’s shoes and give each other the benefit of the doubt sometimes. If you are a customer to someone, you may be the business provider to others – your customers.So I think, having a heart to deal with each other is crucial. This has been my mantra of late and it has helped me keep my cool in quite a few incendiary situations.

What according to you are the key measures to enhancing customer-provider relationship? Do share your thoughts.

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This entry was posted on March 15, 2015 by in Point of view and tagged , , , , .
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